New York City Ballet (NYCB) principal dancer Sterling Hyltin is preparing for her bittersweet final Saratoga performance—she’s sad to be saying goodbye but thrilled that she’ll be dancing in George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as her last SPAC show before retiring next year. “It’s such a lovely way to say goodbye,” she says. “The ballet is approachable for all ages. Plus, dancing outside adds to the magic. There can be lightning bugs on the lawn while watching lightning bugs dancing on stage.”
When Hyltin started coming to Saratoga with NYCB 20 years ago, the company’s residency was still three weeks long, and she cherishes her memories of her extended Spa City stays. “You were in a house with your friends,” she says. “It felt like we were a family there, so much more so than in the city. It felt like home.”
Hyltin’s love for Saratoga is so strong that she and her family visited during lockdown. And it’s sitting on the SPAC lawn—as a spectator—where the new mom hopes to show her daughter, Ingrid, who was born near the beginning of lockdown, her beloved NYCB for the first time. “SPAC is so kid-friendly, with the lawn,” she says. “So I would like to show my daughter ballet there.”
From the amphitheater stage, Hyltin has certainly felt SPAC’s magic as well, most dramatically as Juliet in Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet, a role she originated. “One year as we were dancing, right as it got into the story, the sky got ominous,” she says. “You really get immersed in the story that way—for some ballets, being outside really enhances the story. Or sometimes you look out, and there’s a full moon in the sky. As people are watching us, we’re watching nature!”
Hyltin considers herself so blessed to have been able to do what she loves that she’s retiring in order to help her daughter find that special something for herself. “I love dancing so much,” Hyltin says. “It’s been a gift to be surrounded by passionate people. That gives you confidence. I want to inspire that in my daughter, let her teach me where she should be. And for that I need to be present for her, not off dancing all the time.”
NYCB performs at SPAC July 12 to July 16, bringing the whole company of more than 90 dancers to Saratoga for the first time since 2019. In addition to the comical and fanciful Midsummer, they will also dance a roster of contemporary works, including Merce Cunningham’s masterful Summerspace, plus a special “NYCB On and Off Stage” presentation. At press time, Hyltin was expected to dance the famous “Divertissement” pas de deux in the second act of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a romantic piece that shows off her most ethereal qualities. She will then start her final season back in NYC, which will culminate in her grand final performance December 4 at Lincoln Center, where she will dance the coveted role of the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker.
“Going in for my final season, I know I have to enjoy dancing everything for one last time,” Hyltin says. “I have to stop myself from thinking that I have to make every step the most perfect ever. This year, I get to just enjoy it.”