Opus 19/The Dreamer put together two of my favorite dancers: Sterling Hyltin and Taylor Stanley. What makes them wonderful to me is best exemplified by a recently published piece in Dance Spirit Magazine in which Hyltin addressed her adolescent self with some sage advice, given with the benefit of hindsight. She wrote: “The dancer next to you may be a good turner but you’re a good jumper!” It’s a fact that both she and Stanley have occasional difficulties with turns but they’ve both learned that they have other abilities that more than compensate. What makes them great performers is their expressivity and the way they move. They pair up perfectly in terms of line and style and look great together. Stanley stretches space around him with his long arms that reach out to infinity. His cat-soft pliés more than compensate for any hoppy turns. Hyltin’s turns were actually pretty good for this show but it wouldn’t have mattered even if they weren’t. Her solo work is always reliably solid and musical. She may look gossamer slender but she is steely strong and quick. The magic is that she is a dancer who is somehow transformed by being partnered. I’ve seen many partnerships where the struggle is real. Sometimes it’s due to lack of familiarity and sometimes it’s just that the two don’t fit together well. I never see that happen with Hyltin. They delivered yet another deeply satisfying performance.

The women of New York City Ballet were transcendent in what is arguably Robbins’ greatest work. Dances at a Gathering is probably more written about than any of his other works because of its deep emotional resonance. Nights like this remind you why it is so significant. It was as good a cast as can be fielded with today’s ballerinas and the audience was swept away. Adding to the experience, Cameron Grant was at the piano, playing beautifully. Joaquin de Luz, in Brown, was shaky starting out and was unable to find his legato groove. He loosened up as the ballet progressed and all was forgiven. This was the best overall performance of this ballet I recall seeing. Lauren Lovette and Joseph Gordon’s duet of playful flirtation was beyond exuberant. It was thrilling. Ashley Bouder has grown into the role of Green. It’s now more her own interpretation and less a tribute to Violette Verdy. She’s wry, humorous, optimistic and an irrepressible coquette. Abi Stafford in Blue, Tiler Peck in Pink, and Sara Mearns in Blue were as on as one can get. There were so many wondrous moments. Mearns does more with her head to suggest emotional states than most dancers can do with their whole bodies. The way she pirouettes and begins to tilt her head, signaling that she’s about to dive into a free-fall penché creates exquisite tension. She is the essence of the dancer who is saving nothing for a rainy day. For every balance that Mearns lingered over, Peck matched it with one of her own, breathing all the way through it. Peck and de Luz in the middle section of the Ballade were gently and poetically passionate. When de Luz reached down and laid his hand on the floor in the final Nocturne, it suggested to me that, on this night and with these dancers, the stage was sacred ground.

Glass Pieces closed out the show with modernist fervor. This is one of the few times that I haven’t rolled my eyes at a dance set to Philip Glass’s music. The constant visual onslaught of too much movement is what irritates me when other choreographers use his music. Robbins resisted the pull of trying to choreograph the pulsing, driving music at the same pace one hears it. Instead, he let the steps suggest a driving force without creating a fitness ballet. Of the three couples in the Rubric section, Ashley Hod and Daniel Applebaum were electric. Maria Kowroski and Russel Janzen were compelling in Façades, the second section, but I was still mentally processing the extraordinary performance of Dances at a Gathering that I’d just seen so I’m afraid that I was unable to give this ballet my full attention.

The order of this program mystified me. It would have been much better if it started with Glass Pieces, then Opus 19/The Dreamer and finished with Dances at a Gathering. I never want to see anything else after I’ve experienced Gathering. It takes up too much emotional space in my head and anything that follows dwindles into insignificance by comparison. This was one performance that I wish every aspiring dancer could have seen. Each of these dancers put on a clinic of all the different ways in which one can be a great dancer. There was power, audacity, refinement, grace, musicality, allegro, adagio, legato, rubato… and so much feeling.