This spring is Sterling Hyltin's season. She continues on a string of revelatory performances, drawing in strong reviews and shows no sign of slowing down. It’s not that she does everything perfectly - that is really beside the point. Some nights you hit that balance perfectly and some nights you don’t. She is certainly dancing with superb technique but that’s a given when talking about talent-rich New York City Ballet these days. What Hyltin is doing is what every dancer strives for. Rather than just dancing, she seems to be letting the choreography flow through her. There’s a lack of self-consciousness and an ease of movement that gives everything she does a feeling of spontaneity. She is effortlessly alive and vital, fully immersed in an ideal world. Through it all there is her refined musicality and that special quality that makes everyone around her rise to her level. She made this performance of The Goldberg Variations a pleasure to sit through.

The Goldberg Variations © Paul Kolnik
The Goldberg Variations
© Paul Kolnik

The Goldberg Variations is Robbins’ statement about ballet and it shows his deep love for the form. The opening Aria presents us with a couple in 18th century period dress performing a dance much like it was probably done when the Goldberg Variations was composed by Bach in 1742. The movements are stately, graceful, formal and were nicely performed by Faye Arthurs and Zachary Catazaro. When Robbins moved into the variations, he divided the score into two parts. The first is an examination of simple dance steps only slightly removed from their classroom origins. There are none of the extreme pyrotechnics of today’s dancing that includes multiple pirouettes and spinning jumps. Robbins gives us instead a succession of single and double pirouettes, left and right, en dehors and en dedans. Small jumps, single beats in the batterie, even frappés which are not often seen outside the ballet classroom. Robbins presents them as if these steps are new and places them in a context of beautiful music where they achieve a state of grace. There is reverence for the small things here and you feel that you are experiencing the very creation of the art of ballet. There were so many great things going on in this performance, even though, at eighty minutes, it goes on too long. Taylor Stanley was a thing of beauty to watch with his clarity of movement. Time and again I was drawn to his classic line, musical sensitivity and bright energy. Anthony Huxley shone here with his speed and great footwork. This is where Huxley is at his best: moving with velocity and creating exuberance.

Amar Ramasar was off for this performance, replaced by Jared Angle. It’s too bad as Ramasar and Hyltin have such great rapport but Angle certainly did well enough, and as I've noted before Hyltin can be at her best with any partner. She was sublime, even transcendent here. The other couples were Maria Kowroski with Tyler Angle and Tiler Peck with Gonzalo Garcia. Kowroski’s long legs speak to the ineffable geometry of ballet while Tiler Peck’s flirtatiousness reminds us of the fun that is inherent in being able to move with a heady mix of exquisite control and abandonment. As the ballet nears the end, the dancers begin appearing in progressively more elaborate costumes, culminates to an 18 century-like group portrait for the finale, directed toward the piano, which pays homage to the composer. Part II takes us into the realm of more complex and difficult dancing of classical ballet as we know it in our present day but Robbins’ never lost sight of his greatest strength as a choreographer. He was a poet-choreographer of lyrical musicality and a true romantic. There’s little concession in his work for gratuitous bravura expressions of mere technical achievement to overshadow the mission of dancing beautifully. Arriving at the re-statement of the Aria theme at the end, Arthurs and Catazaro returned to the stage dressed in contemporary costumes to reiterate the continuity that ballet represents of a very long tradition. Pianist Susan Walters did a fine job.

West Side Story Suite © Paul Kolnik
West Side Story Suite
© Paul Kolnik
West Side Story Suite gave us the Broadway side of Jerome Robbins; which is less profound but also more fun. This was mainly Georgina Pazcoguin’s show. She channeled Chita Rivera with that saucy combination of sexuality and ferocity that is so much a part of playing Anita. She’s a natural scene stealer and really, no one else even came close to her level of performance. Andrew Veyette’s Riff was great in Cool. He gets the Broadway side of Robbins’ choreography. This is muscular dancing, showing pent up energy, and he’s not a half bad singer. Bernardo was played by Justin Peck (replacing Amar Ramasar) with nice, tough guy punchiness. The only weak link here was in the putative leads, Tony and Maria. Adrian Danchig-Waring’s Tony was too refined and balletic with not enough of the tough guy attitude to render him a credible leading man while Mimi Staker’s Maria was pallid and lacking passion. The men seemed to enjoy the gang dances when the Sharks and Jets faced off. Their physicality was tremendous in the Rumble. It’s great that the company keeps pieces like this alive because it’s a wonderful opportunity to challenge the dancers and broaden their range.

Jerome Robbins was two very different choreographers, the Showman and the Poet. He left an indelible mark on Broadway and his Chopin ballets are un-matched by any other choreographer. New York City Ballet keeps his legacy alive with obvious reverence and this show reinforced how powerful and fully realized each side of Robbins was as a choreographer.