Ballet, both classical and contemporary, is a language that’s not necessarily accessible to everyone.
New York City Ballet dancers Sterling Hyltin and Adrian Danchig-Waring are working to change that with NYCB On and Off Stage.
The program opens the company’s residency at SPAC on Tuesday and includes excerpts from each ballet that will be performed throughout the week. Hyltin and Danchig-Waring will host the program and give context and insight into each ballet.
“We want to help provide the audience with a key into what makes each of these works unique and [what] makes each of these works remarkable and in many cases, timeless,” said. Danchig-Waring. He’s a principal dancer with the NYCB, as well as the director of the New York Choreographic Institute, which is an incubator for emerging choreographers, composers and designers.
The excerpts will include Merce Cunningham’s “Summerspace,” Jerome Robbins’ “Glass Pieces,” Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Pam Tanowitz’s “Gustave Le Gray No. 1,” among others. The dancers will be in costume and there will be live music, along with set pieces from the ballets.
“It’s like a little tasting menu of everything we’re going to serve for the rest of the week,” Hyltin said.
In between excerpts, the co-hosts will discuss everything from the history of the pieces to aspects that are particularly challenging or important that audience members can look out for. The goal of the program is two-fold; to make ballet more accessible to anyone who might be new to the art form and to deepen the knowledge of those who are already familiar with it. With a run time of about an hour and a half, the program will include nearly an hour of dancing.
“A huge part of my interest is trying to show what distinguishes each choreographer’s language,” Dancing-Waring said. “I think that the work I do with the Choreographic Institute really compounds a sense that choreography of classical ballet is a language in itself and when utilized to its greatest capability it can express anything that the written word or spoken word can.”
“We’ve chosen these excerpts of masterful choreographies that show all these different facets of not only what the human body can do, but what it feels like to be human,” Danchig-Waring added.
Deciding which excerpts to include from each of the ballets was no easy feat.
“We were really trying to think how to be most respectful to these ballets and to the choreographers by showing excerpts that communicate enough of the breadth of each piece and the vision of each piece, while still falling under five minutes,” Danchig-Waring said.
He’ll be doing double duty on Tuesday, not only co-hosting but also dancing in the excerpt of “Gustave Le Gray No. 1,” which includes four dancers and is part of a collaboration with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Danchig-Waring has performed in most of the ballets that will be discussed in the On and Off Stage program. One of the standouts is “Summerspace,” a piece that is an outlier in the company’s repertoire since it’s rehearsed without music.
“When the curtain goes up, the orchestra starts playing their score and the dancers start dancing, their choreography and all of our reference points within that dance are either visual or spatial. So we’re deeply attuned to each other without the roadmap of music. And I think for dancers in New York City Ballet, music is everything. It’s our beating pulse . . . so it’s a real physical challenge, but an intellectual challenge beyond that,” Dancing-Waring said.
To start the program, they’ll showcase one of the company’s more traditional works, bringing on stage an excerpt from the beloved “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which will feature performances by local children.
“’A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ I think is in my personal opinion the gem of the program,” Hyltin said. “Not only because I’m performing in it, but it’s just Balanchine at his most witty and most sublime.”
Performing at SPAC is especially meaningful for Hyltin because it’s where she first saw the NYCB when she was growing up. The Texas native was attending the School of American Ballet’s summer course and took a trip up to SPAC to see the NYCB. It was that performance that solidified her desire to pursue ballet professionally.
“It’s a significant place for me and my career,” Hyltin said.
She’s been dancing with the NYCB for 20 years, becoming a principal dancer with the company in 2007. While “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has been a longtime favorite, she said she’s only performed it one other year at SPAC.
“’A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is so special there because as the bugs on stage are starting to come out the real bugs are coming out. There’s some real fireflies and it’s an immersive experience for the audience,” Hyltin said.
The ballet will mark Hyltin’s final performance at SPAC before retiring at the end of this year to raise her daughter.
“For me, particularly, it’s going to be very meaningful because it’ll be my last time performing there [since] I’m retiring in December. So I’m really excited to be there, especially after a couple of years away. It’ll feel like a big goodbye in some ways,” Hyltin said.
Co-hosting the On and Off Stage program is a good send-off as well, and one that Hyltin hopes will give audiences more reasons to enjoy the performances throughout the NYCB’s residency.
“If the audience chooses to come back, hopefully they do, it’ll give them something to really look for in each piece,” Hyltin said.
Danchig-Waring also believes the program will help contextualize the ballets and show the range of NYCB dancers.
“I think that this idea is a reflection of this time we live in where so much of . . . the content we consume is decontextualized, through social media or news headlines or push notifications. My hope is that people walk away feeling like they want to know more, they want to see more, they want to learn more,” Danchig-Waring said.
NYCB On and Off Stage
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center
TICKETS: Start at $44
MORE INFO: spac.org