Saratoga Performing Arts Center opened its 50th anniversary classical season with a champagne toast. But what got heads swirling was the first dance on SPAC’s summer stage — “Castles” as danced by Doug Varone and Dancers.
Performed on Friday night, a part of the company’s residency at Skidmore College, the ensemble piece haunted with its endless churning that hinted of love and longing.
As set to Prokofiev’s bold Waltz Suite, Opus 110, the dance was dense. It opened on a stage lit with shafts of lights zeroing in on the floor, making a tableau look like a glade of trees. The cast of eight romped around in what appeared to be a pleasant evening outing with friends.
What made this waltz in the park so astonishing were the dancer’s giant moves — staggered jumps straight up that were punctuated with spins in which arms and legs flung all about.
It gave the impression of a crowd of merry revelers.
As the band dissolved, choreographer Doug Varone got to the heart of the piece — duets with a chilling quartet.
Underneath the gaiety, these petite waltzes revealed uncertain lovers, competitive pals and disappointing encounters. It all boiled to overflowing in a finale with the ensemble in constant motion in which the dancers looked like swatches of silk rippling and tumbling in a breeze.
These musical and super athletic dancers took to the music of Philip Glass (“The Light”) as well as they did to Prokofiev’s waltzes.
In “Lux,” the ensemble once again huddled and then dissipated as one unit.
With a circular light continually rising in the background, this contracting and expanding with precision and sensitivity grew ever faster.
When the speed of both the dance and the music overwhelmed, the tone turned slower. A single dancer returned center stage to point two fingers skyward in a balletic gesture of forever love.
In both “Castles” and “Lux,” the dancers impressed with their dexterity — to be both flowing and sharp, a contrast that they could outline in a nano-second.
The dancers were all angles in the surprising “Strict Love,” to 1970s pop tunes.
With the house lights still illuminated and the song “Spirit in the Sky” blasting away, a dancer walked on stage and stood still staring out at the crowd as they continued to chat away.
As the lights slowly dimmed, he was joined by another and another.
When a cast of seven stood transfixed, we hear a DJ and then Jackson 5’s “ABC” and one dancer began to stir. She bent an elbow and then stood still as we took it in. Then she would bend a wrist or a knee. It was all done as if she were a marionette or robot.
This gray persona, which all the dancers took on, juxtaposed to the music, which included Diana Ross’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” was bizarre and fascinating. “Strict Love” was one of those dances that leaves audiences begging for more.
And more there will be as the summer season at SPAC has just begun.
If Doug Varone and Dancers is any indication, it should be a fine summer for dance.