The lawn of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center was jammed with patrons on Tuesday night — and not just the human kind. It was American Girl Doll Night and hundreds of little girls, with dolls in tow, arrived for an evening with New York City Ballet.
But after the first intermission, many of the would-be ballet fans cleared out as the program on Tuesday night was not family-friendly. Aside from Jerome Robbins’ “Circus Polka,” which lasts about three minutes, the evening was geared toward the ballet connoisseur. Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering,” which followed the colorful “Circus Polka,” is the kind of ballet that will make a novice swear off a return. (If SPAC is trying to cultivate a youth following, it should consider the program before marketing it to children.)
Actually, the work, set to Chopin piano pieces, can be absolutely tortuous, as it is long even for the ballet fan. It’s also delicate and simple with no dazzling production values or a story to follow. Basically, “Dances at a Gathering” feels like a lazy afternoon outing with friends. Ten dancers stroll, skip, and chase each other about. There are hints of romance, rivalry, excitements and disappointments that show themselves in a suite of solos, duets, trio, etc. But the energy level, like the clouds that glide by on the backdrop, is calm and peaceful.
What makes this work a classic is the dancers performing it. When well-danced, the ballet is worth a viewer’s patience. On Tuesday night, it was graciously performed — rising to its best expectations.
Among the finest of the dancers was Joaquin de Luz, who started the ballet off with his pensive solo, as well as the energetic Amar Ramasar and charming Tiler Peck. Wendy Whelan was relegated to the smallest part for a woman in the ballet — the girl who can’t attract a partner. As usual, she was tremendous. So too was Anthony Huxley, a rising star in the corps de ballet, who has a remote but confident quality that is striking.
Certainly, the New York City Ballet is performing better than ever. And that was again demonstrated in Peter Martins’ homage to Richard Rodgers in “Thou Swell.” This art deco creation takes a nostalgic look at a time when men and women were gentlemen and ladies, and the most romantic thing was a kiss on the palm.
The music, with singers Chloe and Joe Paparella, was soaring. With a trio (Alan Moverman on piano, Ron Wasserman on bass and James Saporito on drums) playing onstage with the versatile and wonderful New York City Ballet Orchestra, the Rodgers tunes stirred up vision of romance and fantasy.
“Thou Swell” opened with Music Director Faycal Karoui introducing the audience to Don Sebesky’s arrangement of the tunes. Karoui’s passion for the music was evident and heightened the enjoyment of the gorgeous “Thou Swell” all the more.