Since 1967, Peter Martins has played an important role in New York City Ballet, first as a dancer, arriving from Denmark by invitation from George Balanchine to perform in his “Apollo” and partner with his then-muse, Suzanne Farrell, then, upon Balanchine’s death in 1983, taking center stage again as the succeeding ballet master-in-chief.
Over the years, he has sustained the Balanchine legacy with a steely devotion. He has also striven to advance and expand the art form with his own choreography and with countless commissions bestowed upon both aspiring and established dance makers.
Of course, it is impossible to overstate his role at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Without his passion for the house that Balanchine built, New York City Ballet’s continued residencies at SPAC would have ended years ago.
That is why, on Thursday, Martins was honored with a star at SPAC. The sidewalk star engraved with his name joined others on a path that honors SPAC luminaries. The unveiling, which included his family and SPAC supporters Marylou Whitney and Michele Riggi, ended with an audience-wide champagne salute.
The evening program that followed was an all-Balanchine extravaganza, but during the day’s matinee, two of Martins’ works were delivered, demonstrating his willingness to continually experiment on the ballet stage.
His “Hallelujah Junction,” set to a double piano composition by John Adams, was a classy afternoon opener. In it, dark met light at the intersection of ecstasy. With the pianos, played with gusto by Cameron Grant and Susan Walters, raised above the dancers, Martins’ ballet pursued the pulsating music. The dancers were dressed in black and white, like piano keys, and moved in and out of the stage frame with energy and speed that was breathtaking.
Daniel Ulbricht, in black, flew through the air in the low chord while the comely Lauren Lovette and Gonzalo Garcia, in white, melded in a sharp and energized duet in which she landed and rested upside on his shoulder.
In between, a corps de ballet burst in and out of view, accelerating the urgency of this euphoric fling.
Martins’ curious “Barber Violin Concerto” was also performed. While the ballet, set to Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 14, looked straight forward — basically a couple swap — the piece garnered a mixed reaction. Some found it funny, others disturbing — I’m in the latter camp.
Either way, dancers Teresa Reichlen with Ask La Cour and Ashley Bouder with Jared Angle performed with relish. Reichlen and La Cour were, and always are, terrific together, as they share a knowing rapport. Bouder, as with everything she does, blazed with unstoppable moxie that was startling.
The afternoon also featured Balanchine’s “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,” which is generally a pleasure. However, with Abi Stafford and Chase Finlay, this tour de force duet was disappointing. Stafford seemed timid with Finlay, as he looked unsure of escorting her. They fared better in their solos — executing the technical fireworks — as they did have to rely on each other.
Finally, the afternoon finished with Balanchine’s jazzy “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” with couples Maria Kowroski with Adrian Danchig-Waring and Janie with Robert Fairchild. All, including the corps, performed with the effervescent spirit that keeps audiences longing for more.