New York City Ballet’s annual gala at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center was a special event on Saturday night thanks to two new ballets by the company’s visiting hit makers, Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon.
Making their SPAC premieres, both were story ballets, a rare, but pleasant departure from the usual plotless ballet. And since it’s ballet, both pieces centered on the pursuit and discovery of love.
Ratmansky’s “Namouna, A Grand Divertissement” is grand and jam-packed. An hour long and set to music by Edouard Lalo, this is the Russian choreographer at his best — deploying large numbers of dancers in swirling scenes that enrapture and developing dramatic characterizations for his chosen dancers, who then create a synergy that keeps eyes glued to the stage.
The story is set at the beach where Robert Fairchild is a single man in search of a bathing beauty. There are many — a whirlpool of corps de ballet dancers in black caps and yellow dresses — and the three swimmers who capture his attention: Wendy Whelan, Jenifer Ringer and Sara Mearns. While the costumes looked like the work was placed in the 1920s, the corps boys looked futuristic in their blue. Their roiling passes across the stage, churning all the goings-on, defining them as the waves of the ocean.
The always exuberant Daniel Ulbricht, with Megan Fairchild and Abi Stafford, appear as Fairchild’s rival. They make peace at the end when dreamy Fairchild discovers the charms of Whelan. Fairchild finds her in a desperate moment as he searches the faces of the many women who crowded the stage. The women disappear into the wings and Fairchild and Whelan engage in a precious duet. Whelan’s dancing is so wonderful as she is in the moment. Though ethereal, she never shows off. She is real and true to her character.
The unfortunate thing about the dance is that the costumes are rather ungainly. The corps de ballet’s are fine. But the caps for the principal women make them look like ET spawn. Ratmansky also throws in little touches just to break the ballet protocol — such as high-fives and cigarette-smoking ballerinas. But different is not always better and it did detract from the work as a whole.
Wheeldon’s piece, “Estancia,” to music by Alberto Ginastera, tells the tale of love between a city boy (Tyler Angle) and a prairie girl (Tiler Peck). As they are out west, there is a lot of action with wild horse galloping through the ranch. And while Angle has difficulty gaining Peck’s attention, he finally wins her love and admiration when he rounds up a unruly mare (Georgina Pazcoguin).
The best part of this ballet is Peck and Angle who create a chemistry that is tangible, thus affecting. And when they reach out to each other, it’s pure bliss.
Happily, you did not need to be at the gala to see these works. Both will be repeated next week, the last week of the season.