When New York City Ballet reopened on 21st September after almost 18 months of darkness, the theater was packed to the brim and the evening was littered with loud applause. I personally started crying the moment the curtain rose on the 17 girls in Serenade.

But while preserving Balanchine’s classics is definitely part of NYCB’s DNA, the company's mission has always had another goal – to present new and contemporary works. Saturday's program was of Jerome Robbins’ Opus 19/The Dreamer, Mauro Bigonzetti’s new work Amaria, and Alexei Ratmansky’s modern classic Russian Seasons. It was an eclectic program that drew a rather sparse crowd.

Bigonzetti’s Amaria was a short, slight tribute to retiring ballerina Maria Kowroski. The title literally means “To Maria”. Amar Ramasar was her partner. It is set to some lovely music by Domenico Scarlatti, and Maria wears a lovely long green dress, but the ballet was a rather trite, predictable pas de deux. The choreographer showed off Kowroski’s flexibility and long legs – a motif was her kicking her legs in a grand battement and then grabbing her ankle. Ramasar stayed in the background and partnered her ably, but he seemed at times simply a wooden column that Kowroski could wrap her legs or torso around repeatedly. There was nothing original or interesting in Bigonzetti's choreography.

Opus 19/The Dreamer starred Gonzalo Garcia and Tiler Peck, who are both great dancers and longtime partners, but somehow they didn’t click in this ballet. Peck’s technique is amazing, but she is too earthy for this dreamlike, diaphanous role. Garcia’s soft, understated style takes away some of the fever dream dimension of the ballet.

Alexei Ratmansky was on hand to personally rehearse Russian Seasons, and you could see the results. The ballet looked fresh and energetic. Every dancer showed attention to detail and captured the folksy, humorous, yet mystical feel of this ballet. It was a strong cast, with several dancers making debuts. This is an ensemble piece, and there wasn’t a weak link. Sara Mearns was a force of nature as the Red Girl. This is one role where Mearns’ go-for-broke energy is appropriate. She’s so passionate and energetic that the chest-pounding looked completely natural and organic.

As the Red Boy Andrew Veyette made a good foil for Mearns – he was the cool to her fire. Ashley Laracey and Joseph Gordon made debuts as the Green Couple. Laracey didn’t inject as much quirky humor into the role as I’ve seen with other dancers, but she was lovely and lyrical, as was Gordon. Laracey made that famous “walk on dancers’ hands as if they were stairs” moment look effortless.

Sterling Hyltin (also making her debut) was radiant as the Orange Girl; her solos and duets (with Taylor Stanley, wonderful as the Orange Boy) perfectly captured the happiness of an eager bride. Her “pick a flower” solo was particularly endearing. Hyltin was so girlishly exuberant that the finale with the formal wedding rite was rather melancholy. The rest of the cast falls to the ground and Hyltin and Stanley slowly walk offstage to begin married life. Ratmansky seems to be saying that the fun and games are over. It was a haunting, bittersweet ending to such a joyous ballet.