So the New York City Ballet return fall season has come and gone. I can vividly remember the emotion of the audience and the dancers during the opening night gala. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the opening notes of Serenade played. Yet the performances in the first two weeks of the season were jagged and uneven – dancers still trying to adjust to the stage after such a long hiatus.

Lauren King and Devin Alberda in La Valse
© Erin Baiano

This matinee performance, on the other hand, was bright and polished across the board. The opening ballet La Valse was nearly perfectly cast, with Sterling Hyltin as innocent and appealing as she ever was in the role of the doomed debutante. Hyltin has an ability to accelerate her dancing from slow and languorous to a fever pitch crescendo, and she used this approach to make the climax of this ballet genuinely thrilling. Joseph Gordon projected just the right amount of callowness as the debutante’s partner. Andrew Veyette exuded menace as the Death figure.

It’s been traditional to give the opening waltzes to veteran dancers and so it was this afternoon, with Lauren King, Georgina Pazcoguin and Ashley Laracey leading off the ballet. Longtime soloist Lauren King danced on the NYCB stage for the last time this afternoon. This radiant dancer is retiring, and she will be missed. Her smile was always bright, her stage disposition sunny. At the end of the ballet, she got her own bow and a tiara to acknowledge her departure.

Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia in Other Dances
© Erin Baiano

In Other Dances, Roman Mejia (recently promoted to soloist) and Tiler Peck were dynamite. Mejia has astounding elevation and speed. His jumps don’t just soar, they blaze. Tiler Peck is a master at playing with the different folksy rhythms of this ballet – she’d slowly unfurl her leg, and then stab the floor with ferocity. The two have a playful rapport and their body lines match perfectly. They deserved the loud ovations they received.

After the Rain’s pas de deux is overdone – seen once in a blue moon, it is moving. Seen four times in three weeks (as was the case with me), the ballet is predictable and trite. Having said that, Unity Phelan (newly promoted to principal) unfurled her long limbs with astonishing beauty, and her partner Preston Chamblee partnered her while seeming almost invisible.

Anthony Huxley in Agon
© Paul Kolnik

The closing ballet, Agon, is a test of a company’s neoclassical chops. It’s also a ballet where the soloists tend to keep these roles for a long time. Thus, we got the familiar combo of Anthony Huxley in the Sarabande, Megan LeCrone in the Bransle Gay, and Teresa Reichlen and Russell Janzen in the pas de deux. Huxley is untouchable in this role – he makes it look so effortless. LeCrone had a few shaky moments; in that sequence where the female is on pointe and has to drop forward to catch two hands, LeCrone put her free leg down in a second of insecurity.

Teresa Reichlen and Russell Janzen in the pas de deux were full of severe clean lines. Over the years, there has been a tendency to make this pas de deux rather sexy. The retiring Maria Kowroski, for example, dances it with a lot of sensuality. But Reichlen’s spare, geometrical approach is just as compelling. It’s also historically correct – watch the videos of Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell. They were chilly and impersonal.

The amount of polish seen this afternoon bodes well for the company’s future. The company is now dancing at its pre-pandemic standard.