New York City Ballet returns to SPAC on Wednesday with dance, ideas and stories
Finally, the New York City Ballet is back at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Opening night is Wednesday with a new time of 7:30 p.m.
“It’s amazing,” said Jonathan Stafford, the company’s artistic director. “This is our first live performance in front of a seated audience. We have always had such a good relationship with PSPC. It’s part of our DNA. And this is my 23rd season. To keep my streak intact, I came last year to visit. It’s a special place and it’s a fitting way to start our season.
Stafford apprenticed with the company in 1998, joined the corps de ballet the following year, then rose through the ranks to become a principal dancer in 2007, performing a wide repertoire of roles featured in numerous ballets. Following his retirement in 2014, he became one of the company’s ballet masters and in February 2019 was appointed artistic director, with Wendy Whelan – one of the most acclaimed dancers of her generation – appointed associate artistic director.
But this season is unlike any other due to the pandemic and social protocols. Although the dancers in the company are fully vaccinated and negotiations are still ongoing with all of the other unions that support the company, such as the Musicians’ Union, to force everyone to be vaccinated, the company has decided to no ‘bring only 15 dancers to SPAC and two pianists, Alan Moverman and Nancy McDill.
“We chose the dancers who had not been involved in the small projects that we had done during the year,” said Stafford.
These included several outdoor video projects made in and around New York City, a film made for the Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in Tivoli, a film for the company’s Spring Gala with Sofia Coppola and a few dancers who are also talented videographers who have done some outdoor projects for SPAC.
“It’s a way to distribute the wealth around. After SPAC, 16 more dancers will go to Jackson Hole and then to Vail, ”he said.
Being able to dance in front of a live audience will be fun without talking to each other. Last spring, the company’s studio had to close, which put a damper on the dancers’ daily schedule to attend classes. Initially, the courses were held on Zoom. Then the studio was opened and one dancer at a time was allowed to practice. This eventually became eight dancers at a time, but they only had to work with the same eight dancers out of the more than 60 dancers in the company. These restricted pods lasted for several weeks, Stafford said. When all the dancers had been vaccinated – a mandate from the company – they were able to work in full class.
“We had our first rehearsal for the SPAC season on June 29,” he said.
Also this year the season will only be four days, so there will be a new format, the first time they tried it at PSPC. Two of the dancers who will be retiring this season – Maria Kowroski and Gonzalo Garcia – will act as hosts on alternate days. They will talk about the dances the audience will see, give their perspective and tell stories.
Thus, on July 14, 15 and 17, Kowroski is hosting “Short Stories” on dances that have a fairy tale theme as in “Swan Lake” or “The Sleeping Beauty”. On July 15, 16 and 17, Gonzalo will host “All Balanchine” from some of the 400 pieces choreographed by Balanchine. Presentations will not last more than 75 minutes without an intermission. Other dances include: “Apollo”, “The Four Temperaments”, “Agon”, “Jewels”, “Who Cares”, “Firebird”, “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Western Symphony”, “Fancy Free” and “Le concert.”
This lecture / demo / educational element is something the company has done a lot in New York City that they believe would work well locally.
“It’s a way to connect with the audience on a deeper level… kind of a silver lining,” Stafford said. “We have an embarrassment of riches to choose from and to tell, to show the talent of our dancers. We therefore chose those with a theme for La Balanchine or those with a narrative story.
Dancers will perform in a variety of configurations, from pas de deux to a group of up to 10 dancers. Some dancers will work with a new partner and some will make their debut in the role.
“It will be a solid… exciting offer,” he said.
The only thing that worries Stafford a little is the weather.
“I hope it’s not too hot. Until the 90s, it’s fine, but if it happens in the mid-90s, it’s hard for the dancers, ”he said.
Prior to the season, PSPC will be hosting a fundraiser, “A Midsummer Night’s Supper,” in which five of the company’s main dancers and a special guest, legendary dancer Edward Villella, will appear. The menu, which will be prepared by local chef Kim Klopstock of Lily and the Rose catering, will feature recipes from Balanchine, his wife Tanaquil Le Clercq and other dance luminaries, and will include wines and cocktails. Meryl Rosofsky, vice president of the George Balanchine Foundation, NYCB photographer Paul Kolnik and author Jeanne Fuchs will share stories about food, ballet and Saratoga. The event will take place at 7 p.m. on Monday July 12 and Tuesday July 13. Contact Heather Varney for ticket information at [email protected]
Social protocols for the corporate season have changed. Masks will no longer be compulsory for the amphitheater except for those who have not been vaccinated and no proof of vaccination will be required. The lawn is open to general admission and will not require pods but pods will be installed in the amphitheater.
New York Ballet
WHEN: July 14, 15, 16, 17 – 7:30 p.m. July 15, 17 – 2:00 p.m.
O: Saratoga Performing Arts Center
HOW MUCH: $ 40 – $ 105 (single tickets); $ 30, lawn
MORE INFO: www.spac.org; 518-584-9330
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