The essential guide to the arts this season

Saratoga Springs started out as a health resort, by virtue of the area’s curative mineral springs. Then gambling and Thoroughbred racing took hold as entertainment. But in the decades since, Saratoga’s reputation as an arts destination has steadily grown. In the summer, our arts scene really flourishes. Area institutions like SPAC, Caffè Lena and Universal Preservation Hall bring world-class performers in dance, jazz, opera and orchestral music, while Skidmore College showcases cutting-edge visual artists, jazz performers and literary stars. Check out our guide to the most talked-about performances of the summer, and don’t forget to just get out there to soak it all in—whether it’s a free performance of Shakespeare in Congress Park or a swinging jazz combo at 9 Maple Avenue jazz bar.

Kirsten Ferguson is Arts Editor of Saratoga Living.


2016 Nick Cave "Until"


“Until,” Nick Cave

Nick Cave Above and top: Details of “Until,” by Nick Cave.Photos courtesy MASS MoCA

Where: MASS MoCA, North Adams, Mass.
When: Through Sept. 4
For information: (413) 662-2111,
Why You Should Go: Nick Cave is a rock star in the art world, not only because he shares a name with the Australian goth-rocker. A meditation on gun violence and racism, “Until” is a stunning installation made up of millions of found objects, including 16,000 wind spinners; thousands of ceramic birds, fruits and animals; 13 gilded pigs; one crocodile; and 17 cast-iron lawn jockeys.


RedBlue by Ellsworth KellyRedBlue by Ellsworth KellyPhoto courtesy The Hyde Collection

“Slow Curve” and “Fruits & Flowers,” Ellsworth Kelly

Where: The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls
When: June 25-Sept. 24
For information: (518) 792-1761,
Why You Should Go: Interesting shapes and vivid hues are the calling card of celebrated abstract painter Ellsworth Kelly, who died in 2015 at the age of 92. A fixture of nearby Columbia County, where he had a studio, Kelly left behind a lifetime of work that played games with vision by exploring potent colors and real-life forms.


ARTS_ClaudeSimard_TANG_InstallView_01Installation of “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day” Photos courtesy The Tang Museum

“If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day,” Collections of Claude Simard

Where: The Tang Museum, Skidmore College
When: Through Sept. 24
For information: (518) 580-8080,
Why You Should Go: 19th-century Indian serpentology drawings, Black Panther flyers, colorful Ghanaian military flags and “Soundsuit” sculptures from artist Nick Cave are among the items featured in this adventurous exhibit of art and objects by Claude Simard, a visionary collector who spent over 30 years amassing works that span centuries and continents.


ARTS_StillEdenMichael Van Winkle, Untitled (A Couple Near Shore), 2016Photo courtesy Collar Works

“Still Eden: Artists in the Realm of Nature”

Where: Collar Works, Troy
When: Through July 22
For information: (518) 285-0765,
Why You Should Go: This multi-artist show takes its title from a quote by famous landscape painter Thomas Cole: “We are still in Eden; the wall that shuts us out is our own ignorance and folly.” As Cole thought art could ignite environmental awareness, the contemporary artists in “Still Eden” explore our relationships to the natural world.

Theater and Opera

Arts-Opera-Saratoga-Skylight-Beast-Rehearsal 2-55Photo courtesy Opera Saratoga

“Zémire et Azor (Beauty and the Beast),” Opera Saratoga

Where: The Spa Little Theater
When: July 2, 7:30 p.m.; July 8 and 14, 2 p.m.
For information: (518) 584-6018,
Why You Should Go: When the merchant Sander’s daughter Zémire sacrifices her life for her father and moves in with the beast Azor, she finds appearances are not always what they seem. This production of the classic fairy-tale is directed by James Ortiz, whose elaborate puppetry has been compared to the legendary Jim Henson.


Arts-Opera-Saratoga-RGB-The-Cradle-Will-Rock-verticalImage courtesy Opera Saratoga

“The Cradle Will Rock,” Opera Saratoga

Where: The Spa Little Theater
When: July 9 and 13, 7:30 p.m.; July 11 and 16, 2 p.m.
For information: (518) 584-6018,
Why You Should Go: Greedy businessman Mr. Mister thinks everyone can be bought, but an effort to unionize local workers threatens his control. An allegory on corruption and corporate greed that first premiered in 1937, this timeless opera, enlivened by Marc Blitzstein’s jazzy score, is a propulsive mix of parody, popular melodies and dramatic ensemble numbers.


