New York City Ballet settles in at SPAC

Company returns for its annual residency, performances
Marquerite Mehler, NYCB's director of production, holds one of the hundreds of costumes that will be worn at SPAC this week.
Marquerite Mehler, NYCB's director of production, holds one of the hundreds of costumes that will be worn at SPAC this week.

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The statistics are staggering: six tractor trailers, three miles of cable, over a thousand toe shoes, and hundreds of costumes.

That’s a fraction of what the New York City Ballet moved into the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Monday.

Marquerite Mehler, the NYCB’s director of production, is in charge of it all. She’s been in the position for over 20 years and has been coming up to SPAC for just as long.

“I love that I’m working in the theater but I’m actually outside and enjoying the fresh air,” Mehler said.

Not that it doesn’t come with its challenges.

“It’s supposed to get humid and hot, which is really hard for the dancers. Humidity is really a problem for the scenery. There’s plenty of times where I’m just watching this gorgeous scenery absorbing this water. We’ve had a lot of things ruined,” Mehler said.

She’s got a few tricks to combat it, like DampRid, a product that helps draw the moisture out of the set pieces.

While at SPAC, their summer home, Mehler and the rest of her team also have to contend with daylight.

At 8 a.m. on Monday, a group of 38 local members and 20 NYCB crew members, started to install the sets for “Coppélia,” configure the lights, the dance floor, the orchestra pit. They planned to have the set installed within nine hours, when the dancers would start their first rehearsal.

According to Mehler, they planned to work on lighting, scene changes, and run through the technical aspects of the performances until 5 a.m., shortly before the sun rises.

“We would keep going but the sun has come up so we can’t light,” Mehler said.

There’s much to prepare for this season, between the opening night program of “Tschaikovsky and Balanchine,” the premieres of “Varied Trio (in four)” and “The Runaway” and “Coppélia.”

The latter has the largest cast and perhaps the most intricate scene changes.

“There’s three acts and each one has a very different set,” Mehler said, adding “This is actually one of my favorite designs. It’s so clever and simple. Each set [has] a completely different feel.”

The first set is an outdoor village, with houses, a steeple, trees and other details. The second set takes the audience inside Dr. Coppélia’s workshop and the third set is another village scene.

Though the production premiered at SPAC back in 1974, it’s the first time in a decade that the NYCB has brought it back to the SPAC stage. Some of the set pieces from that first production are still included in the set design, though some of the pieces have had to be replaced due to age, wear and tear.

Beyond the set, “Coppélia” involves around 250 costumes. Some are a rich purple, with silver trim, others are a light peach with puffy sleeves and floral details. While crew members were setting up the stage, the Wardrobe Mistress, Jacqueline (Norma) Attride, worked on getting hundreds of costumes in order for the week’s various performances. Some of the costumes have been with the company for years while others are newer additions to its collection.

Swarovski crystals dot the light blue corps costume featured in “Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.”From the chiffon skirt, spotted with dark-colored crystals to the chest and mid-section of the costume, adorned with blue crystals, it’s perhaps one of the brightest pieces in the collection brought up from NYC, as well as one of the newest.

That costume and more can be seen this week, starting at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, during the first performance of the NYCB’s residency at SPAC. The company will perform through Saturday. For tickets and more information, visit

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