Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering” is so delicate that any little change in temperament could diminish its allure — a touch of cold or a blast of heat could easily wilt it.
In addition, the ballet, as seen at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, is an acquired taste for those seduced by the ballet’s pyrotechnics, as that’s not what it’s made of. And, it’s long — more than 60 minutes in length.
But by surrendering to its good will, the experience can be fulfilling, as it was on Friday night. The cast can and did make a huge difference — this group of 10 blended just the right mixture of light romance with frolicsome friendship.
The work is inspired by a suite of piano pieces by Chopin, played lovingly by Susan Walters. Robbins placed the music and the dancers on a sunny day with a few wispy clouds. The dancers congregate under those clouds — together and alone — to savor the warm feeling of the day and the company.
There were many memorable moments. Among them was Megan Fairchild as the playful young girl who skipped about with a flirty Antonio Carmena. Maria Kowroski was the lonely, lovely outsider who tried to attract the attention of passing men — to no avail. Joaquin De Luz added more gusto to his role than most.
And then there was Tiler Peck. She was made for this ballet. She was, and is, the quintessential girl next door. Every time she appeared, she carried away the viewer with her purity and sincerity.
The ending was superb. The dancers scanned the sky as watching a passing cloud. They then faced each other, bowed and the men took the women’s arms and they casually strolled away.
The piano played a pivotal role in the opening ballet, as well. Music by John Adams, played with vigor by Cameron Grant and Walters, served as the ringing framework for Peter Martins’ zesty “Hallelujah Junction.”
With the dueling pianists hovering above, the dancers blazed across the stage. Daniel Ulbricht, in black, provided a lot of the dance’s pluck as he spun and jumped with a tightness and speed that was astonishing.
He interrupted the melting pas de deux between Lauren Lovette and Gonzalo Garcia. This pretty dancer held Garcia in her sway as they rotated around each other, back-to-back.
The corps de ballet of eight — four couples — also infused the ballet with verve. They attacked their duets, marked by fast kicks and turns, and then launched into a starburst of lifts at the end. “Hallelujah Junction” was heavenly.
Equally rapturous, but in a quiet way, was an excerpt from “After the Rain.” Set to the hypnotic Avro Part score, played with incredibly calibrated skill by violinist Arturo Delmoni and pianist Alan Moverman, this pas de deux was a lullaby tinged with tenderness and sorrow.
Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall moved the audience to tears with their union. Whelan, poised in a series of endless backbends, completely submitted to Hall’s caring hand. She was vulnerable, open and beautiful, as was “After the Rain.”