Programming an all-George Balanchine evening for the company on which he created his vast, varied body of work should be child’s play. But the double bill of Liebeslieder Walzer and Tschaikovsky Suite No.3 is a cloying juxtaposition that serves neither well.

It was remarkable that the four waltzing couples in Liebeslieder did not doze off on the brocaded divans that furnished the Viennese ballroom, so anemic was Thursday night’s rendering of Brahms by the quartet of singers. This despite the faintly racy lyrics — talking not just of nightingales and flames that will never be extinguished, but also of “poisoned arrows” and “two-timing studs.” And despite the pleas of ballerina Sara Mearns, who intermittently wafted downstage to gesture at the singers in her own intoxicating sign language. They finally sprang to glorious life in the very last love song — which was 32 love songs too late.

Jennie Somogyi and Justin Peck in  <i>Liebeslieder Walzer</i> © Paul Kolnik
Jennie Somogyi and Justin Peck in Liebeslieder Walzer
© Paul Kolnik
The two-part conceit of Liebeslieder Walzer puts the dancers in period finery, the women in satin heels, Viennese-waltzing through Opus 62. The men handle the women like delicate china. Their rituals of restraint are interspersed with whispered confidences, tender brushes, hand-kissing. The couples disappear through enormous French windows that lead to a terrace or garden. They return shortly thereafter — the women having shed their layers of rustling silks for diaphanous, calf-length tutus and pointe shoes, the men still in tailcoats and white tie (minus their white gloves) — to dance through Opus 65.

Balanchine is quoted in the program as saying, “In the first act, it is the real people who are dancing. In the second act, it is their souls.”

Hogwash, I say, intending no disrespect.

Men’s souls are not revealed simply by shedding fancy gloves. It’s obvious that the men have ditched their respectable, high-society dates and are now consorting with the local woodland nymphs. That the men dare to grasp them with bare hands, to chase them as they fly through the air, and to embrace them with abandon suggests an entirely different social milieu than Act I. Ask la Cour makes a dashing partner for Mearns, who is all soulful and mysterious and whose pirouettes en dedans en arabesque linger magnificently. Justin Peck, partnering the plucky Ashley Laracey, looked every inch the Romantic poet.

Mearns, Laracey and the lovely Jennie Somogyi (ably partnered by Tyler Angle) all sweep grandly and lushly and make even the subtlest movements interesting. Mearns, in particular, makes exquisite distinction between quarter-pointe and half-pointe — a detail lost on many ballerinas today. Somogyi was particularly captivating when she fell, hand to brow, as if she was tired. Or tired of her partner. Or perhaps her corset was too tight. Angle carried her off in his arms, Somogyi wittily stretched out like a board. Sterling Hyltin, on the other hand, looked like she wanted to be dancing something else. Often smirking at her dutiful partner, Jared Angle, she was a mass of affectation, twitching her head, and throwing away some of the steps as if she didn’t take them seriously.  

The first three movements of the Tschaikovsky are performed behind a scrim, giving the scene a hazy, watery appearance. Water nymphs populate the Scherzo, splashing playfully. They are clad in filmy chiffon gowns in shades of peach, lilac and absinthe, their hair down. The choreography is full of swirling and plunging and back-bending; the vibe is Isadora Duncan meets Esther Williams. The soloist men dash about in ruffled shirts, pining for the soloist women.

Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz in <i>Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3</i> © Paul Kolnik
Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz in Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3
© Paul Kolnik
The statuesque Teresa Reichlen was born to dive, bare-legged, into arabesque penchée. The gorgeous Russell Janzen could not be blamed for looking like he hadn’t eaten in days, obsessed with her.

But the outstanding performance of the evening was given by Taylor Stanley in the Valse Mélancolique, as he traced the urgent sonorities in the score, with its gypsy undertones. The quirky, daring Lauren King was a perfect match for him.

The scrim lifts for the fourth movement: the dazzle of chandeliers and the sparkle on 13 spun-sugar tutus instantly transport us to another ballroom – one where, unlike Liebeslieder, there are no whispered secrets.

The gutsy Megan Fairchild fires off her fabulous gargouillades and Russian pas de chats in the action-packed Tema Con Variazioni. Her tiara looked enormous on her petite frame, her demeanor that of a newly crowned queen, unaccustomed to pomp, but tenacious – and gratified to have the princely Joaquin de Luz by her side.

Particularly riveting was the sequence in which she illuminates the multitude of classical body angles in ballet while balanced on one leg on pointe, the other leg moving slowly from one high extension to the next. She is supported only at her fingertips by the raised arms of a chorus line of bourré-ing women.

Amid the nonstop virtuosity, the demi-soloist men — Devin Alberda, Daniel Applebaum, David Prottas and Andrew Scordato — distinguished themselves in their impossibly fast succession of double tours en l'air and pirouettes.

Hints of rebellion percolate through the final courtly polonaise, as the men periodically explode into knife-like jumps. The new queen appears unruffled, however, as she springs up to her cavalier’s shoulder to survey her kingdom.