ARTS_theater_sunandmoon1.JPG cSashaArutyunova2016Photo by Sasha Arutyunova

“Before the Sun and Moon,” Mettawee River Theatre Company

Where: Little Theater on the Farm, Fort Edward
When: July 20, 8 p.m.
For information: (518) 747-3421,
Why You Should Go: A husband and wife discover the power of love and devotion through a series of wild adventures in this epic tale about finding clever solutions to unexpected challenges. Drawn from an ancient Korean folktale, the show incorporates the Mettawee River Theatre Company’s wildly inventive array of masks and puppets.


“Nikola Tesla Drops the Beat,” Adirondack Theatre Festival

Where: Charles Wood Theater, Glens Falls
When: June 21-July 1, 7:30 p.m.
For information: (518) 480-4878,
Why You Should Go: The misunderstood genius of one of history’s most influential and controversial inventors—embroiled in a rivalry for the ages with Thomas Edison—comes to life in this mesmerizing electronic-pop musical described as Hamilton meets Tesla.

Dance and Classical

c43359-8_DecalogueThe New York City Ballet performs Justin Peck’s new collaboration with indie musician Sufjan Stevens, The Decalogue, on July 12 and 13. Photo by Paul Kolnik

“21st Century Choreographers,” New York City Ballet

Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center
When: July 12, 8 p.m.; July 13, 2 p.m.
For information: (518) 584-9330,
Why You Should Go: Today’s most formidable choreographers unite for a performance that includes acclaimed Russian Alexei Ratmansky; a new collaboration between dancer Justin Peck and indie singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens; and Peter Martins’ re-envisioning of Stravinsky’s “Jeu de Cartes” with a fanciful set and costumes.

Last year’s SPAC 50 gala featured the world premiere of Scherzo by Justin Peck, soloist and resident choreographer of the New York City Ballet. While traditionalists welcome the return of such classic Balanchine story ballets as Swan Lake and Firebird to SPAC this summer, modernists look forward to Peck’s innovative new works.

Peck, 29, has become an international star, creating more than 25 works for Miami City Ballet, the School of American Ballet and another dozen institutions. He will soon enjoy premieres at the Paris Opera Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. Peck can trace the launch of his career to Saratoga Springs: His first ballet, The Enormous Room, was inspired by Spa City’s open spaces and premiered at Skidmore College.

Peck’s eagerly anticipated new work with indie singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens will have its SPAC premier in the 21st Century Choreographers program.

Building on their years of collaboration, Stevens is crafting a new score for Peck’s work, which had its world premiere May 12. This will be Steven and Peck’s third NYCB partnership, following Year of the Rabbit (2012) and Everywhere We Go (2014).

The 21st Century Choreographers program also includes Alexei Ratmansky’s SPAC premiere, his fifth work for NYCB. Artist in residence at American Ballet Theatre and former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, the St. Petersburg native created “Pictures at an Exhibition,” which premiered at SPAC in 2014.

Kathleen Willcox


NYCBGala,SlaughterOnTenthAvenue_Mearns_c40307-4Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue first premiered at the New York City Ballet in 1968.Ballet photos courtesy SPAC

“The Rhythm of Romance” Gala, New York City Ballet

Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center
When: July 8, 8 p.m.
For information: (518) 584-9330,
Why You Should Go: Fifty-one years after the Saratoga Performing Arts Center opened in July 1966 with New York City Ballet’s performance of George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the collaboration continues with NYCB’s two week residency featuring 18 ballets by Balanchine and five other choreographers. Proceeds from the gala support the residency of the NYCB.

The Ballet Gala is one of the signature events of the season, with a formal dinner and tented parties on the lawn, followed by fireworks and dancing into the night.

While the party is the draw for many, the performance itself is still the star. This year’s show will feature three pieces set to scores by Richard Rodgers, an American icon.

Created in 2002 by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, A Dance is a portrayal of the romance at the heart of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic 1945 musical, Carousel. The dreamy work is set to arrangements of The Carousel Waltz and If I Loved You.

