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Dance review: City Ballet showcases variety, talent and style on opening night

Wednesday, July 7, 2010
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Dancers perform Jerome Robbins' "Fancy Free" on Tuesday during New York City Ballet's opening night at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Dancers perform Jerome Robbins' "Fancy Free" on Tuesday during New York City Ballet's opening night at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

— The creative masterminds of New York City Ballet — George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins — lit up Tuesday night when the company returned to its summer home, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

The evening was a smattering of the company’s infinite variety, talent, musicality and style. But the hit of the evening did not go to the holy trio. The evening’s prize was the late Ulysses Dove’s “Red Angel,” a knockout that bode well for the weeks to come.

Set to electric violin, played with zest by Cenovia Cummins, the ballet showcases two couples who goad the audience to take flight with them. The sculptural brilliance of the dance initially grabs the viewer. And then comes the heat and speed of the tight spins and langorous reaches.

“Red Angels” is as hip as a ballet can be. The dancers, Maria Kowroski with Amar Ramasar and Teresa Reichlen with Tyler Angle, display a wound-up cool with their clipped walk and then their surrender to their partners with a bow and an extended hand. This ballet bleeds a gritty energy that fascinates from start to finish.

Ramasar, Angle and Joaquin De Luz got the evening off to a merry start with Robbins’ “Fancy Free.” The ballet, which dates to 1944, follows three sailors on liberty who throw back beers, brawl and pursue women they see. To music by Leonard Bernstein, it’s a macho man’s ballet with swagger and posturing that is as charming as it is humorous.

Straight-up entertainment is the crux of Balanchine’s “Who Cares.” This is a Gershwin-lovers delight as Hershy Kay refashions the composer’s hits for the company’s energetic orchestra. The music brims and so does the dancing.

The corps de ballet, with the girls in swishy short skirts, starts the engine of the ballet. Things really rev up with Robert Fairchild as the debonair man-about-town. He partners Tiler Peck, Sterling Hyltin and Sophia Scheller, all of whom are ravishing. Peck’s beautiful spirit glows beyond the footlights, Hyltin is a wisp of sunshine and Scheller is bold as she whips out double fouettes.

For those who aren’t Gershwin fans, “Who Cares” is hokey and cloying. It is hardly a favorite of mine. But one must appreciate Balanchine’s showmanship.

The night wrapped up with Martins’ “Barber Violin Concerto.” This ballet juxtaposes modern dance with classical ballet. When it was made, in 1988, the two forms of dance had a contentious relationship. So it appears that Martins was emphasizing that all dancers worship at the same Terpsichorean altar. He does so by mixing up the two couples representing the forms. The classical ballerina (Sara Mearns) becomes enchanted by the modern dancer (Jared Angle). She lets down her hair as if only he can unleash her artistry.

But just when you are convinced the ballet is a peace treaty between styles, Martins shatters that with the duet with classical danseur (Charles Askegard) with modern muse (Megan Fairchild). She pokes and prods him as he slashes at her face and flips her about. It could be funny, but it comes off as disturbing.

The ballet will remain in residence at SPAC through Saturday, July 17.

 
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