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New York City Ballet - A Midsummer Night's Dream

by Robert Abrams
June 26, 2003
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023
212.875.5456

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New York City Ballet
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New York City Ballet - A Midsummer Night's Dream

(Ballet in Two Acts and Six Scenes)
Music by Felix Mendelssohn
Choreography by George Balanchine
Scenery by David Hays
Costumes by Karinska
Original lighting by Ronald Bates
Lighting by Mark Stanley
Conducted by Richard Moredock

The Dancers, Act I:
Titania - Maria Kowroski
Oberon - Benjamin Millepied
Puck - Daniel Ulbricht
Helena, in love with Demetrius - Dena Abergel
Hermia, in love with Lysander - Jennifer Tinsley
Lysander, beloved of Hermia - Stephen Hanna
Demetrius, suitor of Hermia - Jason Fowler
Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons - Aesha Ash
Theseus, Duke of Athens - Ask la Cour
Titania's Cavalier - Charles Askegard
Bottom - Seth Orza
Butterfly - Megan Fairchild
Butterflies - Alina Dronova, Jessica Flynn, Sterling Hytlin, Stephanie Zungre with Ojela Burkhard, Kristina Castaldo, Kelly Delaney, Elly Dembo, Alice Kenney, Beatriz Stix, Isabella Tobias
Oberon's pages - Christina Del Percio, Cecilia Iliesiu, Ksenia Pereverzeva, Kerri Riccardi
Titania's page - Sarah Oberman
Bottom's Companions - Jerome Johnson, Andrew Robertson, Sean Suozzi, Andrew Veyette
Courtiers to Theseus - Adrian Danchig-Waring, Allen Peiffer, Amar Ramasar, Christian Tworzyanski
Titania's Retinue - Faye Arthurs, Ellen Bar, Katie Bergstrom, Mary Helen Bowers, Martine Ciccone, Sophie Flack, Amanda Hankes, Rebecca Krohn, Gwyneth Muller, Laura Paulus, Sarah Ricard, Jamie Wolf
Oberon's Kingdom: Butterflies and Faires - Ojela Burkhard, Kristina Castaldo, Samantha Cohen, Isabel Cusik, Christina Del Percio, Kelly Delaney, Elly Dembo, Pauline Dunoyer, Cecilia Iliesiu, Alexandra Kassidis, Alice Kenney, Lindsay Laggan, Kelsey Lewis, Sarah Oberman, Mariya Oishi, Galina Perel, Ksenia Pereverzeva, Kerri Riccardi, Tara Sorine, Beatriz Stix, Alison Stroming, Meiying Thai, Isabella Tobias, Lindsay Turkel, Cristina Veltri
Hippolyta's Hounds - Dara Johnson, Ashlee Knapp, Ashley Laracey, Savannah Lowery, Ellen Ostrom, Stephanie Zungre

The Dancers, Act II:
Divertissement - Jenifer Ringer and Robert Tewsley
Courtiers - Katie Bergstrom, Martine Ciccone, Alina Drovona, Lauren Fadeley, Megan Fairchild, Sophie Flack, Jessica Flynn, Amanda Hankes, Sterling Hyltin, Dara Johnson, Ashless Knapp, Geneviève Labean, Ashley Laracey, Savannah Lowery, Gwyneth Muller, Ellen Ostrom, Georgina Pazcoguin, Stephanie Zungre, Christopher Boehmer, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Jerome Johnson, Allen Peiffer, Amar Ramasar, Andrew Robertson, Sean Suozzi, Christian Tworzyanski
Divertissement - Melissa Barak, Dana Hanson, Lindy Mandradjieff, Deanna McBrearty, Eva Natanya, Abi Stafford, Antonio Carmena, Darius Crenshaw, Craig Hall, Adam Hendrickson, Jonathan Stafford, Andrew Veyette

Singers - Robin Massie, soprano
Rosalie Sullivan - mezzo-soprano
Ory Brown, Eileen Clark, Julie Dolphin, BJ Fredricks, Misa Iwama, Karen Krueger, Mary Runyan Marathe, Beverly Myers, Liz Norman, Susanne Peck, Rachel Rosales, Ellen Taylor Sisson, Kathy Theil
Chorus personnel manager - Susanne Peck

Students from the School of American Ballet rehearsed and supervised by Garielle Whittle

Premiere: January 17, 1962, City Center of Music and Drama, NY.

www.nycballet.com

Presented at The New York State Theatre, Lincoln Center

Review by Robert Abrams
June 26, 2003

The forward movement of theatre is composed of plot and action. I use the term Action in the Aristotelian sense of the main thrust or idea in a play. Pure dance, it seems to me, can be very effective at expressing action, and is often less effective at expressing plot.

