One could say Saturday’s “Saratoga Dances II” was an exercise in mutual admiration.
New York City Ballet dancer and resident choreographer Justin Peck offered his homage to Saratoga Springs in two ballets, one of which was a world premiere. And Saratoga audiences, which have a deep and abiding love for the New York City Ballet, demonstrated their affection by packing the Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College for this rare glimpse of New York City Ballet dancers outside of the summer months.
And the dancers, and choreographers, satisfied the off-season craving with a varied program: George Balanchine’s “Apollo,” with Ask La Cour as the young god, was followed in the second half by the two Peck tributes to Saratoga Springs. The evening also featured a divine work by the chairwoman of Skidmore College’s dance department, Debra Fernandez. Finally, live music was finely played by the Hyperion String Quartet for both Fernandez’ “Swan Song” and Peck’s ballet from “Saratoga Dances I,” “The Enormous Room.”
But first and foremost, there was the world premiere — Peck’s “Yaddo Shadow.” This work, as in Peck’s “Enormous Room,” reflected upon the life of an artist — in this case, in the studio. This duet, with Daniel Applebaum and Ashley Isaacs, has the two appearing in rehearsal — Applebaum, the choreographer who winds up Isaacs, and Isaacs, the dutiful dancer.
To Nico Muhly’s “Quiet Music,” Isaacs was putty in the hands of Applebaum, but their relationship was oddly cool. She was his instrument — but hardly his muse. As he stood back and watched her dance his steps, he looks bemused but not impassioned. Of course, it was unclear if this was Peck’s intention. If so, this was an unflattering portrait of a dance maker.
The work was brief, however, and if felt like Peck could delve deeper into the theme of artist and his medium. Likely, he will.
Certainly, he polished his “Enormous Room,” to music by Mendelssohn. Danced by the wonderful La Cour with Applebaum and Teresa Reichlen, the dance clearly juxtaposed the wild abandon with constraint. Peck said it points to his sentiments about Saratoga Springs, where he feels free, and New York City, where he does not.
Peck emphasized the contrast with full-out turns and jumps cut short by a motionless closeness. La Cour and Reichlen together were especially pointed in their duet, both reaching out when they were apart and turning in when they were together.
Fernandez’s “Swan Song” was a beauty. Featuring the New York City Ballet’s Abi Stafford and Andrew Scordata, along with Skidmore student dancers Alison DeFranco and Victoria Stroker, the dance brought into play the large windows at the back of the stage to a marvelous and mysterious effect. Stafford sat and looked out onto the trees, where Scordata lurked and eventually drew her out. To music by Richard Danielpour, “Swan Song” was both surprising and magical.
Finally, the evening opened with Balanchine’s iconic “Apollo.” LaCour, who does not dance the role for the New York City Ballet, took on the god of the muses with a romantic artistry not seen before. The women were terrific — especially Janie Taylor as Terpsichore, whose devotion to her role and Apollo was all-consuming, and thus deeply moving.