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NYCB's ‘Papillons’ debut disappoints

NYCB's ‘Papillons’ debut disappoints

The first showing of any ballet at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center is always a special occasion.

The first showing of any ballet at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center is always a special occasion. Yet the Thursday night premiere of “Papillons,” by New York City Ballet’s master-in-chief Peter Martins, did not cause much of a sensation. The ballet is pleasant, but hardly Martins’ best work.

Named for the piano piece by Robert Schumann, as played with luster by Cameron Grant, the work is designed for two couples. At its first SPAC showing, Darci Kistler was paired with Jared Angle while Megan Fairchild danced with his brother, Tyler Angle. The start of the ballet has the Angles with their hands plastered to the women’s torso so they can bound Kistler and Fairchild straight up in the air. While in flight, their creamy chiffon skirts blew in the breeze.

Kistler, who is retiring next spring, appeared peaceful in the capable hands of Jared Angle. Her pointe work was well-placed. But the lilt in her step has now flattened and her once distinctive line is not as long. This stiff truth was amplified next to Fairchild, who looks to be at or nearing the height of her powers. Tyler Angle tossed her about and she handled herself fearlessly.

For those who are sentimental, however, it’s worthwhile to go to see “Papillons.” Kistler, a favorite with audiences for years, will not be dancing much else this summer. Her last night is Saturday, at the Gala, in George Balanchine’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.” She will repeat “Papillons” at Saturday’s matinee.

While “Papillons” was a disappointment, the rest of the program was fantastic.

The bright and energetic “Concerto Barocco” opened the bill. This Balanchine ballet, to Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D minor, is an ode to the ballerina. Teresa Reichlen is worthy, acting as the ensemble’s touchstone and inspiration. With Ellen Bar, she is blithe in the sunny opener and the swift-moving closer. With Justin Peck, her partner, she is sublime, an august creature to be admired.

Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations” was even more spectacular. This parade in a crystal palace to Tchaikovsky showcased Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette as the royals of a breathless court. This is a difficult ballet and Hyltin holds nail-biting balances, with the support of the corps de ballet, with strength and grace. Veyette goes for bounce and brio in his jumping solo variations. Better still, the two looked like they were having a great time. They smiled and so did the audience.

Last, but hardly least, was the staging of Jerome Robbins’ “The Cage.” Wendy Whelan is a miracle of physical artistry. As the Novice, she contorts herself from woozy newborn to controlled killer, twisting the necks of intrusive men. She gets a lot of egging on by the Queen, danced by Rebecca Krohn, and her cult of spidery, kinky-haired minions. Their female appetite for the men is not just instinctual, it’s also sexual. It leaves one to wonder how Robbins’ was feeling about women at the time he created “The Cage.”

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