Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bravos to Lincoln Kirstein and New York City Ballet for 42 spectacular years at SPAC and counting!

New York City Ballet ends SPAC season
BY Janet Loudon Special to The Post-Star
Published: Tuesday, July 24, 2007
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The New York City Ballet, the only dance company in the world with a summer home, closed its 42nd Saratoga Performing Arts Center season on Saturday evening. The final section of "Jewels," with Wendy Whelan and Philip Neal, outstanding in "Diamonds," brought down the curtain to a standing ovation.The season's programming was a well balanced selection by the company's leading choreographers.Balanchine's "Square Dance," "Apollo," "Serenade" and "Stars and Stripes" underlined the diversity and the timeless quality of his works.Jerome Robbins' "Dances at a Gathering" looked as enthralling as it did when it premiered in 1969, before most of its current cast was born. Robbins' rarely seen "Dybbuk," was a sharp view distilled from another facet of his complex mind. A Robbins Festival is planned for next year, the 10th anniversary of his death.
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"Romeo and Juliet," Peter Martins' colorful full-length ballet, was well-received by SPAC's audience. Premiered in New York in May, the ballet is still settling in and should be even more dramatic next time around. Giving Juliet a rooftop instead of a balcony was innovative" but too peculiar. The sword fighting and love duets were electrifying, as was the stunning Prokofiev score.Christopher Wheeldon, City Ballet's resident choreographer, came through with not one but two new ballets, and both are gems. "The Nightingale and the Rose" gave Wendy Whelan her most poignant role since the Swan Queen. Her extraordinary portrayal of Oscar Wilde's selfless nightingale was the season's most memorable performance. Bright Sheng's lovely commissioned score was an auspicious debut for City Ballet's new composer in residence. "Carousel (A Dance)" to Richard Rodgers, was blissful. It had but one performance at this year's gala. Please, powers-that-be, bring this little treasure back next year in the regular repertory.Wheeldon ends his residency with NYCB in 2008 and is already rehearsing for the debut of Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company in August at the Vail International Dance Festival whose new director is Damian Woetzel. This will be followed by two weeks at City Center in New York in October.There is a sea change going on at City Ballet these days with some longtime favorites exiting and a group of young dancers being promoted out of the corps and into the soloist and principal ranks unusually fast.In recent months, Kyra Nichols retired after the longest career of any ballerina in City Ballet's history and Miranda Weese left for Seattle to work with Pacific Northwest Ballet. This winter. Nikolaj Hubbe retires to become Director of the Royal Danish Ballet. Damian Woetzel is also likely to retire before SPAC's 2008 season.New principal dancers are Sterling Hyltin, Jonathan Stafford, Daniel Ulbricht and Andrew Veyette. New soloists are Robert Fairchild, Craig Hall, Seth Orza, Tiler Peck and Ana Sophia Scheller.
Once again, the ballet season had more than its share of rain. On the plus side, advance sale of tickets rose by several percent. Overall, though, there were many evenings of modest attendance. Matinees fared better. Official figures will be released soon.Instead of hoping against hope for dry weather, SPAC needs to face off against the rain gods and come up with a way to designate rear amphitheater seats for the lawn crowd in the event of rain. A built in rain check that guarantees a dry seat, even if it is off to the side, couldn't hurt.The near catastrophe of almost losing the ballet in 2004 must never be forgotten. In a climate of dwindling attendance for all arts performances, SPAC has to be ever alert to all opportunities to get word of the ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra residencies to a wider geographic area. Families in the immediate area, who haven't discovered ballet, must be won over to give it a chance. Former NYCB dancer Robert Weiss calls "ballet's overriding concern, beauty." Weiss contends that "beauty translates into a certain kind of goodness, a certain kind of morality" that people really need even when they don't know they need it.With all that is being done so well by SPAC's new administration under President Marcia White -- new seats, fresh paint, picnic packs, pre-performance lectures by experts -- SPAC's ballet seasons have missed an opportunity to revitalize marketing methods. Stale TV and radio commercials should be replaced by a clever and persuasive new campaign. Getting the most articulate and personable dancers before the cameras is another thought.Plans are already underway for the New York City Ballet's next season at SPAC. Thank you, Lincoln Kirstein, and happy centennial year. If you had not thought of the idea of bringing a young man named George Balanchine to America to fulfill your vision of a new American ballet, there would be no New York City Ballet today.
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