|| The Patriot Ledger
|| April 9, 2011
|| Iris Fanger
Legendary choreographer George Balanchine knew the value of children on stage, not only for their mothers and fathers in the audience but for the fledgling dancers themselves. When he was a young boy studying at the fabled ballet school in St. Petersburg, he appeared often on stage.
So it’s no wonder that Balanchine enlisted a corps of children to open and close his first full-length story ballet, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1962), based on Shakespeare’s famous play. And the Boston Ballet, with its large school and multitude of talented students, is well equipped to follow Balanchine’s lead.
Boston Ballet first performed this work in 2007. The 25 children from the Boston Ballet School are assured charmers, dressed as bugs, dragonflies and bumblebees, whether seated on the floor and waving their arms in unison or crossing the stage in tiny, scissor-like jumps. They lead us into the scene as the curtain rises, and end the ballet waving tiny lights in the darkness as the newlywed grown-ups are sent off to bed. Balanchine used Felix Mendelssohn’s incidental music to accompany Shakespeare’s play, adding other works by the composer to fill out the ballet’s score. (Act II opens in a grand procession to the famous wedding march).
The ballet is filled with colorful characterizations, swooning passages of pure dance guaranteed to bring out romantic yearnings in the most cynical among us, and some laugh-out-loud moments. The poetry of the visual imagery makes up for the loss of Shakespeare’s verse, although the words to the charming lullaby for Titania’s bedtime were sung by two soloists and a small choir in the pit. The flowing pastel costumes matched the lovely painted sets designed by Luisa Spinatelli (rented from Teatro alla Scala of Milan).
Balanchine followed the plot line of the play in Act I, telling the full story of the conflict in fairyland between King Oberon and his queen, Titania. Four lovers wander lost in the woods, with Puck mixing up the couples but bringing them together at last, to join the royals, Theseus and Hippolyta, in marriage. If the “rude mechanicals,” the tradesmen bent on giving a play to celebrate the weddings, are given less attention, at least, Bottom, the ass, and Titania meet in a charming pas de deux, filled with sight gags and sprightly folk dance-style cavorting. The second act is outside the story – a classical ballet-within-a-ballet for more than 40 performers, making the entire work somewhat lopsided. However, Balanchine’s choreography is so masterly and the pas de deux by Larissa Ponomarenko and James Whiteside so lushly performed at Thursday’s opening performance that Act II became the highlight of the evening.
With the jarring contemporary sights and sounds of the Elo Experience barely behind them, the Boston Ballet dancers transformed themselves easily – or so it seemed – into Shakespeare’s characters. (And the women climbed back into their pointed shoes). Jeffrey Cirio who led the Elo cast played Puck in cheery, bad-boy fashion, telegraphing his amusement at the clueless mortals straight to the audience. His swift, split-legged leaps encircling the stage made us believe he put a girdle ’round the earth in 40 minutes, at Oberon’s orders. John Lam made a commanding Oberon; Lorna Feijo, back in fine form after her maternity leave, was an imperious sensual Titania.
Kathleen Breen Combes as the unfortunate Helena and her real-life husband, Yury Yanowsky, as Demetrius, looked like they were having the most fun fighting and making up.
Pavel Gurevich and a melting Erica Cornejo were their foils as the other pair of lovers.
Lia Cirio as Hippolyta, the Huntress, gave an appropriate athletic tinge to the virtuosic series of fouettes (turns on one toe while the other leg whips around).
Balanchine, Shakespeare, Mendelssohn, the Boston Ballet and fairyland – what could be better for a springtime treat?