Jerome Robbins’ “The Goldberg Variations” is several ballets packed in one. The busy work, performed by New York City Ballet at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night, is an ode to the Bach music as well as its era.
But a word of caution — this is a long ballet running more than an hour. And if one is not in love with the music and its endless twists on its theme, the ballet seems eternal. Actually, the music, as played by Cameron Grant, outshines the dance. But, there is enough going on to keep the viewer awake.
In the introduction to the theme, Robbins’ put the focus on the baroque style of dance. Kaitlyn Gilliland and Jason Fowler are dressed in the appropriate period garb. They walk quietly, their lovely carriages raised as they circle and bow to each other. The tone is decidedly formal. And the couple gives way for the first round of variations.
Robbins strips the lace collars and britches for a pared down look. The men are in tights and t-shirts, the women in leotards and short skirts.
And while the look is sleek, Robbins expounds on the ceremonial movement. Of the six main dancers in the first section, Tyler Angle stands out for his chipper persona. By contrast is Megan Fairchild who is pensive. She has a depth of in her interpretations that surrounds her with an alluring force field.
Fairchild glides over the music; Abi Stafford too. Adam Hendrickson looks like he could be dancing to anything, however. The music doesn’t marinate for him.
Andrew Veyette, on the other hand, looks sharp and clean. He is frisky, having merry time with Angle, Hendrickson and Amar Ramasar as they cartwheel, tumble and jump over each other as they roll on the floor.
While there is a lot of humor, the dance remains impersonal. In Part II, that changes. The couples hone into each other and the pairings become familiar.
The second half begins with a corps de ballet procession ushering in the three couples like they are royalty. Wendy Whelan and Benjamin Millepied perform a silly little duet. Rebecca Krohn is fluid and sensuous in the hands of Jared Angle. But the best couple is Sara Mearns and Philip Neal. Their romantic pas de deux is all the more affecting as Neal’s approach is genuine. He is at the point in his career in which he is completely free and it’s liberating to watch.
“The Goldberg Variations” ends with the cast returning to the stage in full baroque regalia. The dancers bow to the pianist and then the audience for a flashy, but courtly finale. It wraps up the tone of the music beautifully.
Tuesday’s program also featured Robbins’ collaborative effort with Twyla Tharp, “Brahms/Handel.” Stafford, Whelan and Veyette return, along with Gonzalo Garcia, for this unwieldy ballet that looks like torture for the women.
That’s because they are tossed and thrown upside-down in all sorts of dangerous manner. Maybe the two great choreographers were trying to outdo each other. It’s unclear. But certainly, “Brahms/Handel” is a nail-biter for audiences and dancers alike.