It was a busy week at the David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center. New York City Ballet opened its season on Tuesday with its annual Fall Gala, and has carried on every night with all Balanchine programmes, including Thursday night’s performance dedicated to Stravinsky's music. Both composer and choreographer, stars of the 20th century, are celebrated in a selection of works that are pure treasures of dance. Creatively breathtaking, physically wondrous and historically significant, the only unknown as we go in to this performance is the dancers’ interpretation.

Robert Fairchild in <i>Apollo</i> © Paul Kolnik
Robert Fairchild in Apollo
© Paul Kolnik

The night fittingly opened with Apollo, Balanchine’s first major choreography to Stravinsky, and the only one of the night that actually premiered outside New York City (in Paris, For Ballets Russes, in 1928). It is also the very choreography that rocketed Balanchine to international recognition, at only 24 years old. Apollo, the god of music, has his three lovely ladies spellbound in this piece. The NYCB though, has injected it with their own bit of sass, differentiating their performance from that of say the Paris Opera Ballet that, in the past, has approached Apollo with more restricted sophistication.

There are striking elements to the choreography that recur in other pieces this same night, such as the patterns with the dancers weaving in and out of the spaces in between them, with arms always linked. Seeing moments like this today, especially coming from Balanchine’s early work, really highlights just how ahead of his time he always was. The dancers truly performed with personality ahead of perfection, but keeping picture-perfect lines for all those key moments, none the least the stunning five-legged fanned arabesque.

Teresa Reichlen in <i>Movements for Piano and Orchestra</i> © Paul Kolnik
Teresa Reichlen in Movements for Piano and Orchestra
© Paul Kolnik

Monumentum Pro Gesualdo and Movements for Piano and Orchestra have been performed as a pair since 1966 and what fantastic choice to program them together. Both fill the stage with dancers and one principal couple and it feels like Monumentum Pro Gesualdo serves as an introduction to Movements for Piano and Orchestra, which I think would leave the audience feeling like they’d missed something if it were presented on its own. Disappointingly, the principal couple made of Teresa Reichlen and Ask La Cour did not do the choreography justice this time. On the whole both pieces felt very academic and the dancers lacked maturity in their performance. Of course, the classic costume choice of basic leotard and tights is unforgiving, but nonetheless, the performance here was truly lacking. Reichlen has the benefit of being absolutely eye-catching, but she failed to go to the end of her movements, everything seeming to stop in the middle of her limbs and before her flopped wrists. Her shoulders were too often stuck by her ears and she never seemed to extend her spine fully, even when the choreography specifically demanded it. The girl lacked guts! As for La Cour, he was simply unremarkable.

Chase Finlay in <i>Duo Concertant</i> © Paul Kolnik
Chase Finlay in Duo Concertant
© Paul Kolnik

Totally the opposite were Sterling Hyltin and Chase Finlay in the next piece, Duo Concertant. Although the least historically significant, Duo Concertant was by far my favourite of the night, thanks mostly to Finlay, that has in him exactly what a male dancer should project. There is no time to be shy when you’re up on a big stage in nothing but tights. Finlay was macho and gallant, impressive and endearing. Having the pianist and violinist up on the stage also gives an added intimacy to this piece that had the romantic in me melting.

The night closed with Agon, and the NYCB fully redeemed itself from any regrettable moments earlier on in the show. The level of difficulty of this choreography is out of control. Skipping right to the pas de deux, Maria Kowroski and Amar Ramasar were amazing. When Kowroski holds that high arabesque, while Ramasar glides from a small lunge to lying completely flat on his back, she didn’t even quiver. At times the trembling in Ramasar’s arms was visible as the pair held one of many breathtaking shapes, but it only upped the wow-factor by reminding us just how intricate and challenging the work actually is.

For my first live experience of the New York City Ballet I was fully impressed. The selection of works from Balanchine's Stravinsky repertoire is beautifully curated, and to be honest there is no company I’d rather see doing an all Balanchine than the New York City Ballet, home of the iconic choreographer, and where his legacy lives on. I guess I could say that everything I’ve heard about them is true. New York City Ballet defines classically cool.