Petipa’s ballet Raymonda presents a problem for balletomanes that no production has ever been able to fully solve – the glorious Glazunov score is wedded to a storyline that’s static, uninvolving and (in 21st century eyes) Islamophobic. Some ballet companies simply present the third act wedding suite. George Balanchine did mount a full-length production of Raymonda for his ex-wife Alexandra Danilova, but later in life decided to raid Glazunov’s score in bits and pieces for inspiration for abstract ballets. He choreographed Raymonda Pas de Six, Raymonda Variations, and Cortège Hongrois this way.

Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley in Raymonda Variations
© Erin Baiano

Of the three ballets, Raymonda Variations is probably the best. It resembles Paquita (or Ashton’s Birthday Offering) in presenting several difficult variations for the company’s soloists. For this reason, it’s fun to watch for up-and-coming corps members in the variations.

Last night’s performance at New York City Ballet was anchored by Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley in the leading roles. Both are veterans of this ballet. The lead ballerina role requires both lush, expansive adagio dancing and fast petit allegro. Fairchild excelled at the latter but struggled with the former – she had no problems dispatching of a series of pas-de-chats in her second solo variation, but the lack of extension and her staccato style of movement meant that the adagio parts of the role were merely shaded in. However, one has to admire the extent to which she has preserved her technique.

Anthony Huxley is a technical marvel – the way he flies across the stage and lands without any sound is always jaw-dropping to watch. His two variations were filled with the kind of fast batterie that defeats so many dancers. Not him. The solo variations were well-danced. Sara Adams got the biggest applause for the “hop-on-pointe” solo, while Emily Kikta and Ashley Hod impressed by being so tall and yet moving so fast. This isn’t top-drawer Balanchine, but it’s an enjoyable display for the company’s talents.

Aaron Sanz and Mira Nadon in Piano Pieces
© Erin Baiano

Jerome RobbinsPiano Pieces also returned. I saw it in the spring and was confused by the mix between Russian folk dance and more generic pas de deux. Seeing it again, I appreciate the work more. Yes, the mix between folk and classical ballet makes the work disjointed. Yes, the folk dancing can be irritatingly twee. But there are several lovely moments. One is the “Reverie” pas de deux – last night, Sara Mearns was lush and surprisingly restrained. Chun-Wai Chan partnered her beautifully. The “October” pas de deux was even more compelling. Mira Nadon was breathtaking – the reach of her limbs, the elegance of her upper body, the way she can make time stand still. She’s already one of the most compelling dancers in the company. Tiler Peck and Joseph Gordon were sparkling in the November troika. The only disappointment was Sebastian Villarini-Velez in the solo male folk role – he was a late substitute for an injured Roman Mejia, and danced cautiously. There was no folk flair to his dancing.

Sterling Hyltin and Anthony Huxley in Duo Concertant
© Erin Baiano

The middle piece of the program was why most balletomanes were there last night. Duo Concertant is often over-programmed in New York City Ballet’s seasons – the short length plus the relative simplicity of the work makes it a great filler in the middle of programs. But last night was not just any performance of Duo Concertant. It was Sterling Hyltin’s final performance of the ballet (she retires in December). This role has been closely associated with her for years. It’s a perfect fit for her uniquely ebullient yet sensitive stage persona. Last night’s performance captured all the reasons she is so special in the ballet – she seems to respond in a totally spontaneous way to the violin and piano playing, even though she has danced this countless times. She brings out a sensitivity and tenderness from every single one of her male partners. Taylor Stanley last night matched her energy and playfulness. The melancholy ending was a fitting farewell between ballerina and ballet.

The heart-melting, beautiful Duo Concertant alone was worth the entire price of admission.

*****