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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 15, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 15
PNB revives Balanchine's enchanted Midsummer Night's Dream
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PNB revives Balanchine's enchanted Midsummer Night's Dream

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

A Midsummer Night's Dream Pacific Northwest Ballet Through April 17

Pacific Northwest Ballet's accomplished revival of George Balanchine's highly entertaining version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream sent this scribe scurrying to the thesaurus to explore variations of the word 'enchantment.' A favorite with PNB audiences since 1985 (and in a new physical production since 1997), PNB and Balanchine's Midsummer simply gets better with each revival. Ticket sales for this 2011 staging are selling 'well ahead of expectations' and it's likely that the production's final performances this weekend - tonight through Sunday - may find ticket buyers scrambling to find more than single tickets.

Much of Midsummer's appeal is based on the very basis of the ballet. As a child in Russia, Balanchine had played a small role - a bug - in a full-scale production of the Shakespeare classic. That memory remained with him for his entire life - he often quoted key lines of the major players in his original Russian. Determined to set the story to dance, Balanchine waited decades until he felt it was time to mount his ballet version. The world-famous incidental music by Felix Mendelssohn, including 'The Wedding March,' was the logical musical source, but the original composition was too brief for a full-length story ballet, so other works by the composer were seamlessly included for Balanchine's eventual work. When it appeared at his New York City Ballet in early 1962, it was a sensation.

Act One basically compresses Shakespeare's complicated story of two sets of star-crossed young lovers, the feuding king and queen of the Fairies, the upcoming wedding of the duke and his Amazon bride, and a bumbling set of rustics who plan a play as a wedding gift to the royal couple. Add in the mischievous Puck, a front man for the king of the Fairies, and a magical flower that acts as a botanical Cupid and a rich comedy of mismatched lovers and magical events take center stage.

To fans of the play - one of the most popular works in Shakespeare's long list of world-famous titles - the ballet works beautifully in capturing the comic zest of the Bard of Avon. To ballet fans new to the story, the basic plot outline is clear and opens up new vistas for dance. In short, it is a delight.

Act Two, following ballet traditions, is one set of spectacular dances after another. This series of divertissements - dance diversions, if you will - allows PNB's talented dancers to showcase their talents in various pairings and groupings. The main characters, all gathered for multiple weddings, are being entertained at the nuptials. Only at the end, when delightful fireflies twinkle does the evening really end. The fireflies are all students from PNB's ballet school and their magical stage appearance sets up Puck's final moment - the final 'sweeping up' of the dream, a world-famous moment from the play beautifully reconceived as ballet.

Francia Russell, co-founder of PNB (with her husband, Kent Stowell), restages Balanchine's original choreography as she has done many times since the work entered PNB's repertoire in 1985. Both Stowell and Russell danced for Balanchine at the New York City Ballet early in their dance careers. After taking the roles of artistic directors for PNB, the highly selective Balanchine Trust in New York allowed PNB to stage many Balanchine works in its early years. Russell is one of the most accomplished of the stagers who are allowed to remount Balanchine's works - and, with the Trust's permission, PNB was allowed to have the sets and costumes from the 1962 original production redesigned in 1997. That in itself is a rarity, and illustrates the high level of success with which the Trust views PNB and Russell. Since her retirement (with Stowell) from PNB is 1995, Russell has remained active on the local, national, and international level restaging Balanchine classics.

As always, PNB uses a rotating cast of leading dancers in key roles. They rotate on a daily basis throughout the two-week run of all programs. On opening night, Carrie Imler and Jonathan Porretta were Titania and Oberon, the king and queen of the Fairies. Josh Spell was a charming Puck. All were delightful.

Maria Chapman, Chainessa Eames, Olivier Wevers, and Lucien Postlewaite were the four young lovers, mismatched until Puck's magical flower solves the problem. Ariana Lallone, in her last year with PNB (after a long and exciting career) wowed the audience, as she usually does, as Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons, now the wife-to-be of Theseus, the duke of Athens, danced here by Karel Cruz. Ezra Thompson was a spirited Bottom, the rustic who is magically transformed into a donkey for a enchanting comic outing. The 24 twinkling fireflies - the 'bugs' that Balanchine remembered from his childhood appearance in Russia - added a special layer of charm to the ballet's final moments.

In short: The entire production: enchanting. The Mendelssohn score, beautifully played by the PNB orchestra conducted by Alan Dameron: enchanting. The sets and costumes by Martin Pakledinaz: enchanting. The dancing by PNB's talented company: enchanting. The skillful adaptation of Shakespeare's classic comedy: enchanting. In summary: enchanting.

Five out of five stars. Highest recommendation. A 'must' for all ballet fans.

Ticket information on this weekend's final performances is available at (206) 441-2424.

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