Last year, the opening of New York City Ballet's fall season was crammed to the rafters as the company was back onstage after a one-and-a-half year pandemic hiatus. This year, the fall opener was a much more muted affair. Three veteran ballerinas headlined the All Balanchine bill of Divertimento no. 15, Scotch Symphony and La sonnambula. Megan Fairchild (Divertimento), Ashley Bouder (Scotch) and Sterling Hyltin (Sonnambula) have all been with the company for over 20 years. Fairchild and Bouder are coming back from injuries, Hyltin is retiring this December. Last night felt like a gesture of thanks to these ballerinas for their many years of service to the company.

New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s Divertimento no. 15
© Erin Baiano

Divertimento no. 15 is an evergreen classic that's cast-proof – the seamless weaving of five female and three male soloists ensure that no single dancer can ruin the spell. Fairchild's effervescent persona and the clarity of her footwork remain intact. The rest of the cast looked more well-rehearsed than when I saw them last spring; the various entrances and exits of the andante were much smoother. Standouts included Joseph Gordon as the lead male, Sara Adams giving a masterclass in allegro dancing in the first variation and Emilie Gerrity dancing the fourth variation with a radiant smile and twinkling footwork. The corps were a joy to watch in the minuet. An A for everyone.

Baily Jones in George Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony
© Paul Kolnik

Scotch Symphony is a more fragile work – Balanchine's tribute to La Sylphide can seem disjointed. An opening solo for a young “boy” (really a female dancer) is delightful but then that soloist (Baily Jones last night) disappears for the rest of the ballet. There is some drama with the male corps trying to keep the ballerina/sylph away from the male lead, but that storyline goes nowhere. The lead roles were danced by Ashley Bouder and Jovani Furlan. Bouder is coming back from a long injury. Unfortunately, her dancing last night showed her below par. She is usually such a fast, dynamic dancer. Last night her movement was leaden and careful. She struggled visibly with basic steps like the arabesque; her hands shook, her leg wobbled. Furlan is one of the company's best classicists, but without a strong leading lady this ballet's weaknesses are more apparent. 

Sterling Hyltin in George Balanchine’s La sonnambula
© Paul Kolnik

The evening ended with La Sonnambula. This ballet is unusual for Balanchine in that it's not abstract at all, but rather a melodramatic story. A poet enters a party and flirts with the coquette but then becomes entranced by a mysterious sleepwalker. The host of the party kills the poet in a jealous rage. Sterling Hyltin as the Sleepwalker was a marvel. She's just perfect for the role; the silkiness of her bourrées, her ability to seem there-but-not-there, and the overall beauty of her movement was remarkable. Taylor Stanley was a bit opaque as the Poet, although he partnered Hyltin beautifully. The rest of the cast was composed of longtime veteran principals: Sara Mearns sultry as the Coquette, Daniel Ulbricht still pleasing the crowds as the Jester, Andrew Veyette angry and suspicious as the Baron. Sonnambula was a strange ballet to close the evening, but with a cast this strong, the ballet cast a bewitching spell.