The New York City Ballet's A Midsummer Night's Dream fits this pattern fairly well. The dancing was all beautiful. Some major sections of the ballet did a great job of amplifying core ideas from Shakespeare's play. Some sections of plot exposition were mystifying.

In this play, the strictures of the world are loosened in the dream state so that an imbalance can be righted and love can triumph.

The ballet makes an excellent start on this action in the overture. The music sounds like the buzzing of bees. Time feels like it is sped up. Altered perceptions of time often signal a dream state.

Oberon, the king of the Fairies, may be the male dancer with the top billing, but Puck is the character who best embodies the play's action. Daniel Ulbricht danced Puck with abundant humor and beautiful leaps. He had great poise at both the top and bottom of the arcs of his jumps.

The dream state was also signaled by the arm movements and costumes with wings that seemed to move in sped time.

This ballet also seemed to use faster footwork than I have usually seen at the New York City Ballet.

As an example of the problem dance faces when trying to do plot exposition, there was a scene in which Oberon and Titania are having a conflict. Titania has a kid among her retinue holding her cape. Oberon wants the kid to help his retinue hold his cape. Oberon physically picks up the kid and places her on his side. Titania makes the kid come back to her. They do this several times until Titania leaves with the kid in tow. Later on, when Titania seems happier about Oberon, she lets him have the kid. Why they are having this conflict and why having an extra person in one's retinue was so important, was never made clear.

Shakespeare tends to have multiple plot lines coursing around the same action. This ballet tries to maintain most of the plot lines from the play, but because the dance lacks dialogue, the plot lines sometimes seemed to blur together, so that I wasn't quite sure who was who and what they were doing.

The ballet worked best when it was trying to show a portion of the plot, not so much trying to explain it. As a general rule, when an idea was expressed through movement, it worked well, and when it was expressed through pantomime, it worked less well. For instance, Puck turns Bottom, a tradesman, into a donkey and makes him fall in love with Titania, the Queen of the Fairies. The nature of this mismatch is clearly expressed by the dancing. Bottom dances on his knees, crawling after Titania, who is dancing en pointe. Contrast in heights and character of movement perfectly expressed the idea behind this portion of the plot.

A ballet about the recombination of love demands great partnering. In this regard, they came through. I got the sense that the dancers were working off of each other's energy. It felt like oppositional partnering, much like in swing.

Other moments I liked included a scene where Titania's retinue danced with an interweaving of dancers, lines folding in on themselves, the sort of thing one expects to find in a dream.

Act II was mostly a divertissement and then a cap to the plot. It was like an extended wedding dance was dropped into the middle of the ballet. This is appropriate, given the scholarly consensus that Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream as entertainment for an actual wedding. This section of the ballet was radiant and clearly fit for royalty. Where as the set for the first act was a dark forest (which felt blessedly cool considering the heat and humidity outside the theatre), the set for the second act was a layered floral exuberance. The choreography in the divertissement alternated spot motions and crossing motions to good effect. Jenifer Ringer very gracefully rotated her hip in its socket en pointe to keep her leg straight as she changed directions. At one point, she seemed to hang in the air between Robert Tewsley's right and left arms as he transferred her from one arm to another on the way to a dip.

Finally, the wedding tent fades smoothly and magically back into the forest. Circles of magical butterflies in fanciful costumes are enhanced by one butterfly dancer spinning in the center. Everyone is united the way they should be. Puck flies into the air and the curtain comes down.

All in all, it was a sumptuous production. The dancing was consistently wonderful. Some of the plot points weren't clear, but then again, it usually takes more than one reading to pick up all of the nuance of Shakespeare's plays, so I'll take it as a good reason to reread A Midsummer Night's Dream.

To improve this ballet, without actually changing the ballet itself, I would develop a book that includes pictures of each of the major characters in costume, as well as short synopses of the themes and plot lines, especially those depicted in the ballet. This would help the audience reattune themselves to the play. It would free the dance from having to work so hard at carrying the narrative. Because the audience would have less work to do to understand what is happening on stage, they would have more mental space available to focus on how the action happens. Since the how of the action in a ballet is the dancing, this shift in the role of the audience would play into the New York City Ballet's strengths. Plus, such a book would double as a great children's book (and if you have ever watched Reading Rainbow on TV, or read the Harry Potter series, you know that children's books can appeal to adults too). Since there is probably no way to print such a book in the program itself, it could be sold separately, generating extra revenue for a great ballet company.

A Midsummer Night's Dream brings the New York City Ballet's Spring season to a close. They will be escaping the fetid summer heat of our beloved city by sojourning in Saratoga and St. Petersburg, Russia. I wish them safe journeys and eagerly anticipate their return for their next season.

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