Maria Kowroski as the Striptease Girl and Tyler Angle as the Hoofer in George Balanchine's "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" is pure fun. (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
New York City Ballet’s Gala at Saratoga Performing Arts Center is an evening to be seen – not so much for the dancers – but for the patrons who attend.
Subsequently, it can be difficult to lure the guests away from their lavish lawn setups with fine drinks, delectable desserts and smoldering cigars into the amphitheater to watch the ballet. But this year’s program was ideal for those who are less inclined to sit quietly for dance.
That’s because it showcased three works to music by the popular Broadway composer Richard Rodgers. Combined with stories and sets, it made for a fairly irresistible Saturday evening of dance.
I say fairly as none of the ballets are great. George Balanchine’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” made for the musical “On Your Toes” is the best composed. But even that work, though enjoyable, can feel cartoonishly passé, especially for today audiences who are ravenous for speed and athleticism.
But again, this is a gala audience and kitschy and corny is just fine.
The program started off with Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carousel (A Dance),” which is not his best work. It touches on the relationship between the carnival barker Billy, danced by Zacharo Catazaro, and Julie, dance by the incomparable Tiler Peck. If it wasn’t for Peck who brims with sweetness and innocence, there would be little to see here.
This is a lightweight work that appeals only for its music, as arranged and orchestrated by William David Brohn. In addition to Peck, the whirl of the corps de ballet as if gliding on a carousel, beckons. But mainly, Wheeldon’s “Carousel” doesn’t give its audience much of a ride.
Peter Martins’ “Thou Swell” followed. Design-wise, this is a beautiful ballet. Set in a black-and-white art deco nightclub, with a massive mirror reflecting and doubling the dancing, the look is elegant.
And with an onstage trio – pianist Alan Moverman, drummer James Saporito and bassist Ron Wasserman with singers, Leah Horowitz and Joseph Eletto – the ballet sports an authentic 1930s feels.
The work is set on four couples – one mature, one romantic, one fiery and one youthful. And while Martins mixes up the action between the couples and with a quartet of cocktail waitresses and waiters, the ballet feels too contrived.
There was some fine dancing, however, especially from the women. Sara Mearns, as always, was deliciously dreamy and Sterling Hyltin was effervescent. Aside from Chase Finley, paired with Hyltin, Martins does not give the men much to do. That is disappointing.
“Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” ended the evening. This humorous ballet about a backstage plot to kill an onstage actor is a hoot. It lampoons both sides of the curtain with its one-dimensional characters – the sinister Russian danceur (Daniel Applebaum), the stiff legged gangster (Aaron Sanz), the sexy showgirl (Maria Kowroski) and the pistol-packing boss (Russell Janzen).
Kowroski, along with her tap-dancing lover, performed by Tyler Angle, were pure fun. Moreover, Kowroski stole the show. Though a senior ballerina, she is as radiant as ever. Kowroski is beauty in motion.