It was gala night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Saturday night, and thus, a swirl of frilly frocks paraded around the grounds.
But no dress in the crowd dazzled more than those worn onstage for the SPAC premiere of the New York City Ballet’s “Bal de Couture.”
The new Peter Martins work, appropriately set to a dramatic score from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” was a fashion parade of commissioned gowns by designer Valentino. Ah, and what gowns they were — luxurious and elegant and certainly a delight for every female dancer to wear. And Martins displayed them with a flourish in a festive setting.
The dancers entered on ramps that sloped from the wings. This grand appearance — with the men in black suits and ties — turned into a beautiful promenade in which the dancers twirled to show off the layers of fabric decorating the A-line skirts. There were tutus, too, puffy and adorable.
The heart of “Bal de Couture” was the love triangle between Janie Taylor, Sebastien Marcovici and Robert Fairchild. Taylor, in a lavender chiffon dress, looked like a dainty flower, secure with Marcovici but enflamed by Fairchild.
Her departure gave way to yet another party scene where the dancers, minus Taylor and Marcovici, surged in a waltz that built with the crashing Tchaikovsky music.
Also new to SPAC was Christopher Wheeldon’s “This Bitter Earth,” a pas de deux for Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle. With music by Max Richter and text sung and spoken by Dinah Washington, the duet was a yet another moving adagio for veteran Whelan. Always a favorite, Whelan has ripened into a dancer who projects great depth of emotion. She and Angle portrayed what felt like the beginning of the end.
Her kiss to his cheeks and his hug to her chest signaled a spiritual union that kept audiences holding their breath.
The gala night also featured a tribute to Edward Villella, the original dancer in George Balanchine’s “Rubies,” the centerpiece in the full-length ballet “Jewels.” With music by Stravinsky, this was a coltish, exhausting display of virtuosity. Joaquin De Luz danced Villella’s role with abandon, jumping and twisting his body through the air. He chased about a prancing Megan Fairchild, who had a series of intricate footwork she laid down with precision and a smile. They were a joy to watch.
As usual, the NYCB orchestra showed off their range with dedication. Under the direction of Andrew Sills, the fine musicians’ presence elevated every evening of dance. They will be sorely missed in the next two weeks when SPAC, unfortunately, resorted to booking ballet companies that dance to canned music.
The NYCB and its expert orchestra are peerless and cherished.