Preserving the world’s choreographic treasures is one of the most important jobs New York City Ballet tackles. It’s a daily ritual to unwrap the ballets of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins and polish them for generations of dancers and audiences to experience.
This year, the ballets of both of these late masters look especially well-tended. Consider Balanchine’s “Donizetti Variations,” which was presented on Friday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Dating back to 1960, the variations to music from the opera “Don Sebastian,” is minor when compared to such works as “Apollo” or “Serenade.” But the pleasure it brings is priceless when danced well.
All the Balanchine ballets, including the heady “Donizetti Variations,” have looked exceptional this season. It’s unclear as to why. Are the dancers more enthusiastic or delving deeper into the works? The answer will remain a mystery. It is certain, however, that Tiler Peck and Andrew Veyette were wonderfully congenial and entertaining in the Italianate Donizetti ballet.
Whatever Peck dances, she approaches it with joy. To this extravagant Donizetti music, which runs from sweet to trumpeting, Peck is frisky and goes for broke. She has a familiar quality to her persona. Thus, as she scissor kicks to enter or hops en pointe as she sways her hips, she makes her dancing appear easy. Of course, we all know it is not and that’s part of her winning way.
Veyette is dreamy. While he can look technically sloppy, he puts so much energy, effort and glee into his dancing that he is irresistible. For example, when he starts to spin, he is sometimes unstoppable, literally. It can make for wobbly finishes, but he is so pleased that the audience is too.
But “Donizetti Variations” was not the only happy diversion on Friday night. The program also showcased the stunning “Firebird” as choreographed by Balanchine. The ballet is grand in the old style — with vibrant and splashy scenery and costumes designed by Chagall, a score by Stravinsky that is abiding and a narrative that encompasses magic, enchanted creatures and true love. It’s one of those ballets that can not be dismissed.
Maria Kowroski danced the title role. She is perfect in this part as she combines delicacy with vulnerability like no other dancer in the company. Better still, she is beautiful, the kind of bird a sporting prince would love to capture.
The program also included two Robbins’ works — one dark, “The Cage,” to Stravinsky’s String Concerto in D; and one light, “Other Dances” to Chopin piano pieces played lovingly by Cameron Grant.
In “The Cage,” Janie Taylor danced the role of the Novice. Oddly, her otherworldly nature didn’t serve her well. She was wide-eyed, never digging into the more sinister aspects of the role.
Ashley Bouder and Garzalo Garcia performed “Other Dances.” Though capable, the two connected on only a tentative level. This is an intimate ballet that requires full commitment on the part of both.
One final note: The audience on Friday night was a bit larger than usual. It was family night and, likely, the warm weather gave attendance a boost.