There’s a reason companies do Swan Lake year after year – audiences flock to it (pun intended). New York City Ballet’s week-long Swan Lake marathon was sold out to the fifth ring. It didn’t seem to matter to audiences that the Swan Lake was Balanchine’s 1951 one-act version, which is basically a highlights reel of the lakeside acts – no Odile, no 32 fouettés. Audiences still eat it up.

Sterling Hyltin in Balanchine’s Swan Lake
© Paul Kolnik

Truth be told, Balanchine’s Swan Lake was a mediocre effort on his part. There are some interesting geometrical corps patterns (the swans form a diagonal wall that Balanchine would later echo in Symphony in Three Movements), but it’s a formulaic, rushed version of Petipa/Ivanov’s masterpiece. Siegfried arrives at the lake with his hunting buddies, he sees Odette, dances with her, and Odette leaves with her swan sisters. That’s it. There’s no narrative cohesion. There are also some bizarre cuts – why are the four cygnets omitted?

The performance last night was well-danced. The corps looked well-rehearsed (in this production, all swans besides Odette were dressed in black tutus – why???). Claire Kretzchsmar and Ashley Hod were both majestic as the big swans. Kretzschmar led the pas de neuf, Hod the Valse Bluette (don’t ask why these two numbers are lodged in the middle of the ballet, before Odette and Siegfried’s variations).

Sterling Hyltin as Odette and Jovani Furlan as Siegfried are both elegant dancers with beautiful classical line. Hyltin used her rippling arms and supple back to convey Odette’s pathos. The white swan pas de deux (the famous Ivanov choreography mostly left intact) was beautiful, and danced with as much chemistry as this version of Swan Lake would allow. I would love to see Hyltin and Furlan in a full-length version.

Sara Mearns and Company in Serenade
© Erin Baiano

The program started with Serenade. This ballet is unbreakable – the curtain rises, we see the moonlit stage with 17 corps girls, and the spell is set. Last night’s performance featured a strong debut with Indiana Woodward a wonderful Russian girl. Her footwork was fast, her jumps buoyant. Megan Lecrone leaned into her somewhat sober stage persona as the Dark Angel. In the lead male roles, Adrian Danchig-Waring and Preston Chamblee did their jobs – they were almost invisible as they partnered the women.

Sara Mearns was overwrought as Waltz Girl. She ran through the final moments of the ballet like Giselle’s Mad Scene. The corps was out of sync for the final tableau. The Waltz Girl gets carried away, and she raises her arms in the air and bends her back. The corps girls echo her pose – arms up, backs bended. Last night, the corps did not raise their arms at the same time, and thus marred one of ballet’s most haunting stage pictures.

Indiana Woodward and Gonzalo Garcia in Robbins' Andantino
© Erin Baiano

The middle of the program featured two brief pas de deux – Jerome Robbins’ Andantino and Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Andantino is pleasing if a bit empty – its effects are ephemeral. It is beautiful to watch, but it’s not a ballet that stays with you. Woodward and Gonzalo Garcia were light and lyrical and captured the mood of the piece perfectly.

Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia in Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux
© Erin Baiano

The Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux got the strongest audience response. Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia were sensational. The audience ate all the virtuoso steps up – Peck’s multiple fouettés, Mejia’s cabrioles, the flying fish dives, the big exit lift. Mejia is taking the place left by Joaquin de Luz and the retiring Gonzalo Garcia as the strongest bravura dancer of the company. Peck’s technical strength is always a marvel – she truly makes everything look easy. The audience was roaring at the curtain call.

***11