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City Ballet, SPAC to mark 50 years together with old favorites, Peck premiere

City Ballet, SPAC to mark 50 years together with old favorites, Peck premiere

On July 20, the New York City Ballet and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center begin the celebration o
City Ballet, SPAC to mark 50 years together with old favorites, Peck premiere
Unity Phelan and Amar Ramasar are seen in Christopher Wheeldon's 'American Rhapsody.' New York City Ballet's residency at Saratoga Performing Arts Center begins on Wednesday. The ballet has been a staple at the venue since it opened in 1966. (Paul Kolnik)

On July 20, the New York City Ballet and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center begin the celebration of their 50-year collaboration. SPAC’s president and executive director Marcia White and ballet master-in-chief Peter Martins have a lot planned.

“We’re opening with ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream,’ ” White said. “It’s a historic opening performance.” (NYC Ballet inaugurated SPAC on July 8, 1966.)

Although the story-ballet has been performed at least three times since — the last time was in 2010 — White said she and Martins decided to wait until this anniversary before presenting it again. The delicious tale about young lovers, fairies and enchantment will have three performances.

New York City Ballet

WHEN: 8 p.m. July 20-23, 26-30; 2 p.m. July 23, 28, 30

WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center

HOW MUCH: $90-$40 (night); $45-$35 (day); lawn $26 (night); $15 (day). Discounts for children and students

MORE INFO: 584-9330;

PRE-PERFORMANCE TALKS: One hour before each concert. $5 for ticket holders

Every season, Martins has scheduled upstate premieres during the annual gala, which this season is Saturday. In the past, as many as 12 premieres were presented of works that had first been seen at the company’s own fall gala.

This year, however, Martins offers the world premiere of resident choreographer Justin Peck’s new ballet “Scherzo,” set to Stravinsky’s “Scherzo Fantastique,” a piece Peck calls “slightly off the radar” and his first time setting a dance to Stravinsky’s music.

“I wanted something joyous and somewhat fantastical,” he said in an email from Paris, where the company had a three-week residency. “Imagining the work in an outdoor setting was also something I’d never done.”

White said having a Peck world premiere was amazing.

“He’s practically ours, he’s spent so much time in Saratoga,” she said. “He’s like a son.”

Premieres at Gala

The gala will also feature four SPAC premieres: Robert Binet’s “The Blue of Distance” to Ravel; Troy Schumacher’s “Common Ground” to Ellis Ludwig-Leone; Myles Thatcher’s “Polaris” to William Walton; and Christopher Wheeldon’s “American Rhapsody” to Gershwin.

Different this season, however, is that all these new ballets, including Peck’s, will be on view other nights and corps ballerina Unity Phelan is dancing in all of them. She’s also a principal in the Wheeldon work, something she said was a huge honor.

“Chris was very patient and understanding with me, which made the process [of learning the steps] really enjoyable,” she said. “I try to be sassy . . . and use a lot of eye contact to look at people on the stage.”

Besides the premieres, many favorites will be offered, including three nights of “Jewels;” two nights of Balanchine classics; and three nights with such dances as “Ash” (Torke/Martins), “Fancy Free” (Bernstein/Robbins) and “Concerto DSCH” (Shostakovich/Ratmansky).

Committed to residency

Although White is leaving her job at the end of September, she said this company of incomparable dancers and its fabulous orchestra should not be taken for granted.

“The board decided years ago that we had to have two weeks for this anniversary,” she said. “They and I made it crystal clear that we want to continue to support the ballet residency absolutely.”

It was said that Balanchine wanted to make this festival the “Salzburg of America,” White said, and in those days, the company had four weeks to perform. But that became three weeks in the late 1970s until 2009, when low attendance, decreased funding and higher costs brought the season to only two weeks.

“I always say it costs $2 million to bring them here for two weeks and we lose $1 million,” White said. “But Peter and the NYC Ballet did an amazing job to raise funds and find new audiences. They were very creative.”

The season still decreased to one week over the next two years, but last year it returned to two weeks with the hope that level of residency will continue.

“This residency is our legacy and heritage . . . and deserves to be supported,” White said. “Attendance and funds raised will still determine next year. But I believe there’s always a way when you have positive energy.

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