On Tuesday night, corks popped, wine flowed and cheese and melon platters were laid out decoratively on the plush green at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Yes, it was opening night for the New York City Ballet.
And the patrons who make this night a regular part of their summer in Saratoga were eagerly anticipating an evening of popular ballets.
They were not disappointed as the weather was glorious — not too hot or cool and rain-free — and the dancing from the region’s favorite dance company was, not surprising, superb.
“We’ll get a lot of walk-ups,” said Executive Director Marcia White as she watched a large crowd spilling onto the paved byways at SPAC. “It’s going to be a great season. Even though the ballet season is only two weeks, the company is so happy to be here. They are more involved this year. [Ballet Master-in-Chief] Peter Martins and the principals will give the introduction, in front of the curtain, dancers will be doing workshops on the lawn, and [Music Director] Faycal Karoui will be presenting the ‘See the Music’ program. There will be so many ways that the audience can connect with the artists.”
And fans will likely savor every moment.
Katherine Kramer, a classical devotee from Schenectady, buys two lawn passes each season so she can treat a guest to night after night of world-class performers. Poised on a blanket at the rim of the lawn, with an array of delicious delicacies, she and friend Paulomi Tambwekar of Albany looked content and excited.
“It’s a great way to spend the evening,” said Kramer.
Carol Kirk of Niskayuna agreed.
“This is the best ballet company in the world,” said Kirk. “All we have to do is get in our car and we are here. It’s only 25 minutes away. It’s a beautiful night.”
The wise patrons arrived early, jockeying for a position on the lawn with a clear view of the stage. A trio of friends gather each year for this special, albeit brief, ballet season.
“It’s opening night,” said Deborah Huggard of Wilton. “We have to be here.”
“The season is so short now,” added her friend, Joette Harnick, a ballet watcher from Greenfield Center. “I love Maria Kowroski. She is my favorite. I have to see her dance. I don’t know if she is dancing tonight. I have to read the program.”
Harnick, fingering through the playbill, did indeed see Kowroski, a superb adagio dancer, in Jerome Robbins’ serene “I’m Old Fashioned.”
But the night opened with a heart-thumper, “Fearful Symmetries.” The ballet is Martins’ best abstract work from his long career. Named for the John Adams score that accompanies it, this brilliant ballet is impossible to criticize, as it is perfect. The energy from the music and dancers builds a tension that insists upon complete attention. The eyes are glued to every low-slung kick and high lift that exploded and then echoed in symmetry.
The dancers fascinate for many reasons — one being that they were able to weave their feet into intricate patterns with a speed and energy that continually ramped up. It churned and churned so swiftly that the audience suspended breathing until the dancers melted into bows at the end.
The dancers expended so much energy in “Fearful Symmetries” that the corps de ballet in the first two all-female campaigns of George Balanchine’s “Stars and Stripes” looked tired and off. Happily that ended with the entrance of the male campaign, led by the incomparable Daniel Ulbricht. He was a leaping, spinning wonder who obviously inspired all that marched behind him.
Every move he made was crisp, and his landings were soft and clean. Best yet, he has loads of personality that oozed out of him and was read at the back of the house. His charm, once again, prevailed.
Ashley Bouder, with Andrew Veyette, as Liberty Bell was also astonishing. She was so rock solid in her balances and turns that she hardly needed a partner. In this role, she was transformed into the super-extrovert. Veyette, who can be retiring, cranked up his showmanship too in this patriotic Sousa spectacular.
Finally, “I’m Old Fashioned” was a salute to the master of smooth, Fred Astaire. The ballet began with the screening of “I’m Old Fashioned,” featuring Astaire dancing with Rita Hayworth. As their silky but bubbly number ended, the stage filled with dancers emulating their sway and bounce.
The New York City Ballet season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center continues through Saturday, July 16.