Pacific Northwest Ballet revived an audience favorite with George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream this Friday, April 8, 2011. A true delight for all ages, Midsummer overflows with lush costumes and whimsical sets complete with towering roses and giant spider webs, all by designer Martin Pakledinaz. Artfully restaged by Francia Russell, PNB’s former Artistic Director, the production is based on Shakespeare’s well-known comedy of mixed-up lovers and quarreling fairy royalty. While Balanchine’s use of minimal but effective mime deftly weaves this convoluted tale, it is the dancers’ dramatic portrayal of their colorful characters that truly completes the production.
Act I contained the bulk of the drama, in which the four mortals fall in and out of love, orchestrated by the impish Puck, and, in a prank by the arrogant Oberon, Titania becomes smitten with a peasant-turned-donkey. From his first scamper across the stage, Josh Spell’s Puck was perfectly gleeful and mischievous; his own amusement at his silly antics earned more than a few laughs. Jonathan Porretta made a commanding Oberon. Haughty and regal, his soaring leaps and precise beats were musically impeccable. Carrie Imler brought a sense of refined elegance and decisive authority to her role as Titania. From directing her fairy retinue to tenderly guiding the ungainly Bottom in a love-struck duet, Imler’s Titania was ever gracious and poised. And while Titania’s fairy entourage left something to be desired in terms of their expressiveness, the butterflies that attended Oberon were delightfully spritely in their fluttering.
The two human couples were exquisitely portrayed as well. In the role of Helena, Maria Chapman’s first dejected walk across the stage immediately belied her sorrow at being spurned by Demetrius, played by Lucien Postlewaite, who yearns only for Hermia. Portrayed by Chalnessa Eames, Hermia and her partner Lysander (Olivier Wevers), displayed a lovely tenderness in their first duet as the young amorous couple. In stark contrast, the first duet by Chapman and Postlewaite was a study of discord. Where with Eames and Wevers each touch was a caress and each reach of the arm was matched by their partner, Postlewaite cringed with every touch from Chapman and she continually reached for him to no avail. When the two men were bewitched by Puck’s magic flower and both become smitten with Helena, it was Eames’ turn to be distraught. Her sorrow was palpable as she confusedly searched for her lost love and spun offstage with her hand draped woefully across her face. By the end of Act I, Puck has finally untangled the mortals’ mismatched affections and the four awake from an enchanted slumber with their appropriate partner.
Act I closed with Arianna Lallone’s portrayal of the Amazon Queen, Hippolyta, which was also notable. She arrived onstage at the peak of the lovers’ confusion in order to become the bride of Theseus, the Duke of Athens. Lallone’s long limbs assertively sliced the air in bravura leaps and quick fouettes, all the while brandishing a golden crossbow. Her sudden and imposing presence provided a distinct counterpoint to the delicate fairies and affectionate lovers in the rest of Act I.
A sumptuous feast of classical ballet, Act II celebrated the triple wedding of Helena and Demetrius, Hermia and Lysander, and Theseus and Hippolyta. Here, all was formal and grand; glittering tutus and bright lights replaced the winged costumes and subdued tones of Act I’s forest setting. Choreographically it is Balanchine at his finest, richly textured with rapid footwork, weaving patterns, and, of course, a spectacular pas de deux.
Representing the perfect and untainted love never fully realized in Act I, the Divertissement pas de deux, performed by Carla Korbes and Jeffery Stanton was a highlight of the evening. The two transcend the lovers’ quarrels rampant in the first act, creating an idyllic partnership in which both are luminous. Stantonis the consummately attentive partner and Korbes moves with rapturous grace and purity. And while each unfurling of her leg is more magnificent than the last, it is her seraphic port de bras that is most arresting. As she extends into the last arabesque that slowly falls into Stanton’s arms, her hands float back above her head, drifting infinitely behind her.
The ballet concludes with a return to the fairy kingdom. Oberon and Titania have resolved their differences, and the forest is at peace. Not to be forgotten in this performance are the children; dressed as fireflies with glowing antennas, they flit about, joyously encircling their King and Queen. Puck finally sweeps up the remains of the story, leaving the audience with the image of him ascending into the sky on a giant spider web, his fellow sprites floating below him.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs April 8-17. Tickets can be purchased through Pacific Northwest Ballet’s website (www.pnb.org) or by calling the box office at 206.441.2424.