New York City Ballet's fourteen month period without a leader ended last week with the announcement of a permanent Artistic Director (Jonathan Stafford) and an Associate Artistic Director (Wendy Whelan). This must have been a relief, both to the dancers and to the many long-time patrons of the company.

Perhaps it was this newfound stability that contributed to an all-Balanchine program that was remarkably energetic and free. Prodigal Son and Liebeslieder Walzer are acknowledged Balanchine masterworks that are somewhat fragile – Prodigal Son can seem dated and a touch moralistic, while Liebeslieder Walzer requires of the dancers the ability to convey inner life without ever seeming overwrought.

Prodigal Son received an excellent performance with Gonzalo Garcia as the Son and Sara Mearns as the Siren. Garcia and Mearns do not have the extreme height difference of most Son/Siren pairings. Garcia also does not have the explosive jump that's often associated with this role. What he does have is an innocent, naive stage persona that makes the Son's journey worth following no matter how foolish his decisions are. Whilst I've mostly seen interpretations of Siren as cold and predatory, Mearns was more voluptuous and sensual. The Siren's signature move after all is that hand snaking gesture.. The graphic pas de deux wasn't silky smooth – at times it seemed like Garcia and Mearns were actively exploring each others' bodies right onstage, with the fumbling and awkwardness that often accompanies a real-life sexual encounter. When the Siren and her Goons robbed and beat the Son Mearns capped this torture session with a casual kick to the son's stomach. It was shocking in its brutality.

The supporting cast of tonight's performance was outstanding. The goons were unflagging in their energy. Devin Alberda and Spartak Hoxha as the Servants exploded on the stage with a barrage of jumps, and Aaron Sanz as the father conveyed both disappointment and love in the ballet's moving conclusion.

Liebeslieder Walzer is a difficult ballet for many watching it. The hour-long piece is split into two halves. The first half is a formal ballroom setup and the women are in ballgowns and dancing slippers. The curtain drops and the women change into tulle dresses and pointe shoes for the second half of the ballet. During this brief pause many walked out of the auditorium. But those who stayed were treated to a beautiful performance. Balanchine himself said "In the first act, it is the real people dancing. In the second act, it is their souls."

The singing quartet (Sarah Tucker, soprano, Siena Licht Miller, mezzo soprano, Blake Friedman, tenor, Conor McDonald, baritone, with Andrews Sill and Susan Walters on piano) did Brahms' song cycle justice. The dancers accurately captured the essence of the ballet. Maria Kowroski, Sterling Hyltin, Ashley Bouder, and Ashley Laracey all found that balance between the formality of the ballroom dance and the inner feeling, that bubbles to the surface repeatedly. They also were different enough so that we never felt that these women were interchangeable. Kowroski was regal and elegant, Hytlin delicate and romantic, Bouder mercurial and Laracey a tad withdrawn. The men have less to do in this ballet but Jared Angle, Tyler Angle, Ask La Cour and Justin Peck all partnered the women wonderfully and looked handsome.

This is a ballet that needs multiple viewings to capture even a fraction of the many mysterious moments Balanchine choreographed. But I'll just name one. In the first half of the ballet, one woman (Sterling Hyltin) waltzes with her partner (Jared Angle). She does an extreme backbend while in his arms, as if she were yielding to his advances completely. It looks like a blissfully romantic moment. In the second half of the ballet, she also does an extreme backbend, but this time her face and body are arched away from him, and he is the one trying to hold onto her. What does this mean? Balanchine shows us the story but does not give answers.

The ending of Liebeslieder Walzer has an air of "persistent melancholy and tragic remorse," as Arlene Croce wrote about the ballet. The dancers are back in their ballgowns, and the wild, feverish dancing of the past thirty minutes is over. The four couples sit in the upholstered chairs and politely applaud the quartet of singers. It is a vivid reminder of how fleeting human connection is.