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New York City Ballet

Saratoga Diary - Part 2

by Kate Snedeker

July 25 - 26, 2003 -- Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs

Friday July 25, 2003

The day was for horses, the evening for ballet. Saratoga Racetrack is a surprisingly large and attractive facility, unlike most modern sports arenas in this era. Ignoring the lit board with the betting odds and race information, the track hasn’t changed much from the days when Seabiscuit captured the hearts of the American public. In fact many scenes from the movie were filmed at Saratoga because it has changed so little since the 1930s. Though I’ve seen many steeplechase races in person, this was my first real experience with flat racing. What struck me was the unbelievable speed of the racehorses, how fast they fly by, necks stretching out as they flash over the finish line. For one brief millisecond in each galloping stride, a horse is balanced on the tip of one delicate hoof. As powerful, lithe and beautiful as a dancer, these are 1200 pounds ballerinas (and danseurs) poised on one shiny black pointe shoe.

‘Concerto Barocco,’ ‘Chaconne,’ and ‘Carnival of the Animals’

The damp weather banished to far away places, the evening unfolded with gentle breezes and crystal clear skies. Heaven on earth and on stage, at least for a few hours. Touching off this divine evening were the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and the choreography of George Balanchine in “Concerto Barocco.” In the pit, Jean Ingraham and Nicolas Danielson brought Bach’s "Double Violin Concerto in D Minor" to life, while onstage Maria Kowroski, Rachel Rutherford and James Fayette offered up a dignified performance of Balanchine’s choreography. Kowroski was powerful in the crisp, sometimes jagged feeling choreography, using her stunning flexibility to accent the steps without seeming forced. Rutherford doesn’t have the same stretch, but had an equally cool and elegant quality to her dancing. Providing strong support for both Rutherford and Kowroski was the always dependable James Fayette. A steady partner, he brought a sense of cool calm to the ballet -- his tidy, solid technique, complimenting, but never overwhelming the power of Rutherford and Kowroski.

A repeat performance of Balanchine’s “Chaconne,” was led by Wendy Whelan and Philip Neal, but otherwise the cast was identical to that in the performance earlier in the week. Quick in his beats, Neal was a dignified and gracious partner for the stunning Wendy Whelan. Flying across the stage to Christoph Gluck’s joyful music, Whelan made Balanchine’s intricate choreography sparkle like a diamond, every facet and step highlighted without sacrificing the breathtaking beauty of the whole. Much of the extended solo for the woman is danced for the her partner who watches on stage. In this section, without neglecting the audience, Whelan made Neal the focus of her dancing, making the long series of steps on point nearly sing with joy and confidence, as if to express her feelings to him and to impress him.

This joyous energy was continued by Antonio Carmena and Amanda Edge, reprising their roles in a sensational demi-soloist pas de deux. Though quite impressive on Wednesday night, in this performance Carmena and Edge raised the level of their pas de deux to new heights by bringing excellent synchronization to their already wonderful technique and exuberance. Gone were the slight breaks in timing seen on Wednesday-this was a simply super, complete performance.

Closing yet another evening of repertory was a much improved performance of Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carnival of the Animals.” Both orchestra and dancers seemed more comfortable with the quirks of the SPAC amphitheater, the dancing and music coming together for an outstanding and humorous performance. Of note on this night was Arch Higgins, as the piano teacher turned maniac baboon.

(for more details see entry for Wednesday, July 23, 2003).

Guillermo Figueroa conducted the first two ballets, Richard Moredock again taking up the baton for “Carnival of the Animals.”

Saturday, July 26, 2003

The day started early with an 8:30 am tour of the Oklahoma Training Track and the various barns. The training track was named a number of years ago after a trainer, commenting on the long walk from training track to racing track, was heard to say “it’s like going from here to Oklahoma.” The training track is refreshingly peaceful, away from the loudspeakers, betting machines and hustle & bustle of the crowds. Small clusters of trainers, exercise riders, owners and curious onlookers watch quietly as horses are breezed or urged into a full gallop to be timed. Walking around the perimeter of the barn area, one is surprised by the lack of horsy smells, pleasant and unpleasant. Manure is removed daily, and the barns are for the most part spotless, aisles swept and decorated with brightly colored hanging baskets of flowers.

‘Coppelia’

After a quick shower and a mostly successful attempt to jam everything back into one suitcase, it was off to SPAC for one last New York City Ballet performance. The ballet was again “Coppelia,” Megan Fairchild and Benjamin Millepied leading New York City Ballet’s twelfth and final performance of Coppelia in 2003.

Millepied was impressive, his pirouettes much improved over Thursday and his ballon even more stunning. Fairchild appeared somewhat tired by the end, but even over the course of a week there was great development in her interpretation of the role of Swanilda. There was more confidence in her dancing, as well as a greater depth and better timing in her acting.

In the second act, shaky performances in the roles of the acrobat and the chinaman hinted at a possible change in casting (perhaps to accommodate a possible injury to Austin Laurent). The only other cast changes came in the third act divertissements, with Pascale Van Kipnis a powerful, but more restrained Spinner. In the Dawn Solo, Dana Hanson brought poetry to the stage, echoing the delicate music in the flowing motions of her willowy body. Each step was placed with a wonderful delicacy, her slow arabesque penchee beautifully controlled and deep.

Richard Moredock conducted the excellent NYCB orchestra.

With the lowering of the curtain, my Saratoga sojourn came to an end. Many wonderful memories in my mind, I head soon to Scotland, where I will be studying at the University of Edinburgh and hope to extend Critical Dance’s scope to include the marvelous and varied dance world in Edinburgh!

Editor's note:  For entries for Wednesday and Thursday (July 23 - 24) click here.

Edited by Jeff

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