Did George Balanchine exhaust the well of ballet originality? One hopes not. But when you see new works by other choreographers, especially those raised on the Balanchine repertory, there is a fear that nothing will look bold and exciting again.
Take, for example, Melissa Barak’s new dance for the New York City Ballet. Making its premiere Thursday afternoon at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the ballet by this former company corps de ballet dancer was nothing new. “A Simple Symphony,” after the Benjamin Britten string score that inspired it, is a study in classic Balanchine. It’s pretty and orderly. And there is nothing wrong with creating works that are pretty. The world needs beauty. It’s just hard to get worked up about them. And even harder to make an effort to see them again.
“A Simple Symphony” is pleasant enough. This clinically refined ballet is led by the impeccable Abi Stafford and Jared Angle. They make for a polite pair who generously relinquishes the spotlight for each other. Understated, they perform with a grace and correctness that any balletomane would admire.
They are backed up by two couples and six women from the corps who provide frames and passages for the principals’ comings-and-goings. And though the ballet was well-groomed and performed, “A Simple Symphony” is simply not memorable.
The afternoon also saw the summer season’s first showing of Balanchine’s “Scotch Symphony,” a highland dance to the music by Mendelssohn. The ballet is a cat-and-mouse romp for Jenifer Ringer and Robert Fairchild. Light on her feet, Ringer appears like an apparition. Fairchild senses her and is lured by her light touch and captivating smile.
Fairchild plays his part like the ultimate romantic, ardently seeking a courtship. Yet each time he reaches her, she turns away or flees, disappointing his persistent amorous pursuit.
Their union is further interrupted by a clan of eight men, in tartan kilt dress, who block Fairchild’s advances. The men are joined by an octet of women in a high-stepping fling that starts and ends the ballet with a surge of energy. Of course, all is well at the end.
This year, the ballet also invested in new scenery for “Scotch Symphony.” It’s an impressionistic, cloudless view of the hills as painted by former Balanchine ballerina Karin von Aroldingen. The scenery completes the vision.
The matinee also included Peter Martins’ “Hallelujah Junction,” to double piano music by John Adams. Some of the mystery was deflated as the two pianos, as played by Cameron Grant and Richard Moredock, did not look like they were floating. The matinee sun ruined the effect. No matter, as the dancing was spectacular – especially from Janie Taylor and Daniel Ulbricht. The percussive music, nothing one would ever expect to dance to, shuttled the movement along in surprising and interesting ways.
Finally, the afternoon concluded with Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments,” one of the sterling example’s of this choreographer’s wealth of skill and originality.
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