Just home from Saratoga Springs, New York. If you don’t know, this adorable upstate town is known as the summer home of New York City Ballet, not to mention the (year-round) home of the National Dance Museum & Hall of Fame.
For three out of the past four summers, members of our dance company — adult and child alike — have ventured out there to watch NYCB perform at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (aka, SPAC), an outdoor amphitheatre, and explore the city. I’ve been there for the past two trips, during which we’ve stayed in the same big house together… so I’m starting to think of Saratoga as the summer home, not only of NYCB, but of our own company.
The trips just seem to get better and better. We added a second overnight this year, theoretically doubling the amount of time we’d have in town, but still seemed way too darned short.
The day of our arrival dawned… grey and dreary. Oh noes!!! Checked the weather report for Saratoga Springs and saw there was a 60% chance of rain. Did I mention that our seats for the evening’s show were lawn seats? Ack! In between packing and pre-departure errands I did a quick dance for the rain gods asking for the clouds to move out in time for the show. They must have heard me. About half an hour before we got to our rented house the skies opened and it poured down. But by the time we pulled up the driveway, the rain had stopped and the roads were drying… and that was the last we saw of the rain for the rest of our trip. Hurrah!
After settling in to our house the carpool headed to town for another tradition — dinner at the Circus Cafe (complete with cotton candy for dessert) — prior to heading to SPAC. We also started our search for the pointe shoe sculptures that have taken over the city as part of the National Museum of Dance’s Saratoga en Pointe exhibition. The search lasted our entire stay!
When we arrived at SPAC we found the parking lot packed with balletophiles… and dolls! It happened to be American Girl night, so there were also a lot of little girls with their dolls. I did not bring mine (I do have one… Kirsten!), but many of our girls brought theirs, even some of the teens which pleasantly surprised me. I was rather disappointed that I didn’t get to enter the raffle for the Saige doll. “Kids only,” they said. Not fair 😦 Just ’cause I’m an adult doesn’t mean I don’t like dolls!
Once into SPAC we selected our square of lawn, put down our chairs and blankets on the drying mud (ick) and waited for a program of mixed repertory.
As the light of day dimmed, Andrew Veyette — an NYCB principal dancer — came out to introduce the show. First up was Serenade (Balanchine, 1935). This was the third time I’ve seen Serenade and it’s become one of my favorites. But the first thing that caught my eye this time wasn’t the dancers on stage, but a couple little girls who stood on the path that went between the lawn and the covered seats. They stood in front of one of the screens that was projecting what was going on stage to those of us out of good sight range and did their best to dance along with the corps on stage. So adorable!!! This was just the beginning of many little girls throughout the lawn area dancing along… some mimicking the choreography and some doing improv. This is one cool thing about watching ballet in this sort of setting: kids aren’t expected to sit in their seats and be prim and proper — it’s acceptable for them to get wrapped up in the show and get up and dance!
Back to the ballet. Serenade… um, it wasn’t my favorite iteration. I had seen Boston Ballet perform it a couple months ago during their Chroma show and was blown away. This time… not quite so much. My friend who had come with me to BB’s show was also there and felt the same. Now, to be fair, I may have been biased, not only because of loyalty to my hometown team, but because, as cool of a setting as SPAC is, the lawn seats are too far away to get a great view of what’s happening on stage and the video feed doesn’t show the full stage. Not to mention I get distracted by people-watching. And for the dancers, they don’t have the benefit of climate-controlled stages, so the humid evening air had to be exhausting for them to dance in.
After the intermission came the Garland Dance from Sleeping Beauty (Balanchine, 1981). This was particularly exciting for us as one of our dancers was an understudy in the group of children that appeared in the dance. Sadly she didn’t get to perform that evening, but it was still exciting to have a personal connection to the piece. Then there was a brief pause, after which we saw an excerpt from After the Rain (Wheeldon, 2005). Another pause, and then Year of the Rabbit (Justin Peck, 2012). Loved the costumes in that one! Would love to see it again with a better view.
Second intermission. By this time it was already 10pm and a lot of people started vacating their seats. I would normally be annoyed, but I can certainly understand that it was a late night, especially considering the number of young children present. It was also a particularly DAMP night. Although the rain had long since disappeared, the humidity had set in with a vengeance and it was gross. The final piece was Theme and Variations (Balanchine, 1947). This is one of Balanchine’s more classical works. Quite a fitting way to close the show.
We went back to the house to rest up for our very busy day two… which I’ll detail in my next post!