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SPAC lawn turns magical when ballet takes stage

Summer Days

SPAC lawn turns magical when ballet takes stage

To me, the quintessential summer experience is watching the New York City Ballet from the lawn at th
SPAC lawn turns magical when ballet takes stage
Fans watch from the lawn as the New York City Ballet performs at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in July 2013.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

New York City Ballet

WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center

WHEN: 8 p.m. tonight through Saturday; 2 p.m. Thursday and Saturday


To me, the quintessential summer experience is watching the New York City Ballet from the lawn at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

My kids grew up at SPAC, picnicking every night, running around the big back lawn during intermissions, learning to watch quietly, to listen, to focus on something magical happening in front of them as the stars and the fireflies came out.

My daughter decided to become a dancer when she was 2, after watching NYCB perform “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Actually, she decided she would be Puck, or maybe Albert Evans, the dancer who performed Puck that year.

Back then, a season lawn pass cost less than $100, and got you five nights of the New York City Opera, three weeks of New York City Ballet and three more of Philadelphia Orchestra. My son had the good sense to be born during the week off between the ballet and the orchestra, so that we didn’t have to miss a show in the classical season.

A season pass costs a lot more now, the City Opera’s been gone for ages and while the orchestra still comes for three weeks, the ballet — which starts tonight — is only staying five nights.

So don’t miss it.

You don’t need a season pass; just make sure you show up on the lawn at least once while they’re here.

You have seven chances — tonight through Friday at 8 p.m., with Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. Lawn tickets are $24 for evening shows and $15 for matinees, and kids ages 12 and under get in free. Saturday night is different: It’s the Gala, a major fundraiser, and lawn seats go up to $50.

The beauty of lawn seats is you don’t have to plan in advance. Pick a warm evening this week, pack a picnic dinner, bring a blanket and go.

Since kids are free, take a few. I’ve introduced nieces and nephews to the ballet via the lawn and taught them to use binoculars, too. I remember my niece Hannah, at around 5, sitting on a blanket during a ballet matinee, messing with the binoculars until she suddenly got the stage in focus.

“Oh I see,” she said. “Those are ladies dancing. I thought they were little girls.”

That’s how I knew she was looking through the right end.

If you forget the binoculars, there are screens outside the amphitheater projecting what’s happening on stage. But it’s nice to watch whatever you want to, not just what the camera chooses.

That might mean focusing on a particular dancer or on the patterns NYCB co-founder and choreographer George Ballanchine was famous for making in his large ensemble pieces.

And who knows? One of the kids you bring might get the dancing bug for life, like my daughter.

Fifteen years after she first saw Puck, she moved to New York City to study ballet full-time. Last spring, she even performed in “Midsummer,” although she wasn’t Puck. Just a fairy.

For more info on the ballet, visit

Have a favorite summer activity? Let us know about it. Share your ideas for Summer Days at or

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