The New York City Ballet returned to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Wednesday night to thrill more than 1,250 people on a perfect summer evening.
But unlike past seasons, only fifteen of the company’s dancers came to perform excerpts of various ballets in a format called “Short Stories” in which details about the ballet’s story, choreography and how the dancers approached their roles were explored.
While some of the narrative was informative for those who had never seen that particular ballet, other details definitely revealed more for those who were regular fans. All the excerpts were provided with piano support given either by Alan Moverman or Nancy McDill. The musicians had a formidable job replacing an orchestra. Only in those ballets in which Igor Stravinsky’s music was used, were the colors of the orchestra missed.
Before all that happened, Elizabeth Sobol of SPAC and Jonathan Stafford, the artistic director of the ballet company, shared some thoughts with the crowd.
“I am so full of joy to see all of you here,” Sobol said. “We talked for fifteen months to make a promise for the ballet to be back on stage this summer.”
Stafford added that it was only fitting that the company’s first live performance of the season would be on this stage.
“Our dancers were not going to let a little thing like a pandemic stop us from doing what we love,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable testament for how they feel about ballet.”
Both said the full company would be back next summer.
Deb Peck-Kelleher, who was attending with her teenage son Henry Kelleher, said the evening was her first live show of the SPAC season and being a dance fan was especially glad it was the New York City Ballet.
“It’s exciting. Henry is not a dance fan but I drag him every year,” she said, laughing.
Charle Phillips, an usher for the past four years, noted that people were excited but were complaining that there were no paper programs, only digital versions for their phones.
Once Maria Kowroski, one of the company’s principal dancers and the evening’s host came out, everyone settled. Up first was Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free” with music by Leonard Bernstein played by pianist Alan Moverman. Kowraski asked the three sailors: Amar Ramasar, Spartak Hoxha and Lars Nelson to describe their characters and how the choreography depicted each. The dance had them cartwheeling, spinning, working playfully as a trio in jaunty, carefree moves. Not especially tight or precise, they seemed relaxed and having fun.
The crowd responded with huge applause, whistles, cheers as they did for all the excerpts.
One of the most outstanding dances of the evening was Teresa Reichlen and Tyler Angle in the White Swan pas de deux from “Swan Lake.” Her wonderfully arched back and long legs and Angle’s strong, sure hands made for a fabulous partnership. Nancy McDill was at the piano.
Kowroski then introduced Meaghan Dutton-O’Hara who was making her debut in the difficult role of Princess Aurora in the Rose Adagio from “Sleeping Beauty.” For this dance, Aurora must balance on toe while she greets her four suitors, who were dressed in sumptuous costumes in purple, green, gold, and rose red. Aurora was in a light orange tutu. Dutton-O’Hara did very nicely. Then Wendy Whelan, the company associate director and a principal dancer, known to most of the audience, came out to show how to coach a dancer in a role such as this one.
“This was my first full-length ballet and I was terrified,” Whelan said. “Nerves never go away, but you grow into the role over the years.”
Dutton-O’Hara said she’d watched the role from the sidelines as a member of the corps for eight years.
“But it’s a different animal doing the role,” she said.
Sara Adams and Hoxha returned to do the famous Bluebird pas de deux from the same ballet and then took excellent solos: he with large leaps and entrechats and she with piquet turns across the stage.
George Balanchine choreographed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with elegant steps and created a sweet pas de deux for Tatiana and her loving donkey. Miriam Miller was a lovely, willowy Tatiana, and Lars Nelson as an adorable donkey.
Also presented were Jerome Robbin’s marvelous Mistake Waltz from “The Concert,” in which one of the six dancers is always out of step; and the fabulous pas de deux of Prince Igor and the Firebird from Balanchine/Stravinsky “The Firebird” danced with great precision by Teresa Reichlen and Amar Ramasar. The finale was the fourth movement from Balanchine’s “Western Symphony” for ten dancers with bold, exuberant moves.
The crowd jumped to its feet with loud and exuberant applause, cheers, and whistles.
“Short Stories” returns tonight at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. July 17. “All Balanchine” will be 2 p.m. today and 7:30 p.m. on July 16 and 17.