Instead of playing dolls Wednesday, American Girl Night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center conjured up visions of playing cards.
That was because the New York City Ballet shuffled its deck — with the Queen of Hearts coming up wild — in Peter Martins’ convivial “Jeu de Cartes.” Set to Stravinsky’s score of the same name, the ballet was a colorful display in which the dancers were cast as cards. As they mixed and mingled on a poker table stacked with chips, they also delighted in their exuberance and good humor.
The coltish Sterling Hyltin was the Queen who pranced with Robert Fairchild as the King of Clubs, Daniel Ulbricht as the King of Spades and Taylor Stanley as the Jack of Diamonds. As they strutted, wobbled and flew, the remaining dancing deck paraded in a frisky cavort.
All the dancers were fantastic — Ulbricht and Fairchild especially. Ulbricht, as usual, was a bouncing ball — hovering in the air with extraordinary ballon. Fairchild won over the audience with his pure glee. He was having fun, and that feeling was shot across the seats, arousing the crowd to share his smile.
The evening then turned romantic, with Jerome Robbins’ “In the Night.” Set to piano pieces by Chopin and played with care and nuance by Nancy Dill, this ballet for three couples was magnificent. Each couple fell headlong into their distinctive personalities with conviction — Meagan Fairchild with Chase Finlay swirled in a haze of youthful passion, Teresa Reichlen and Justin Peck portrayed a mature and tender pair, and Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar feuded and fussed in a feisty row.
Robbins introduced them separately and brought them together for this ballet, which was tinged with a reverence for the mysteries of love. And set under the stars and danced beautifully, “In the Night” transported the audience to the heavens.
The evening closed with Alexei Ratmansky’s unfortunate “Russian Seasons,” to music by Leonid Desyatnikov. This ballet has many effective touches that were memorable., but the dance was mainly a mass of confusion. Each of the dancers — 12 in all — were either skipping about cheerfully or crumbling into heaps of distress and sadness.
Wendy Whelan was the heart of the ballet. As partnered by the energized Jared Angle, she represented a dying figure, perhaps a metaphor for Russia’s political upheaval. She was found on her knees, looking ill and holding her head and stomach, but aside from a touch on the shoulder or an occasional extended hand, she languished, dying in the end.
Another odd figure was Georgina Pazcoguin’s character. She appeared mostly disturbed, for reasons that could not be fathomed. She danced a powerfully dramatic duet with Andrew Veyette. But again, their duet, like each of the 12 passages, was just another baffling bit of bizarre behavior.
Because it was nonsensical, “Russian Seasons” grew tiring quickly. It was not the dancers fault, as they did their best with this befuddled material; so too did the marvelous Kurt Nikkanen on violin and Irina Rindzuner singing the soprano part. Yet “Russian Seasons” is one to avoid.