Occasions like this diamond jubilee gala don’t come along often. The company put its full, glorious history on display for this one. It was a wonderful night but it was not easy to see clearly through the dense fog of nostalgia and truthfully I didn’t even really try. American Ballet Theatre is a rich repository for the history of dance in America and on this night, the vault was open. Beginning with the beginning, we saw snippets of the company’s earliest works from Eugene Loring, Agnes de Mille and Jerome Robbins. These works established a distinctly American voice in dance and let the world know that this was a company that intended to embrace all comers. We don’t see these pieces enough in repertory programs; as so much of the season is now given over to the full length story ballets that fill the seats. It’s too bad. Seeing each segment, I was reminded of the first time I saw the work and then reflected on all the great dancers that I’d seen in those roles. They cast a long shadow and many of them were in the audience cheering along. There were also excerpts from many of the great classics, each giving you a taste of the history of the company. The overall program was designed to send you into a meditation on the company’s glittering history and the breadth of its repertoire and on that score, it was a triumph.

Here are some of the highlights:

Rodeo :The soon to depart Xiomara Reyes was adorable as the Cowgirl in Rodeo and I harkened back to Christine Sarry who danced the Cowgirl for so many years that she became synonymous with it. Then I wondered who in the company would be the next to dance the role. So many changes are coming with three female principals retiring this season. Farewell, Xiomara!

Fancy Free is programmed often enough that it's current in our memory but in this context, set alongside Billy the Kid and Rodeo, it reminded us of Jerome Robbins’ superb theatrical gift. It pulses with humor and vitality. The trio of Herman Cornejo, Cory Stearns and Marcelo Gomes were endearing in Robbins’ first major work.

Push Comes to Shove: The program shifted to a more recent work with a Twyla Tharp’s masterpiece. When it was broadcast live on Dance in America, Mikhail Baryshnikov blew the lid off what we thought we knew about men in ballet. With Tharp’s loose and rangy movement, Baryshnikov flaunted a rock star level of cool that we hadn’t seen before. Tharp was instrumental in bringing ABT into the present and generating a new vocabulary of dance.

Bright Stream: In the present day, ABT is the home of resident choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, one of today's leading creator of story ballets worldwide. The comedy of Bright Stream was hilariously rendered by Clinton Luckett and Daniil Simkin who has a flair for slapstick and a pretty fair ability to pull off a double pirouette in pointe shoes.

Giselle: Maria Kochetkova stepped in for the injured Polina Semionova, which made me wonder … will she be asked to join ABT? She danced the Giselle excerpt like a star with Stella Abrera as her Myrtha. Kochetkova would be a welcome partner for Daniil Simkin but there are also all those great soloists already in the company. 

Manon: The pas de deux from Manon was given special poignancy by Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes. Kent is nearing the end of her long lasting career. I first saw MacMillan’s ballet back in the seventies with Natalia Makarova and this pas de deux is the essence of the rapture of dance. You had to feel sorry for Misty Copeland in her Swan Lake finale that followed this indelible moment because the crowd loved Kent’s performance so much that it made Copeland’s performance anti-climactic. Farewell, Julie!

La Bayadère: The entrance of the women’s corps de ballet into the Kingdom of the Shades is the essence of classical ballet from the Romantic era. Gliding ballerinas, all in white tutus, moonlight, and all the arabesques you could ever want. This is the stuff of dreams and it conveys a transcendental image of ballet that reminds us how incredible it is that dancers can move like this.

Piano Concerto #1: What on Earth do they put in Skylar Brandt’s Cheerios to enable to her move at such demonic speed? She danced with such breathtaking velocity that it was hard to believe she didn’t crash. But she was always under control and was a joy to see in Ratmansky’s bravura ballet.

La Sylphide: James Whiteside is one of the names you frequently hear when women talk honestly about who their favorite dance partner is. He is charismatic, athletic and sometimes heroic. You never think about Erik Bruhn when watching Whiteside in this variation.

Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux: This was Paloma Herrera’s turn in the spotlight and it was yet another high point. She was not an iota less thrilling to watch than she was twenty years ago. She still expresses her exuberant joy at being a dancer and she will be sorely missed. Farewell, Paloma!

Theme and Variations: Sarah Lane and Joseph Gorak got the nod for the climactic closing role of this great gala night. Lane, a top soloist, was up to the challenge and made it clear that she’s ready for principal roles. She was radiant, commanding and glamorous. Brava, Sarah.

If the excess emotion and energy of the evening occasionally overflowed and led to a few flubs, you have to forgive and forget because this night was about paying homage. Lucia Chase and Oliver Smith created this company to embrace the classics as well as to engage the best of contemporary choreographers and the gala did a great job of celebrating that legacy. ABT has always been a place where stars shine brightest and this night had a whole constellation of them. It was a privilege to be a part of this celebration.