Peter Martins was a legendary partner. And now as the ballet master-in-chief of the New York City Ballet, Martins is a legendary pas de deux choreographer. Duets are what Martins does best.
And in the case of “The Waltz Project,” which made its Saratoga Performing Arts Center premiere on Thursday night, Martins has delivered yet more memorable and imaginative pairings. He also made waltzing look cool.
Set to nine piano pieces by nine composers, including Albany composer Joseph Fennimore (the John Cage section has been eliminated), this 1988 ballet featured four couples: Savannah Lowery with Adrian Danchig-Waring, Teresa Reichlen with Amar Ramasar, Tiler Peck with Robert Fairchild, and Megan Fairchild with Andrew Veyette, charging through a suite of short but eye-catching pas de deux. The men had to be strong for these Martins-made creations as there was plenty of lifting. And the women had to be flexible enough to be bent and swung, tossed and turned upside down.
With the highly capable Cameron Grant at the piano, the dances were jammed with action that was attacked with a sharp clarity. Among the best were Reichlen with Ramasar, who was ultra-hip as he strutted along proudly, and Peck with Robert Fairchild who bopped through jazzy, hip-swinging capers.
Martins brought them all together in the end for a frolicsome finale.
The rest of the evening was dedicated to George Balanchine. The night started off with his classic “Concerto Barocco” to Bach’s Violin Concerto in D Minor and the modern “Kammermusik No. 2,” to Paul Hindemith’s piano piece. For devotees of Balanchine, “Concerto Barocco” is a must as the choreographer wooed the dance gods, and audiences, with this worshipful creation. While Lowery was a bit heavy-handed, her dancing partner Reichlen struck a perfect balance of supplication and abandon. With Ask la Cour, she was superb. Their chemistry was ideal. Thus, he inspired a confidence in her that is not often seen.
The eight corps de ballet girls were equally divine as they hovered over the two, eyeing their every move like doting guardians.
After “Concerto Barocco,” “Kammermusik No. 2” was a shock, arousing its audience out of a baroque reverie. This piece was creepy as the eight men who backed up two couples stalked and crouched as if they planned to pounce. Together, they wove a spidery web of angular arms and legs that was powerful; so much so that they stole attention from the leads, Rebecca Krohn, Abi Stafford, Jared Angle and Jonathan Stafford.
The evening ended with Balanchine’s electrifying “Symphony in C.” Prior to the curtain rising, conductor Andrews Sill spoke to the audience about the Bizet symphony, written when the composer was just 17. Sill talked about the contrasts and repeats in the music and how Bizet constructed it to create an irresistible climatic tension.
Certainly, Balanchine rode the wave of crescendo in this classical ballet, in which he created a perfect work of endless, kaleidoscopic symmetry. And with the new sparkling costumes, designed by Marc Happel, no one could turn from the gorgeous glitter of “Symphony in C.”