Taylor Stanley in the solo in George Balanchine's "Square Dance." (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
On Tuesday night, New York City Ballet has returned to its summer home – Saratoga Performing Arts Center. And there is no better way to honor the company and venue that George Balanchine built than to offer a program devoted to his works.
Three were one display – “Square Dance,” “The Four Temperaments” and “Symphony in C.” While the regal “Symphony in C” remains an audience favorite – it was “Square Dance” that stood out.
The reason – Taylor Stanley’s rendering of the reverent solo. The Corelli music, which is a diversion from the rest of the ballet’s bouncy Vivaldi, lends the solo a melancholy, isolated feel. Stanley’s grasp was revelatory. His deep bows where his hand swipes the floor, his jumps with his leg raised and his head and body arched down show a man submitted to something higher than himself. But his rushes forward and his back bends show a prayerful striving. He transformed it into a brief, but holy occasion.
“Square Dance,” like “Symphony in C” demonstrates Balanchine’s eye for symmetry with dancers deployed and moving in perfect and peaceful unison. In “The Four Temperaments,” to music by Hindemith, Balanchine preserves his classical adherence to symmetrical order. At the same time, he tosses out the ballet’s physical vocabulary for one that is wholly modern – both angular and soft. Early on the three opening couples that represent the theme are practically robotic. And then comes Anthony Huxley who flops his body forward and sways his arms as if he is off-kilter.
But Balanchine accents his movement by two, Olivia MacKinnon and Meagan Mann, who ring him -- kicking up their legs while they circle him en pointe. It’s a dramatic juxtaposition that continues throughout this stark, black and white ballet.
Balanchine’s vision of Bizet’s “Symphony in C” leaps from one joyful moment to the next, making for a wonderful finish to the program. Ashley Bouder dazzled with her strength and dynamism in the first movement while Teresa Reichlen soothed her with tender grasp of the second. Joseph Gordon, with Bouder, also impressed with his quadruple turns - again and again.
But the finale with all of the dancers from all four movements taking over the stage in a sparkling, boisterous ending overpowers the audience with its power, precision and elegance.
And of course, the orchestra, led by Andrews Sill, was excellent.
While the audience and the dancers looked thrilled to be a SPAC on opening night, a pall has descended on the season. It’s only one week. Many, including myself, mourn this unfortunate decision made by SPAC’s administration. SPAC administration and board fail to remember this: SPAC was built by and for Balanchine’s dancers (and the Philadelphia Orchestra). It is their summer home and should remain that way. A one-week visit is not a summer home.
This continual chipping away at the ballet season has another downside – the lawn. When the ballet had three and four-week seasons, the lawn could recover from Live Nation’s pop and rock shows. Now there is no recovery time and it’s a mud pit. The lawn is a disgrace.
City Ballet and SPAC boards and administration needs to come together and solve this loss of Balanchine’s legacy. The Saratoga institution that Balanchine built, loved and directed his successors to nourish must not be further denigrated. It’s as important as all of his groundbreaking and beautiful ballets.