Peter Martins created Thou Swell to honor the 100th anniversary of Rodgers’ birth. Set in an art deco ballroom, the dazzling performance features four couples attired in costumes designed by Peter Copping for Oscar de la Renta.

Slaughter on Tenth Avenue—originally created by Balanchine for the 1936 Rodgers and Hart musical On Your Toes—premiered at the New York City Ballet in 1968. Slaughter on Tenth Avenue was the world’s first ballet-within-a-musical, and also marked the first time the word “choreography” was used on Broadway.



NYCB, TimesAreRacing_C42764-12One of the most buzzed about premieres of 2017, The Times Are Racing is a sneaker ballet that has its dancers in streetwear.

“The Times Are Racing” New York City Ballet

Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center
When: July 5 and 7, 8 p.m.
For information: (518) 584-9330,
Why You Should Go: Drawing on a variety of dance styles, choreographer Justin Peck has dancers swap out pointe shoes for sneakers, and don street clothes designed by Humberto Leon, of the white-hot label Opening Ceremony. Dan Deacon’s electronic score provides the beat. Making its SPAC debut, this is probably the most avant-garde ballet to be performed this season.


PhilOrch, Yannick,(JessicaGriffin)Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra kick off their SPAC season with a tribute to Tchaikovsky.Photo by Jessica Griffin

“Russian Festival Day,” The Philadelphia Orchestra

Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center
When: Aug. 2-3, 8 p.m.
For information: (518) 584-9330,
Why You Should Go: Flipping tradition on its head, Tchaikovsky’s famed “1812 Overture”—accompanied by fireworks and live cannon fire—will kick off instead of close the orchestra’s SPAC residency this year, along with another of Tchaikovsky’s most famous pieces: “The Sleeping Beauty,” featuring New York City Ballet dancers.


CheMalambo_theater_emwatsonmedia_0033The powerhouse all-male Argentinian dance company Che Malambo makes their SPAC debut on July 20.Photo courtesy E.M. Watson Media

Che Malambo

Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center
When: July 20, 8 p.m.
For information: (518) 584-9330,
Why You Should Go: Fast-paced footwork inspired by the rhythm of galloping horses is the hallmark of traditional South American Malambo dance, which began in the 17th century through competitive duels to test agility, strength and dexterity. The powerhouse all-male Argentinian dance company brings this high-energy, dynamic dance form to the SPAC stage for the first time.


Arts-HAVANA-SKIDMORE-Group-shot-Chamber_orchestra-Mozart in Havana-PhotoShoot_78The Zankel Theater at Skidmore is perfect in size and acoustics for showcasing the collaboration between New York pianist Simone Dinnerstein and Cuba’s Havana Lyceum Orchestra.Photo courtesy Skidmore College

“Mozart in Havana,” Simone Dinnerstein and the Havana Lyceum Orchestra

Where: Arthur Zankel Music Center, Skidmore College
When: June 20, 7 p.m.
For information: (518) 580-5321,
Why You Should Go: One of the most acclaimed pianists of her generation, the inventive and eclectic Simone Dinnerstein joins forces with Cuba’s young, virtuosic Havana Lyceum Orchestra, led by José Antonio Méndez Padrón, for a night of cross-cultural exploration and collaboration between SPAC and Skidmore College.

Arts-HAVANA-SKIDMORE-pianist-Simone-Dinnerstein-Favorite #5Pianist Simone Dinnerstein

In 2015, New York-based pianist Simone Dinnerstein traveled to Havana to play a Mozart concerto with the young, acclaimed Havana Lyceum Orchestra, and had no idea what to expect. She was deeply impressed.

“They played with thoughtful sensitivity and sensual beauty, despite the fact that in some cases the materials they were using were inferior. It was clear that the sound they made came from inside them, not simply from their instruments,” Dinnerstein said. That experience inspired a desire for a deeper collaboration with the orchestra.

This is the first time since the Cuban Revolution that an orchestra of this size has traveled to the U.S., as well as the first time that SPAC and Skidmore have co-presented a concert of this scope. “I have a long personal and professional connection to the music and musicians of Cuba—and a long-standing admiration for the artistry of Simone Dinnerstein,” said Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of SPAC. 

“While the SPAC amphitheater stage is too large—and the Spa Little Theater stage too small—the Arthur Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College is perfect in size and acoustics for showcasing these incredible classical musicians,” she said. “I am thrilled that this unique, wonderful musical project is coming to Saratoga through partnership.”

