We seem to be in the midst another golden era at New York City Ballet! One on which we will look back and wonder at the surfeit of talent that the company places before the public night after night... 

Donizetti Variations is a bit of a fluff piece. It has nothing especially profound to say about the art of ballet and the music, while enjoyable, is not Donizetti’s best. The piece is standard classical ballet choreographic fare, leavened with Balanchine’s trademark hip thrusts and electric allegro. While not especially memorable, it’s still a perfect program opener and a sure fire crowd pleaser. What a terrific performance by the entire cast. The pleasures of NYC Ballet are overflowing at this time but in no dancer are they as fully realized as in Ashley Bouder.

Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette in George Balanchine's <i>Donizetti variations</i> © Paul Kolnik
Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette in George Balanchine's Donizetti variations
© Paul Kolnik
Partnered by Andrew Veyette, Bouder ripped the Donizetti Variations to shreds, tearing through the allegro parts with artfully sustained balances and flying jumps. If you really wanted to pick on something, maybe you could say that you would like Veyette to get up higher off the ground in his jumps... but you should settle for being happy that he and Bouder have a partnership that really seems to let Bouder cut loose with supreme confidence. She makes it all look too easy to do these steps at such velocity. Life after Bouder is going to be a difficult adjustment so let us hope that she dances for many more years to come. The rest of the cast of Donizetti was just as enjoyable.

Wendy Whelan's reign, sadly, is drawing to an end. Dancers and dance lovers from around the city are making the pilgrimage to see her last NYCB performances and this program featured her in one of her signature roles, La sonnambula. As to the rest of the cast, we can extol the erotic frisson of Sara Mearns’ glittering Coquette and Amar Ramasar’s regal Baron. We can go further and praise Robert Fairchild, who gave a poignant performance as the Poet. Everything about this rendition of Sonnambula was truly wonderful, though the cast was perhaps a little overshadowed by the solemn fact that we are nearing the end of an era. But, thank you Daniel Ulbricht for giving us a fun and campy Harlequin. Thanks too, to Lauren Lovette and Craig Hall for managing to keep up with the frantic tempo of the pas de deux. Likolani Brown and Megan Mann, partnered by Devin Alberda and David Prottas, thanks for your lovely Pastorale. All of you made this another memorable performance on our way to saying farewell to Wendy Whelan, who was captivating and, as always, never less than compelling.

Wendy Whelan in George Balanchine's <i>La sonnambula</i>. © Paul Kolnik
Wendy Whelan in George Balanchine's La sonnambula.
© Paul Kolnik

Less compelling was The Firebird. This is a ballet that has always made me struggle with my eyelids. It has a stolid and pedantic Russian quality that feels like too many green vegetables on the plate. I want to love it because of the gorgeous Chagall designs and Stravinsky’s limpid score. The costumes are rich and evocative and on paper, this should be a runaway masterpiece. Still, it fails to generate any excitement. There’s no real dramatic tension and nothing really seems to be at stake. The story just isn’t enough to keep my poor eyelids from succumbing to the relentless onslaught of gravity. And that can’t be blamed on the cast, for there just isn’t enough drama to this fairy tale. Teresa Reichlen is as good a Firebird as you could want. With her long limbs and fluid technique, she embodies bird-like grace. Reichlen ranks among the top handful of dancers to have performed this role but it’s still not enough to rescue this ballet from dullness. As well as la Cour and Savannah Lowery did their parts as the Prince and his Bride, those roles aren’t terribly thrilling. Until we get to the closing wedding scene, it’s a long and groggy slog! And along the way I struggled to find some reason to get engaged. It was nothing but relief when the wedding scene came with its promise of bringing this ballet to an end. It needs to be re-invented.

Keep your eyes out for the weekly casting lists and do all that you can to catch the last of Wendy Whelan's performances Her farewell performance, on October 18th, is already sold out, but there are still opportunities to see her in action during the season.