Yes, it’s cold outside. It’s dark. You could just stay at home with a streaming service — I get that, I really do — but there is another option: New York City Ballet’s winter season is like a rare tonic that Gwyneth Paltrow would sell on Goop if she could.
There’s something almost dismaying, in a wonderful way, about being a part of the audience experiencing City Ballet’s melding of music and dance at this time of year. It fills a void.
The season, which opened Tuesday at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, began with two lovely, concise programs by George Balanchine, who created the company with Lincoln Kirstein and whose ballets rarely cease to astonish even though he’s no longer around. On Wednesday — what would have been his 116th birthday — there was a special charge in the air for a laudable triple bill starting with the sparkling “Allegro Brillante,” set to Tchaikovsky. Balanchine once said, it “contains everything I know about the classical ballet — in 13 minutes.”
Featuring Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle, whose warmth for each other gives the stage a soothing glow, it made for a radiant 13 minutes. The ballet was also an important test for Ms. Peck, returning from an injury; full of turns that end on a dime and agile footwork, it’s hardly easy, but her instinctual performance was about more than perseverance. There is, at times, a new expansiveness to her upper body and a lusciousness to her arms: a signal of what is to come.
The program also welcomed the return of “La Source,” a ballet set to Delibes that pays homage to the French tradition. With its woodland vibe, it was incandescent. Emma Von Enck, making her debut as the female soloist — she dances with eight women — possessed a winning combination of verve and refinement, allowing for flourish in the curves of her arms, all the way to her delicate fingers that played the air like an instrument.
But Megan Fairchild, in the female lead, was the true marvel; never pictorial, she remained in perpetual, elegant motion. Dancing with Gonzalo Garcia, Ms. Fairchild floated through the classical choreography with the kind of freedom that made her performance modern, a sense of swing within its virtuoso grace. She’s straightforward, yet lush; technically impeccable, but never boring. Her coordination is mesmerizing, as is her ability to switch from soft to sharp, which makes her steps, as controlled as they are, altogether intuitive. She had a baby recently, and she came back to the stage even stronger.
Teresa Reichlen danced with a similar authority — like Ms. Fairchild, she performs with large-scale openness and quiet power — on Tuesday. She was astonishing in “Monumentum pro Gesualdo” and “Movements for Piano and Orchestra,” two Stravinsky ballets created separately but shown as a pair with a pause in between. Regal and deliberate, Ms. Reichlen etched these modernist works with her entire body, not just the parts we could see; freezing and freeing time, she moved seamlessly within the angles of Balanchine’s austere choreography, making the ballets as much a movement meditation as a dance.
A less penetrating ballet also returned to the repertory on Tuesday: “Danses Concertantes,” which Balanchine originally choreographed for Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo in 1944 and revisited for City Ballet’s 1972 Stravinsky Festival. Any Balanchine ballet is worth watching, but this one, for all its youthful brio, never really coalesces. It’s feels more in the style of Balanchine, deviating from his usual, extraordinary musicality. There are recognizable elements — flexed feet, cocked hips, formations of dancers that tangle and untangle — but for all of its color, courtesy of Eugene Berman’s vibrant scenery and costumes, it’s a little dull.
In a sneaky way, it proved which dancers had the coordination to give it some dancing sense: Mira Nadon, Nieve Corrigan, Davide Riccardo and Jonathan Fahoury lent finesse to the repetitive, sometimes knotty steps. While Harrison Ball, the male lead and in the role for the first time, held his own, there were strained moments: His partner, Erica Pereira, smiled brightly (as she often does) but was less capable of displaying a robust breadth of movement. The frequency of her casting is a mystery; this was a debut, and there are more to come.
The closing ballets on both nights had much to offer. On Tuesday, “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” showcased two all-star pairs as leads: Lauren Lovette with Joseph Gordon, and Sara Mearns with Adrian Danchig-Waring. This ballet has it all, from the joyful community of the group to its spiritual, ethereal duets. Two corps de ballet members didn’t make it to the finale (the cause was a minor injury), but its principal couples, dancing with imagination and heart, made it sing — in particular, Mr. Gordon, who has a lush way of seeming to discover steps in real time.
On Wednesday the final work was a story ballet: “Firebird,” a vintage gem from 1949 with Marc Chagall scenery and costumes; and choreography both by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. Andrew Veyette, a veteran company member, made his debut as Prince Ivan, with Ashley Bouder, who was fiercely vivid and glitteringly raw in the title role.
They’ve danced together for years, but the expressiveness of their performance brought out something new. Was it the enchantment of the story? Their way of embracing the magic of the stage? They gave this Russian fairy-tale both intensity and importance.
It’s opulent, too — a fitting way to bring the curtain down on Balanchine’s birthday. That evening, in a sweet, conversational preperformance talk, Mr. Veyette, with Ms. Lovette, spoke about the what it means to dance Balanchine’s ballets. “The best way I can describe it,” he said, “is it’s like you’re learning a song somehow you already knew.”
Like a visceral act, that’s the sensation of watching them, too. Aren’t Balanchine ballets like the best songs? They get better the more you play them. So play them.