The second program that the Royal Ballet presented in New York was something of a gala sandwich. Two strong, one act pieces on the outside and six yummy slices from the company’s meaty repertoire in the middle.

Wayne McGregor’s Infra opened the evening with a series of dances on the theme of connection and disconnection. I could have done without the digital walking figures superimposed on screen above the stage during the entire piece. I managed to block it out for the most part but it seemed unnecessary and added nothing to the performance.

Melissa Hamilton and Eric Underwood in <i>Infra</i> © ROH / Bill Cooper
Melissa Hamilton and Eric Underwood in Infra
© ROH / Bill Cooper
The dancing was of uniformly high quality with ensemble dances, a solo or two and a series of pas de deux. The various duets embodied different romances with occasionally hypnotic effect. Partly that’s the Max Richter score which combines techno effects with pulsing, albeit repetitive, romantic music. Sarah Lamb, one of the company's stars, fairly ran away with this ballet. The Boston native has the ability to make even a tendu into a gripping step. She combines an appearance of slender fragility with steely strength. She’s incredibly strong and stands on pointe with more ease than you or I standing in line at the grocery store. Fumi Kaneko was sinuously erotic in her pas de deux while Yasmine Naghdi was so fluid that she bordered on liquid at times as she melted into her partner. My one complaint here was that there is not much variability of dynamics in the movement, and an over-emphasis on the women lifting their legs over their heads.

In the middle of the program was a mini gala, a delightful offering of six divertissements. Frederick Ashton’s Voices of Spring pas de deux paired the lovely Akane Takada and Valentino Zucchetti. It’s a fluff piece, more about charm and sweeping waltz dancing than bravura, and it was originally a small part of the Royal Opera’s production of Die Fledermaus. They flirted and frolicked and that was all there was to it. The second divertissement was Alastair Marriott’s Borrowed Light which featured Marcelino Sambé. It is a solo dance filled with longing and loneliness and outstanding dancing from Sambé. If you’re looking for the heir to the soon to retire Carlos Acosta, Sambé may be it. He was rooted in the ground with rock solidity and moved with sleek legato in long, smooth phrases. When he began to jump, he propelled himself off the floor with such explosiveness that he drew gasps from the audience. It was a stunning solo. Vadim Muntagirov followed with Bronislava Nijinska’s 1920’s era, ‘Le Beau Gosse’ from Le Train Bleu. Muntagirov managed to send up the blatant narcissism of the role while keeping it affectionate. The surprise piece was Calvin Richardson’s The Dying Swan, a piece I hope never to forget. He conceived the piece as a solo for himself using his own dance vocabulary and it’s a work of fantastic imagination. He moved with the ability to create a succession of indelible pictures knitted together with unerring musicality. He fused jerky, bird-like movement with modern rolling from the floor, turned and leaped like a ballet dancer, and infused the piece with exquisite melancholy. It was evocative and unforgettable and it made me hope that he will set his hand to more choreography in the future. Christopher Wheeldon’s Aeternum pas de deux featured Claire Calvert and Ryoichi Hirano, who danced with classical purity. Pretty but not exceptional. The finale of the sandwich gala was Kenneth MacMillan’s pas de deux from Carousel, his last work. There was an unfortunate sense of too much gosh and golly aw shucks Americana in the portrayals by Lauren Cuthbertson and Matthew Golding but they were too winsome to hold it against them. Cuthbertson was especially endearing and Golding flew powerfully across the stage.

The Royal Ballet in Liam Scarlett's <i>The Age of Anxiety</i> © ROH / Bill Cooper
The Royal Ballet in Liam Scarlett's The Age of Anxiety
© ROH / Bill Cooper
Liam Scarlett’s took inspiration from Auden’s poem to music of Leonard Bernstein for his The Age of Anxiety. The first thing that popped into my mind upon seeing the opening scene was Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free and the comparisons are inevitable. It opens in a bar, features military men, a beautiful woman and Bernstein’s music. Scarlett’s ballet falls short of Robbins’ work mostly due to his fixation on a more balletically inclined choreography where Robbins’ idiom was more jazzy. Scarlett also has a less sure hand at telling a story or it might be that he had too little story going on too much music.The ballet is pretty good on its own terms, mostly due to the fine performances of the cast. Sarah Lamb was perfect in the role of Rosetta, the aging ingénue. She danced with all the pent up angst that her part called for. Johannes Stepanek played Quant, the Irish businessman who drags Malin out of the closet with engaging economy and David Donnelly was appropriately mean-edged as the bartender. Federico Bonelli was thoroughly convincing as Malin and showed us his misery at having to hide his homosexuality. His relief at the end in finding himself was invigorating set against the dawnscape of the city. But it was Alexander Campbell as Emble who owned this ballet. He served as the focal point for everyone’s sexual energy and was pursued in turn by all of them but never let any of them catch him.

The diversity of this program shows the breadth and depth of the Royal Ballet. There is a ton of talent here and they do a lot of things so well. The company maintains its signature style in the face of globalization and offers us a distinctive and sublime vision of classical ballet in the older repertoire as well as in the contemporary pieces. We need to see this iconic company more often than once every eleven years.