REVIEW: New York City Ballet Gala: Robbins/Bernstein Centennial

New York City Ballet GALA: Robbins/Bernstein Centennial

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to be in upstate New York during the summer, you’ll know that the area is a favorite getaway for city folk to enjoy the calmer pace of the lakes, trees and beautiful views that abound there.

If you’ve ever been really lucky to be in Saratoga Springs during the summer, you’ll know that the city is abuzz with excitement, and for many reasons; the Saratoga Race Course is open and bustling with visitors hoping to win big, and the New York City Ballet comes every summer to be in residence at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

SPAC has been home to NYCB during the summers since the 1960’s, and the city shows up in a big way to celebrate being a home to these spectacular artists.

The always popular Gala was the company’s final performance this year, and a tribute to Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein.

The Gala didn’t lack for energy and festivity; local dancers performed in pop up spots around the lawns surrounding SPAC, and it was lovely to see the progression of young dancers to teens, ballet to modern Isadora Duncan pieces being performed.

Local businesses shared mouth-watering food and drinks, while American visitors used the opportunity to channel their inner Kate Middleton with hats and fascinators.

New York City Ballet GALA: Robbins/Bernstein Centennial
New York City Ballet
GALA: Robbins/Bernstein Centennial

First up on the program was Robbins’ The Four Seasons, conducted by Andrew Litton with the NYCB Orchestra. There couldn’t have been a more perfect setting to Verdi’s music as the dancers took the audience through the seasons.

The warm summer breezes (and impending rain) set the stage perfectly. Robbins’ play and exploration on directions throughout the piece kept both the dancers and the audience on their toes, from the regal glides and comical shakes during winter to the controlled chaos of spring, each season was distinct and told its own unique tale.

Tiler Peck, Andrew Veyette and Daniel Ulbricht were especially gorgeous to watch in Fall. The fluidity of their movements and mischievous playfulness with one another left smiles on all the faces in the audience and earned them an extra loud ovation.

New York City Ballet GALA: Robbins/Bernstein Centennial
New York City Ballet
GALA: Robbins/Bernstein Centennial

Next up members of the company performed Easy, with music by Leonard Bernstein and choreography by Justin Peck. This piece honors the centennial of Robbins and Bernstein and is a 1980’s lovers dream come true.

It has everything from bright and bold graffiti backdrops to power walking and headbands. High-energy and jazzy, it was a welcome change of pace after The Four Seasons, but wasn’t as engaging or endearing as I anticipated. The skill of the dancers was excellent, but I ended up feeling more left out rather than drawn in.

Enter the impeccable Ashley Bouder and Joaquin de Luz next in Other Dances, again choreographed by Robbins and set to music by Chopin. The lonely feeling push and pull of this piece and the obvious care and rapport between the two dancers kept me wanting more and more, and Bouder and de Luz kept giving and giving.

Robbins admired Russian defectors Baryshnikov and Makarova, and originally set this pas de deux on them in 1976, highlighting their technique and artistry, while nodding to the romanticism and character of the Polish mazurkas and waltzes of Chopin.

I don’t know if there’s anything more wonderful than watching two dancers who can be playful, tender and challenging to one another, and Bouder and de Luz certainly brought all of those qualities to their performance.

New York City Ballet GALA: Robbins/Bernstein Centennial
New York City Ballet
GALA: Robbins/Bernstein Centennial

After an intermission, the audience was treated to Something To Dance About, Directed and staged by Warren Carlyle and a tribute to all the work Robbins did on Broadway.

Vocalist Leah Horowitz weaved her gorgeous voice through numbers from Peter Pan, Gypsy, The King and I and more while the dancers strutted their best Broadway moves onstage.

This was a lovely tribute, and so well organized, seamlessly flowing from one plot and song to the next, never missing a beat or an opportunity to wow, laugh, or delight.

The company dancers ended the piece with a final bow to the image of Robbins and Bernstein, which was projected on stage, and closed the performance making the audience feel all the feels: joy for the present, gratitude for the past, and excitement for what will come in the future for this amazing company and its dancers.

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