Sterling Hyltin and Joaquin de Luz in "Odessa" (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
Two ballets made their Saratoga Performing Arts Center premiere on Wednesday night – Justin Peck’s “The Decalogue” and Alexei Ratmansky’s “Odessa.” And while Peck’s stark work for New York City Ballet likely deserves a second look to be appreciated, Ratmansky’s ballet stung on first showing.
The memorably devastating dance, set to Leonid Desyatnikov’s “Sketches to Sunset,” is based on Isaac Babel’s tale of Jewish gangsters in the Ukrainian city after the Russian Revolution. The atmospheric and emotive music that included bells and mournful strings, set the scene and fed the dancing of potent men and fragile, frightened and abused women.
The cast was outstanding serving Ratmansky’s vision of dystopia with commitment. Joaquin de Luz and Sterling Hyltin were especially impressive, performing as lovers trapped in a harsh world. Hyltin plays De Luz’s oasis. She is an angel who soothes and casts out his demons, despite her fear.
The corps de ballet of six men and six women, operating as the collective soul as well as backdrop, heightened the scene that Ratmansky created. Troubled and dark, the ballet is not for the faint of heart – but for those willing to look at the cruelty evoked by men who seek and hold power.
Ratmansky’s vision for “Odessa” was clear. Peck’s work, to a piano score under the same title by Sufjan Steven, was less so. Rather than setting a straight path for the dance, Peck looked to be experimenting with lighting and movement. Each of the dances was well-formed. And the dancers delivered many meaningful moments, particularly Gonzalo Garcia. He shined in his solo, lending the ballet a bit of pathos. But taken together, the ballet felt disjointed, united only by the music and costumes.
Susan Walters, at the piano, was marvelously precise and affecting.
Wednesday evening opened with Peter Martins’ “Jeu de Cartes,” to music by Stravinksy. This ballet, as the title indicates, is a card game where the dancers are cards that are shuffled and reshuffled.
There is not much to see here, except for the beautiful costumes by Ian Falconer. Megan Fairchild was the flirtatious Queen of Hearts who toyed with the King of Diamonds (Harrison Ball) and the King of Clubs (Aaron Sanz). But the Jack of Spades danced by Joseph Gordon was the one to watch. In everything he has danced this season, he had added a flair and style that is eye-catching.
Fairchild was also terrific, as she seemed to spin endlessly, as she bounced from royal card to royal card.
Unless you love the music, it’s difficult to be absorbed, in even a well-played “Jeu de Cartes.” It feels too contrived and humdrum.
No matter what is onstage, the music in the pit has been excellent all summer. Bravo to New York City Ballet Orchestra, which sends the music soaring each night.