The Saturday evening performance, entitled Classic NYCB II, might be the longest performance I've ever attended at New York City Ballet. It lasted almost three hours. As the clock neared 11, one could only think of Balanchine's famous phrase "My muses must come to me on union time."

NYCB in Reisen’s <i>Judah</i> © Paul Kolnik
NYCB in Reisen’s Judah
© Paul Kolnik

Part of the long evening was the inexplicable addition of Gianna Reisen's Judah (which premiered at the Fall 2018 gala). Judah is not a bad ballet – the pretty, bohemian-looking costumes by Alberta Ferretti, the set with two staircases on opposite diagonals on the stage, and the choreography which suggested a mythic sisterhood all put it a cut above the normal "new works" that populate NYCB galas. I wish the John Adams score was more listenable and Reisen didn't rely so much on contemporary ballet tropes like the dreaded crane lift (where a woman is lifted overhead, with her legs spread in the air), but it's a solid work. The central couple of Indiana Woodward and Harrison Ball danced well but looked out of place in a work so stubbornly contemporary. With that being said Judah's not nearly time-tested enough to fit the "Classic NYCB" moniker.

Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering is an uncontested classic. This hour-long work weaves a spell no matter who is cast. Tonight's cast had a mix of veterans (Gonzalo Garcia as Brown Boy, Megan Fairchild as Apricot Girl, Maria Kowroski as Green Girl, Tyler Angle as Purple Boy, Sara Mearns as Mauve Girl, and Lauren King as Blue Girl) with debuts (Lauren Lovette as Pink Girl, Roman Mejia as Brick Boy, Aaron Sanz as Green Boy, Peter Walker as Blue Boy). Susan Walters played the potpourri of Chopin pieces superbly.

Tyler Angle and Lauren Lovette in Robbins’ <i>Dances at a Gathering</i> © Erin Baiano
Tyler Angle and Lauren Lovette in Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering
© Erin Baiano

At least one debuting dancer hit a grand slam – Roman Mejia as Brick Boy. His jumps don't just soar, they blaze. On top of that he has a natural panache that makes it hard to believe he's still in his teens. He brought the same energy to his debut in the rondo of Western Symphony last week. His duet with Megan Fairchild (at her sparkling, allegro best) earned such a loud ovation I thought for a minute they'd come out for an extra bow. Other highlights: Sara Mearns toning down the power and giving a more subtle, restrained rendition of the Mauve Girl, Gonzalo Garcia making the Brown Boy anchoring the ballet with a melancholy air, and Maria Kowroski getting chuckles for the famous Violette Verdy solo where the Green Girl looks for a partner before deciding to dance on her own. Lauren Lovette as the Pink Girl was lovely to look at but a bit low-impact, and she and Tyler Angle did not really articulate the famous "rainbow in the sky" arc well. The famous sextet where the girls are passed around and swung and finally tossed from boy to boy did not go as smoothly as usual, probably because both Aaron Sanz and Peter Walker were doing this for the first time. But still, Dances is such a rich work that minor imperfections cannot spoil the overall impact.

Harrison Ball in Balanchine’s <i>Stars and Stripes</i> © Erin Baiano
Harrison Ball in Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes
© Erin Baiano

The evening ended with Stars and Stripes. Balanchine's piece of Americana actually resembles an Imperial style ballet in structure. There are three variations, and then a grand pas de deux with a coda. There are even fouettés. Erica Pereira was rather weak and slow in the First Campaign and she didn't bother with much baton twirling. On the other hand Emily Kikta commanded the stage in the Second Campaign (the "bugle" variation) and Daniel Ulbricht led to Third Campaign with a dizzying series of entrechats, double tours, and ménages of jumps around the stage. The males in the corps of the Third Campaign kept up with the energy.

Finally, Ashley Bouder gave her time-tested and classic portrayal of Liberty Bell while Harrison Ball made a promising debut as El Capitan. This is one ballet where Bouder's tendency to do a lot of audience-facing mugging is entirely appropriate, and one can't argue with her allegro footwork and big jumps. Ball is handsome, technically assured, and also great jumper – the leapfrog jumps hung in the air. Only complaint: smile more! His face was one of furious concentration rather than joy. The ending of Stars and Stripes is a sure-fire applause machine. The lowering of the flag while all the regiments march and salute onstage is so corny that only Balanchine could have choreographed it with a straight face. And yet it worked in 1958 and it works in 2019. The audience left humming Sousa and saluting the dancers.

*****