Saratoga Performing Arts Center has only commissioned two ballets in its 45 years partnering with New York City Ballet. Both were by George Balanchine and both center on a doll — “Coppelia” and “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.” The latter premiered in 1975 and came home to SPAC Wednesday night.
One of the nicest thing about seeing this ballet — as with others — is experiencing different dancers in the roles. And while “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” can be considered incidental because it is so small, it was danced with graciousness by Anthony Huxley. Wednesday was his premiere in the title role and he donned it with dignity.
His sweet naivete brought his metal man to life. As he tipped on his heels and saluted, he watched his beloved pretty-in-pink kissy doll, Erica Pereira, spin on her toes. When he gave her his heart and she placed it to her breast, it was heart-felt. Though she was cute, she didn’t soak up her part as deeply as he, remaining an inanimate object. So when she fell in the fire, it was not she that the audience mourned. We felt for the poor sad soldier who bowed his head, held his chest and returned to his line of lifeless infantry.
The evening also included Balanchine’s “Walpurgisnacht Ballet” from Gounod’s “Faust.” This is a beautiful ballet, cast in lilac and brimming with life. Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard ushered in the night with polish. They look like the perfect couple, but they are not quite. Askegard is so preoccupied with Kowroski that he forgets to be expressive. One does appreciate his gentlemanly qualities, stepping aside so the woman can take center stage. But it holds back his artistic growth.
It’s wonderful to see him in a solo where he can finally shed his partnering concerns. He does let loose, but always in the most reserved way.
The best parts of “Walpurgisnacht” are drawn by the corps de ballet, which literally lets its hair down. Balanchine brings them on in waves, bold leaps and swift runs. They move so quickly and with such force, it’s explosive and needless to say, exciting to watch.
The program also included Alexei Ratmansky’s “Namouna, A Grand Divertissement.” This ballet is so flush with activity that it really takes more than one look to absorb it all. And it actually is even more intriguing the second time around.
I didn’t notice it the first time, but this is an Esther Williams extravaganza without the pool. A bevy of men in blue are the water. And the female swimmers bob and wade in their waves.
Robert Fairchild is super as the young man in the sailor suit who is wooed by three women — a saucy, cig-smoking Jenifer Ringer, an elegant old Hollywood-type Sara Mearns and the spiritually and physically pure Wendy Whelan. Of course, since “Namouna” is set as an MGM musical, there is a happy ending with Fairchild giving Whelan a long smooch as the curtain comes down.
Though I still loathe the costumes, the ballet is a playful sight to behold.