Wednesday night was an historic night for the Saratoga Performing Arts Center as the New York City Ballet opened the 50th anniversary celebration with the same ballet that inaugurated the first SPAC season in 1966: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
With George Balanchine’s choreography to Felix Mendelssohn’s glorious score, the company was in exceptional form as it began its two-week residency before a crowd of more than 3,700, who were enjoying a perfect summer evening under the stars.
Before the ballet began, Marcia White, SPAC’s executive director and president, told the crowd that the evening represented a milestone of “millions of moments that made a difference in millions of lives.” Ballet master-in-chief Peter Martins then introduced dancers who had performed during the 1966 season and that had attended a ceremony earlier in the evening to dedicate stars to Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein for SPAC’s Walk of Fame located at the edge of the amphitheater.
The dancers were Robert Maiorano, Karin von Aroldingen, Suki Schorer, Patricia McBride, Arthur Mitchell and Jacques d’Amboise. They got huge cheers and a standing ovation. Martins told the crowd that “my biggest wish is for us to come back on a regular basis. The only way that can happen is if you keep coming back. There’s only one New York City Ballet.”
Then it was on with the show.
Under conductor Andrew Sills, the music began with the flutes quietly followed by a flurry of strings that sounded like fairies and sprites. The long overture set the mood, the curtain rose to a dense wood designed by David Hays and lit like moonlight by Mark Stanley. The enchantment had begun.
The first act is devoted to telling the story, so Karinska’s costumes helped people who were not familiar with the tale of mismatched lovers, the world of fairies and a mischievous Puck, danced with glee by Antonio Carmena. There were 25 local children involved in this production as butterflies or part of the fairy court and always they performed with expert discipline. Also with a local connection were the 14 singers from Albany Pro Musica who sang on three occasions as the fairies.
The dancers, were, of course, marvelous, and acting was of a high standard in this story ballet. Sara Mearns as Titania was all longing and delicate in her opening duet with Zachary Catazaro.
Later, when she awakens from her enchanted sleep in her rose-petaled bower that looks like a clam shell to find Taylor Stanley as Bottom, they danced with a languid sweetness and piquancy that was especially attractive.
Joaquin de Luz as Oberon always dances with a kind of intense energy that make his jumps seem to erupt like a cork out of a wine bottle. Coupled with fast entrechats and taut turns, he galvanized attention. The two couples of Ashley Laracey and Chase Finlay and Rebecca Krohn and Amar Ramasar were lovely.
Laracey had a solo lament that showed off her beautiful arms and lovely spins. The crowd, which was very vocal and supportive throughout the evening, gave her huge applause. Savannah Lowery as Hippolyta had a great solo and impressed the crowd with her splendid and numerous fouettes.
Balanchine’s genius was especially evident in how he handled the corps. He created intricate patterns that were spatially balanced and just enough interesting choreography for good symmetry. Even gestural movements wove through various dances. By the second act, when all the couples get married, the set was like a wedding cake.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will also be danced Friday night and Saturday matinee.
A previous version of this story misidentified the dancer in the photo caption. She is corps de ballet member Kristen Segin.