Smart moves: NYCB dancer Peter Boal.
Mae G. Banner
York City Ballet
Performing Arts Center, July 6-10
This season, ballet is political. Anyone in the audience for
the first night of New York City Ballet at the Saratoga Performing
Arts Center could feel the charged atmosphere. Many audience
members wore blue-and-white Save the Ballet buttons. Others
sported stickers reading, “got ballet?”
Fans are not called balletomanes for nothing. They love the
art with a gut-churning passion. This year, because of SPAC’s
attempt to quash NYCB’s 39-year summer residency here—now,
put on hold at least until after their 2005 season—the love
is tempered with anger at what’s seen as SPAC’s insult to
the company and the community.
Saratogians have long memories. Some helped raise money in
the 1960s to build the SPAC amphitheater specifically to house
NYCB. Faced with the threatened loss of their company, citizens
organized the non-profit Save the Ballet to collect donations
for an endowment to protect the NYCB residency beyond 2005.
Opening night, July 6, was as much a demonstration of support
for the ballet as an evening of dance. The mayor declared
it George Balanchine Day. Saratoga Springs’ City Council rescheduled
their regular Tuesday night meeting so council members could
attend the performance. State Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, who
has pledged to keep the ballet at SPAC, was working the lawn
Save the Ballet provided fans with 300 flashlights, which
they beamed at the amphitheater ceiling after each dance.
The glowing lights, the fervent cheering and extended applause
gave this supposedly posh art the feel of a rock concert.
The audience knows that this is our home team. The dancers
could feel it, too, because all week, their performances reflected
the warmth that fans projected toward the stage.
Saratoga seasons are a small sample culled from NYCB’s spring
season in Lincoln Center, which, this year, celebrated Balanchine’s
legacy on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Week 1 was devoted
to the music of Russian composers, especially Tchaikovsky
and Stravinsky, with a bit of Mozart, Hindemith, and Vivaldi
I was struck by the solidity of the company, now more than
90 dancers strong. If NYCB were an athletic team, they would
be noted for depth of field as much as for star players. For
example, the week brought three different Apollos in Apollo:
Nikolaj Hubbe, who found his way into the character after
a superficial start; Nilas Martins, whose dancing projects
a new and welcome seriousness this year; and Peter Boal, a
seasoned principal dancer whose Apollo unfolds before our
eyes from an intelligent but raw young god to the inspired
leader of the Muses. One of Balanchine’s great gifts is the
final image of Apollo and the three Muses, silhouetted against
a molten sun.
Boal appeared also in Agon, Stravinsky’s deconstruction
of French court dances in which groups of 2s, 3s, 4s, and
6s vaunt their technical prowess and excellent manners in
feats of balance, strength and coordination—all displayed
with wit. In his solo Sarabande, Boal made you see
the cant of his ankle, the slant of his wrist, the twist of
his torso. Every muscle and joint was working intelligently.
On Friday (July 9) Boal danced a deeply felt, intense Melancholic
in Hindemith’s The Four Temperaments, rising and crashing
to the floor, his arms searching, his body pleading.
Kyra Nichols, perhaps the company’s most complete Balanchine
dancer, performed the part-prayerful, part- flirtatious
Mozartiana, to Tchaikovsky’s music. She is so thoroughly
imbued with the spirit of this dance that she’s free to add
the occasional fillip to the choreography—spontaneous adornments
that enlarge its meaning.
The electric partnership of Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto made
us catch our breath in Agon and Stravinsky’s Violin
Concerto, both of which spotlight Balanchine’s most convoluted,
strenuous coupling. So well-attuned are Whelan and Soto that
I felt they inhabited each other’s brains, like characters
in the X-Files.
Soto will retire after the spring 2005 New York City season,
so this is our last summer to see him at SPAC. He’ll be dancing
July 13 in the regional premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s
Shambards and at the Gala, July 17, in Peter Martins’
Barber Violin Concerto.
The rising generation of dancers made a stunning impression
in Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 3. Wonder-struck Stephen
Hanna sought the elusive Carla Korbes in the Elegie, which
has always seemed to me the incarnation of the old fairy tale,
“The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” who dance their slippers
to tatters night after night in their blue-lit ballroom. Like
this year’s audience, Hanna must capture them before they’re