SARATOGA — The New York City Ballet (NYCB) returns this summer to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) as a part of its decades-long tradition. The world-renowned dance company has made its summertime residency a foundation for both the company, the venue, and the audiences that gather every year.
NYCB will present its signature program, “NYCB On and Off Stage,” on opening night, July 18. On July 19–20, SPAC will premiere the dynamic performances “Scherzo Fantastique,” “Play Time,” “Liturgy,” and “Love Letter (on shuffle).”
“I am so excited because I get to do ‘Swan Lake,’ ‘Firebird,’ and ‘Love Letter (on shuffle),’” said corps de ballet dancer Olivia Bell. “This is the best program that I could have asked for for my first Saratoga performance.”
Bell is making her debut at SPAC. She will perform numerous corps roles throughout the week, including a featured role in Kyle Abraham’s “Love Letter (on shuffle).” Bell’s connection with SPAC began when she saw “Romeo and Juliet” with principal dancer Lauren Lovette as a young girl.
“I was in awe,” she remembered. “I felt so emotionally connected to what they were performing. It will be such a fun experience to be on the other side of that and hopefully give that back to the people watching and other School of American Ballet students. I hope that it really fuels their love and passion for ballet like it did for me.”
For the 2023 residency, NYCB’s robust traveling company of 90 dancers is directed by Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford and Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan. The New York City Ballet Orchestra is led by Music Director Andrew Litton.
“The New York City Ballet has had a residency here for decades, ever since Balanchine started bringing the company here,” said soloist Miriam Miller. “Continuing to bring the New York City Ballet here helps the community that can’t get to New York see the changes. The New York City Ballet is shifting in its repertoire, and it’s important to showcase that shift and the changes in the rep that we do with the new choreographic work.”
Flying through the ranks of the NYCB, Miller joined the company as an apprentice in 2015, the corps de ballet in 2016, and was promoted to soloist in 2022. Miller has been coming to Saratoga since 2015, and this summer she is performing featured roles in Justin Peck’s “Copland Dance Episodes” and Scherzo “Fantastique,” as well as George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins’ “Firebird.”
The whimsical “Scherzo Fantastique” is a lighthearted piece with ties to the NYCB’s Saratoga residency. The dancers invite the audience into a vibrant world as they perform in multi-colored unitards covered in fringes and flowers.
“This Justin Peck ballet was choreographed and premiered for Saratoga. It was one of the first featured roles for a Justin Peck ballet that I’d done,” explained Miller.
She also has a featured role in Peck’s “Copland Dance Episodes” on July 20 and 22, which is his newest full-length ballet from this past winter season.
“This ballet is special to me because it’s the first experience where I felt onstage like I experienced an entire journey through the ballet,” she said.
The story is interpretive, but emotion is the guiding force at the center, as she and her partner, Russell Janzen, perform.
“I’m excited for Saratoga to get to witness that,” added Miller.
By performing both classical ballets and works by 21st-century artists, audience members are presented with a wide example of the NYCB’s ever-evolving repertoire.
“Everything that we do is an amazing selection,” said Bell. “All of the dancers are so versatile. It’s exciting to see them go from classic ‘Swan Lake’ to ‘Firebird.’”
“What I love about the selection of repertoire that is coming to Saratoga this year is that you’re seeing a wide range of what we do throughout the year. Our yearly repertoire is packed into one week of six shows,” said Miller.
“You can see the vast talent that the dancers have,” she continued. “As a dancer, you get to explore different sides of your artistry, different sides of your dancing, and you learn what else you can also do. It expands the perspective of the audience and dancers and shows off the capability that the dancers have in the company.”
Miller is performing as the Firebird Princess, which is part of the Short Story program of performances of “Swan Lake,” “Fancy Free,” and “Firebird” on July 21 and 22.
“What I love about ‘Firebird’ is the music, the Chagall sets, and the beautiful costumes,” she said. “It’s fun to be a character, to tell a story onstage with my partner, and to tap into that side of my artistry.”
An exciting aspect for Bell as the performer is the duality of the roles throughout the programs.
“You feel the choreography so deeply when you dance,” she said regarding Swan Lake.
She shifts to another side of her dancing with “Firebird.”
“I’m a butterfly in ‘Firebird,’ so we have these crazy jumps that we do at the beginning,” said Bell. “The rest of the ballet is us being monsters.”
What Bell anticipates the most is the unique audience connection that the SPAC venue provides for performers, describing it as “fuel” for her performance.
“I look forward to seeing all the people in the audience, which is usually something that we can’t do in the theater,” she said. “It makes it more personal when you dance and can see the audience; it’s nice to look out and see who you’re performing for and be able to see everyone.”
“When you see us onstage, it really translates to the audience, and they feel our love and our passion for it,” she continued. “It’s a connected experience with the audience and performers. We do it for ourselves, but we also do it for the people, because we want to share what we love.”
Miller called the collaboration between SPAC and NYCB “special,” adding, “When you speak of the legacy of New York City ballet, it includes Saratoga.”
“I think it’s a part of our history as a company, part of our foundation as a company. To maintain that tie is vital,” she said. “In doing so, there needs to be a showcasing of these new works that we’re doing and the dancers. It’s part of who we are as a company to go to Saratoga. That’s why it is important to maintain that relationship and that connection.”
Story appeared on page 1 of the July 19, 2023 of the print edition of The Spot