In the George Balanchine canon, there is only one god. His name is Apollo.
This title role is conferred upon only a few at New York City Ballet. Those who are cast in this Stravinsky ballet are the chosen of the chosen. On Thursday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center the chosen one was Robert Fairchild. And he danced the ballet “Apollo” like never before.
It seems impossible that his portrayal could be one of the best seen here. But it certainly appeared that way as Fairchild’s depiction of the young god’s coming-of-age was transformative. He painted his maturity from clumsy youth to a young god with a power that was convincing.
Fairchild, who has only appeared in this role one other time, took hold of his audience immediately in the first solo — as he wheeled his arm over his instrument and then flung his vigorous body about in low turns. At first, when three muses appeared, he played with them like a boy with toy soldiers. But once he bid them to perform, his vigor visibly grew — even as he sat still on a stool.
With Fairchild was Sterling Hyltin as his favorite muse, Terpsichore. The chemistry between these two was electric, which likely inspired Fairchild’s brass.
Of course there are numerous memorable moments in the ballet, such as Apollo’s outstretched arms above his raised head, the muses offering their hands as a pillow and the finale when the muses’ legs form a fan behind Apollo. Fairchild made the most of every gesture in a performance that won’t be forgotten.
Balanchine and Stravinsky’s fruitful collaboration was also showcased in “Agon,” the evening’s closer. While not tops among the Balanchine/Stravinsky ballets, it must be admired for its innovation that still feels fresh and ultramodern today. The high-kicking opening for the four men was especially dramatic. So too was the closer, with the men standing with their backs to the audience as the curtain comes down.
In between, some of the dancing, with special nods going to Maria Kowroski and Andrew Veyette, was beautifully primed. Kowroski was confident as she swung her long legs around Amar Ramasar’s head and bent low in penchee while Ramasar laid flat on the floor.
Veyette, in the trio, was also animated — quick, sharp and jaunty.
Interest in “Agon” was furthered by the Music Director Faycal Karoui who spoke of the 12-tone music for a few minutes before the curtain rose. He’s a charming spokesman and advocate for the orchestra and obviously a fan of the music, which many find difficult to enjoy without the dancing.
There was nothing difficult to enjoy about Megan Fairchild and Daniel Ulbricht in the carefree “Tarantella.” This Balanchine crowd-pleaser delighted with these two buoyant and stellar dancers.
The program was completed by Christopher Wheeldon’s awkward “Polyphonia.” This ballet has its moments, mainly imaginative entrances and exits, and some marvelous dancing by the weightless Wendy Whelan and exquisite Lauren Lovette. But “Polyphonia” is too bogged down in contortions. It’s more a distraction than a delicacy.