Dean of Special Programs Paul Calhoun concurred. “It is truly exciting for Skidmore to be partnering with SPAC on this project. Hopefully, this will be the first of many similar collaborations.” — Susan Brink

Rock, Pop and Jazz

Photo by Nick DuPlessis

Straight No Chaser and Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox

Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center
When: July 19, 7:30 p.m.
For information: (518) 584-9330,

ARTS_Straight_No_ChaserSNC-Cover-Nick-DuPlessisPostmodern Jukebox (above) and Straight No Chaser are unlikely pop heroes propelled to fame by viral YouTube videos, appearing at SPAC on July 19.Photo Courtesy Postmodern Jukebox.

Why You Should Go: Weekly YouTube videos featuring covers of artists like Lady Gaga and the White Stripes, reworked into vintage genres such as swing and jazz, have propelled Postmodern Jukebox to fame. Straight No Chaser has a similar, unlikely story: a video of the inventive a cappella group singing a version of “The 12 Days of Christmas” went viral, earning them a record deal and millions of views.


2013 Solid SoundThe most family-friendly modern music festival in the region stages three days of carefully curated acts at the former-mill turned contemporary art museum.Photo courtesy Mass MoCA

Solid Sound Festival

Where: Mass MoCA, North Adams, Mass.
When: June 26-28
For information: (413) 662-2111,
Why You Should Go: Cutting-edge musical acts curated by the band Wilco, food truck delights, and trenchant contemporary art are among the many attractions of this family-friendly festival held every other year on the grounds of Mass MoCA, one of the best contemporary art museums in the country.


Processed with VSCO with c3 presetStephen Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste turns the Zankel into a New Orleans-style party on July 6.Photo courtesy of the artist

Jon Batiste

Where: Arthur Zankel Music Center, Skidmore College
When: July 6, 8 p.m.
For information: (518) 580-5321,
Why You Should Go: Anyone who watched Jon Batiste and his Stay Human crew get SPAC patrons out of their seats and dancing at the Jazz Festival in 2014 was not surprised when the young New Orleans musician was tapped to be Stephen Colbert’s bandleader on late night TV. We can’t wait to see what he’ll do in the intimate Skidmore theater.


Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper

Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center
When: July 22, 7:30 p.m.
For information: (518) 584-9330,
Why You Should Go: The British rock crooner with the distinctive raspy voice will bring “Maggie May” and more to SPAC in a not-to-be-missed performance. Also don’t miss his opener, Cyndi Lauper, the fashion-forward ‘80s star of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “She Bop” fame, who more recently won a Tony for her Broadway musical, “Kinky Boots.”


Arts_BlackViolin_Players4©17LawrenceWhiteBlack Violin meld hip-hop and classical music with an infectious joy.Photo by Lawrence White

Black Violin

Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center
When: August 21, 8 p.m.
For information: (518) 584-9330,
Why You Should Go: These classically trained violinists blend classical, hip-hop, rock, jazz, swing and R&B genres into music that is entirely their own.

Black Violin is billed as an “American hip hop duo from Florida composed of two classically-trained string instrumentalists, Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste, who go by the stage names Kev Marcus and Wil B.”

Yet Black Violin is much more than that. They gracefully dip and dive into classical, hip-hop, rock, jazz, swing and R&B genres with a sense of ease and joy that is infectiously entertaining to behold.

Black Violin has performed all over the world as well as 200 gigs a year in 49 American states. They played at President Obama’s Inauguration and at three Super Bowls.

The band has also successfully collaborated on projects with world-class musicians such as Kanye West, the Eagles, Tom Petty, Aerosmith and Aretha Franklin.

Black Violin’s 2015 first major label release, Stereotypes, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Classical Crossover Chart and No. 4 on the Billboard R&B Chart.

The full house audience in the fabulous Troy Music Hall on April 21 (check) included all ages, from seniors to kids, from all races, economic strata and tastes. This attests to Black Violin’s universal appeal.

The first thing I noticed about their performance was their acute awareness of dynamics. It would have been easy for the two artists to take their tight four-piece band too far and leave the ears ringing. That did not happen. Instead, the musicians filled the hall with rich, warm, inspiring tones of music and poetry delivered with a virtuoso’s touch.  — Lawrence White



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