The New York City Ballet’s opening night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center sparkled in a celebration of its founder, George Balanchine.
The all-Balanchine program on Tuesday night, the start of the company’s all-too-brief, one-week stay, was a nod to the 20th century genius whose vision led to the creation of groundbreaking works and the SPAC stage itself. So here, in the house that Balanchine built, City Ballet indulged the audience in four of his ballets: the pleasant “Raymonda Variations,” the bittersweet “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” the fierce “Walpurgisnacht Ballet” and the flashy “Who Cares?”
The night began with his version of Glazounov’s “Raymonda Variations,” a pastoral-looking ballet that simmered with vibrancy and mirth. Ashley Bouder, City Ballet’s wunderkind, led the pretty parade of pink-clad ballerinas. She astounded with her solid balance, her fleet pointe work and her dramatic arms that embraced the air. She devoured the space with partner Joaquin de Luz, who looked, at times, like he couldn’t keep up with her tireless verve.
Equally energetic was Daniel Ulbricht, appropriately cast in the title role in “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.” In this little Bizet-inspired narrative, the soldier gave his heart, literally, to a dainty doll, danced with sugary sweetness by Erica Pereira. Ulbricht was a perfect gentleman as the marching, saluting and bowing cavalier, while Pereira was the coy but wobbly figurine who blew kisses and ultimately fell in the fire.
Balanchine’s homage to the wild side came in his “Walpurgisnacht Ballet,” a lavender-colored storm to the forceful music of Gounod. Maria Kowroski, Lauren Lovette and Ask LaCour laid the subtle undertones to the corps de ballet, which rushed on and off the stage as if possessed. Kowroski and Lovette were divine to watch as both performed with a luxurious suppleness. Though the stately LaCour had a smaller part, he exuded his usual dutiful princely charm.
“Who Cares?,” Balanchine’s send-up to George Gershwin, topped off the night with flair. Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild were especially marvelous in “The Man I Love.” They drew apart but were invariably drawn back to each other like metal to a magnet. And the lifts, over and around Fairchild’s back, were nailed with precision and dash.
Throughout the evening, the New York City Ballet Orchestra, under the batons of Andrews Sill and Clothilde Otranto, played with panache. The musicians were as inspired as the dancers in this exhilarating opening night.
New York City Ballet will dance through July 12 at SPAC.