A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Music by Felix Mendelssohn
David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center
New York City Ballet, June 3, 2014
George Balanchine, Founding Choreographer
Peter Martins, Ballet Master in Chief
New York City Ballet Orchestra
Guest Conductor, Paolo Paroni
A Midsummer Night’s Dream deals with totally unrealistic events including crossed lovers, magic spells, and meaningless arguments. The performance by the New York City Ballet with Balanchine’s original choreography integrates broad comedy with magnificent dance for a hugely satisfying evening.
Act I opens in a forest near Athens on Midsummer Eve with children from the School of American Ballet, supervised by Dena Abergel and Arch Higgins, dressed as butterflies and other small forest insects waving their arms and displaying tremendous poise. Puck, Daniel Ulbricht, shows amazing jumps and a great sense of humor as he simultaneously seeks to appease Oberon, his master, and to cook up trouble. Oberon, danced by Joaquin de Luz, shows able partnering and dramatic, crowd-wowing, hurtling leaps and bounds, especially his solo variation in the Scherzo which includes a number of beaten jumps. Oberon repeatedly tries to take over Titania’s page but she refuses-at least at the start. Titania, danced by Maria Kowrowski has been with the company since 1995, and is an expressive performer with personal beauty and exquisite arms. Although her back seemed a little stiff, she carried herself with grace, every inch the fairy queen with a good feeling for the comedic aspects of the story.
Helena and Demetrius (Rebecca Krohn and Amar Ramasar respectively) and Hermia and Lysander (Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild) are costumed in vaguely Elizabethan dress. Thanks to Puck, the couples fall in and out of love with one another until the scramble is finally resolved. At one point, Puck integrates himself in a sword fight with both men, handled by all three with panache.
A rustic troupe of players arrives preparing to rehearse when interrupted by Puck who turns Bottom, (Craig Hall) into an ass before compelling Titania to fall in love with him. Hall, who is making his debut in this role, gives a stellar performance, shuffling, kneeling to graze and conveying musicality and wit. When Titania garlands one ear, his posture brings a well-deserved ripple of audience laughter. In the pas de deux danced by beast and fairy queen, Titania coaxes Bottom into partnering her by luring him with a handful of grass; he moves forward on his knees while she bourées backwards.
The arrival of dashing Hippolyta, a strong Savannah Lowery, is preceded by her hounds who are incredibly agile, leaping across the stage in grand jeté that gave the effect of flying. Frankly, I only identified them as hounds from the program; clearly animals, the specific species clad in yellow with red spots was vague, perhaps intentionally so in this “anything is possible” piece.
Act II, set at the Court of Theseus in Athens, is pure spectacle with a pink and blue backdrop and dancers in tutus and tights, one group of men wearing red Renaissance-style caps. The act opens with what we know as the Wedding March and includes singing by a soprano, mezzo-soprano and chorus to add to the opulent feeling. After Jared Angle and Megan Fairchild perform a spectacular, melting pas de deux, in which Fairchild remained gracefully on pointe for a seemingly endless amount of time, Titania and Oberon reappeared. Titania ceded the page to the king and both were given huge, sparkly cloaks, pink for her and white for him. Finally, with “fireflies” twinkling in the forest, Puck ascended high above the stage before the curtain fell.
According to history, Balanchine loved the music Mendelssohn composed but found there wasn’t enough of it to sustain an evening-length ballet. Therefore, he added other pieces including the Overtures to Athalie and The Fair Melusine and more to the whole.
The dazzling costumes owe their particular sparkle to a year and a half of recreation so they look exactly like the originals, made for the ballet’s 1962 debut by Barbara Karinska, NYCB’s legendary costume designer. The original costumes, although worn and tarnished, still existed as a study guide and contain bits of the originals to keep the ballet’s history alive. From the insect costumes worn by the children to the pink chiffon dress on Titania to the satin tutus on the courtiers, every detail is impeccable and adds enormously to the whole.
This production of Midsummer brings contrasts as in the fairies darting and a stillness that at times overtakes the stage. Sometimes movements are all about speed and at other times, a tender quality prevails. Romance is all around and the best thing to do is sit back and surrender to this delightful performance.