A Shakespeare Double-Bill at the American Ballet Theater: Ashton’s The Dream and Ratmansky’s The Tempest
American Ballet Theater
Metropolitan Opera House
June 30, 2014
The Dream Music by Felix Mendelssoh
Choreography by Frederick Ashton
Sets and Costumes by David Walker
Lighting Design by John B. Read
The Young People’s Chorus of New York City
Artistic Director, Francisco J. Nunez
Conductor, David Lamar
Music by Jean Sibelius
Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky
Sets and Costumes by Sandro Loquasto
Lighting by Robert Wierzel
Conductor, Ormsby Wilkins
ABT’s The Dream is highly poetic, romantic and vaguely Victorian. It differs from the version presented by the New York City Ballet in that it is only one act and has a somewhat different story line as well as highly contrasting choreography. (I confess to a preference for the NYCB version, but so be it.) Herman Cornejo was unquestionably the star of the performance, a magical, energetic Puck whose leaps are astounding. He spins so brilliantly I couldn’t tell how many rounds he made; took to the air as though truly born an elfin sprite and displayed a keen a sense of humor. Oberon was danced by Cory Sterns in place of the injured David Hallberg. In one charming moment, Oberon partnered Puck; when the sprite leapt into his master’s arms, the audience let loose a collective chuckle. This Oberon, regal and compelling, does some of his own dirty work, sprinkling the love charm into Titania’s eyes so that when she awakens she is entranced by Bottom, complete with ass’s head, and danced with panache by Blaine Hoven.
Gillian Murphy danced Titania and has made this role her own. Sometimes impetuous and sometimes cool and contained, she has tremendous flair and highly expressive hands that she uses to full measure. After a beautiful pas de deux by Titania and Oberon, two pair of lovers, Lysander (Jared Matthews) and Hermia (Stella Abrerere) wandered into the forest glade, shortly followed by Helena (Adrienne Schulte) who loves Demetrius (Grant DeLong) although her affection is not yet returned. As a nod to the Victorian era, the men wear frock coats, one orange and the other a lighter apricot, presumably to make the mix-up caused by Puck more likely. The corps de ballet of fairies, clad in close-to-teal green, supported the principals dancers well despite the line coming off a little ragged in a few sequences.
Fifty years ago, Frederick Ashton made this ballet to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and it’s still (mostly) a delight.
After intermission came The Tempest, a sort of free-form version of Shakespeare’s work, set to incidental music composed by Sibelius with some choral interludes. The music has both clashing and harmonious elements and conveyed the sense of confusion that is central to the story.
The curtain, depicting a wrecked ship on its side, rises on Prospero, the strong, sexy Marcello Gomes in a long Jesus-like wig, and his daughter, Miranda, danced by Sarah Lane. Miranda urges her father to use his magic powers to stop the storm and the two dance together, he charged with masculinity and she small, delicate and pliable. There is a strong sense of tenderness in the lifts and the way he manipulates her.
A shipwreck occurs but the men aboard, who include Ferdinand, (Joseph Gorak), son of Alonso, King of Naples (Roman Zhurbin), manage to land ashore safely.
Ariel, the airy spirit in Prospero’s service, danced by Danil Simkin, is costumed in white from wrist to ankles with a spiky red headdress. His steps are light and airy so that sometimes it seems as though he never touches the ground. Ariel leads Ferdinand to Miranda and the two fall in love, dancing an ode to youth and sweetness. The island is also inhabited by Caliban, described as “the deformed son of a witch,” handled well by James Whiteside, all odd angles as he hunched across the floor. Caliban and Ariel depict the opposite sides of Prospero’s powers the one with quicksilver jumps and the other sliding on hands and knees or slithering, conveying a sense of despair at how removed he is from mankind and how much he hates himself. Two fool types, (a little reminiscent of the rustic folks in The Dream), drunken Stephano, (Craig Salstein), and Trinculo, a jester, (Sean Stewart) enter, clowning and, for some reason I didn’t understand, costumed with a Russian look. They make fun of Caliban, encouraging him to drink which renders him semi-stupefied. The corps, dressed like blue sea creatures, is especially effective when they move as waves under lighting that is also wavelike.
At the end, everyone departs the island save Caliban as the sky fills with pinpoints of orange light. The Tempest as ballet is a complicated story that takes place both in the past and present making it hard to follow. I found that letting myself enjoy the experience rather than focusing on the sometimes confusing plot was by far the best approach and got happily swept away.