It was well-known that George Balanchine greatly admired the Danish choreographer and ballet master August Bournonville. He admired the quick footwork, the exuberant style, the courtly manners. Nowhere was his admiration for Bournonville more apparent than Donizetti Variations, a delightful pastiche of allegro dancing set to music from the opera Don Sebastien. The men and women wear the typical Bournonville uniform – the mid-length peasant dresses for the women, a pink vest and knee britches for the men.

Donizetti Variations Tiler Peck
© Erin Baiano

The ballet deliberately looks quaint, but the demands on the male and female leads are formidable – several difficult variations, including one for the female that is a predecessor to Ballo della Regina in all the quick, tricky hops on pointe. Last night, Andrew Veyette returned to this role in an act of bravery. I was in the audience the last time he performed this and will never forget it. He had a hard landing at the end of a variation, grimaced in pain, and hobbled offstage. The rest of the cast improvised the finale without him. This was in 2015, and even after Veyette returned from injury, his jumps were never quite the same. A certain spring was gone.

However, almost 8 years later, Veyette had a triumphant return to the role. His arabesque was somewhat low, but his petit allegro steps and jumps were all there, and his partnering remains expert. Tiler Peck also now has a low, careful arabesque, but she showed that she still can pull off the tricky footwork all these years later. Their joyous performance was a heartwarming win for the veterans of the company.

Haieff Divertimento Christina Clark, Peter Walker
© Erin Baiano

The rest of the program was an eclectic mix of Balanchine ballets. Haieff Divertimento has never had more than a marginal role in the Balanchine canon, and last night’s performance showed why. It’s a short (12 minute) ballet that seems like filler – the corps work is not very memorable, the central pas de deux is marked by an overuse of the female repeating a pas de cheval 'paddling' move. Christina Clark was making her debut in it and she’s a stunner. Long, leggy, with high extensions. But there wasn’t a lot of meat to this role. Peter Walker partnered her well, but I honestly can’t remember any step of the male in this ballet.

What a contrast with the eight-minute Valse Fantasie. Although short, the sweeping music and expansive steps mark it as definitely a Balanchine ballet. It’s a satisfying miniature meal, like an expensive roll of sushi. Indiana Woodward and Roman Mejia were excellent. Both are powerful dancers and strong jumpers, but don’t sacrifice any elegance. I particularly liked the way Woodward wafted her arms upwards to accent the music.

Stravinsky Violin Concerto Russell Janzen, Emilie Gerrity
© Erin Baiano

The evening ended with a decent performance of Stravinsky Violin Concerto. Everything was very well-danced, but the two arias didn’t have enough contrast – Unity Phelan and Taylor Stanley in Aria 1 didn’t convey as much of an adversarial relationship as this duet needs to have. On the other hand, Emilie Gerrity and Russell Janzen (back from a long injury) perfectly captured the vulnerable, submissive relationship dynamics of Aria 2.

I must admit I like NYCB’s recent trend away from the themed programming. The combinations can seem strange, but the performances have more variety.