The peerless skills of the late choreographers George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins were on show Wednesday night as the New York City Ballet presented a colorful evening of theatrical dance at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The four works on the bill, though decades old, prove that no matter how many years pass, their works remain relevant and affecting.
Take Robbins’ “The Cage” from 1951, set to Stravinsky’s String Concerto in D. A timeless work, it probes the dark world of genetically murderous, insect-like creatures who lure and then devour their prey. Wendy Whelan danced the role of the Novice, the newborn of the clan who is well-taught by her elders, including The Queen, danced with venom by Rebecca Krohn.
The action is aggressive with elbows angling out and pointe shoes stabbing the floor. And when an intruder approaches, several well-placed kicks and a quick twist of the neck ensure yet another victim to consume.
Whelan is marvelous as the Novice. She conveys a rapid progression, from quivering youth to cold killer. It’s chilling and gruesome. But “The Cage” makes for great theater.
So too does Balanchine’s “The Firebird,” also to music by Stravinsky. Based on a Russian folk tale, it centers on a prince who captures and then releases the magical bird. She repays him with an enchanted feather which he brandishes to free his beloved from an evil wizard.
“The Firebird,” with scenery and costumes by Marc Chagall, is iridescent tableaux. Just the glowing, opening scrim draws applause. Yet it was the dancing, particularly of Ashley Bouder as the Firebird, that draws the most admiration. She is a solid dancer. But rarely does one see her delicacy. She displayed both a poignancy and fortitude that was striking.
Also marvelous was another Balanchine work — “Concerto Barocco,” which got a fine, crystalline treatment with Teresa Reichlen, Ellen Bar and Justin Peck. This glorious piece, to Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D minor, is complex and matches the clarity and tone of the music beautifully. In years past, the ballet has suffered from an ennui with dancers who manage it as a worn-out standard. That was not the case on Wednesday night with this trio and its responsive corps de ballet.
The first movement with Reichlen and Bar is playful and joyous with arms and legs slicing the air as clearly as the music. But the more stirring is the second movement with Reichlen surrendering herself to Peck. He gently guides her through the quiet wilderness of other dancers who support him with a touch on the shoulder or elbow. They all acquiesce to her, however. They all circle her or watch in admiration as he lifts her delicately from pointe to pointe. It’s lovely.
Robbins’ “Other Dances,” with Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia, completed the bill. Set to Chopin piano pieces, played eloquently onstage by Cameron Grant, the dance is a delectable, folky escapade for two.