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New York City Ballet

"A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Music: Overture and incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Opp. 21 and 61 (1826, 1843); Overtures to Athalie, Op. 74 (1845) and The Fair Melusine, Op. 32 (1833); The First Walpurgis Night, Op. 60; Symphony No. 9 for Strings (first three movements) (1823); Overture to Son and Stranger, Op. 89 (1829) by Felix Mendelssohn
Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust

New York State Theater, New York, NY

June 25-27, 2002
By Kate Snedeker


This year's Midsummer Night was actually two days before NYCB began its run of A Midsummer Night's Dream, but all the magic was still present on the New York State Theater stage. The first three nights were marked by a variety of tempos. On Tuesday night, guest conductor George Cleve set a pace that appeared overly ambitious, even for the very experienced opening night cast. Hugo Fiorato's tempo the next night was more sedate, but still fast enough to capture the spirit of the Mendelssohn score. Finally, on Wednesday night, Andrea Quinn settled into a tempo, though sprightly, still comfortable for the dancers.

Oberon was danced alternately by Peter Boal and Damian Woetzel (Ben Millepied and Tom Gold will take over the role later in the week), with each dancer providing his unique interpretation of the fairy king. Boal has clearly given his intepretation a lot of thought, and refined it over the many years he's been performing the role. His Oberon is truely magical, with Boal's every gesture smooth and regal, never slipping from his characterization. Boal also imbues his character with a sense of concern, both for the mixed-up, lovelorn mortals and for the status of his relationship with Titania, his fairy queen. Boal was excellent in Oberon's solos – his beautiful, technically pure dancing and classic physique are well suited to Balanchines quick, lively choreography. On opening night, dancing to Cleve's speedy conducting, Boal seemed rushed trying to fit in all the steps, but appeared much more comfortable with Quinn's tempo on Thursday.

Woetzel, on the other hand, takes a fairly different approach to the role of Oberon. Woetzel is a spectacular dancer, but I suspect that this is not one of his more favorite roles, and sometimes he can seem restrained in the solo and in the characterization. On Wednesday night, however, he was clearly happy to be on stage and his interpretation of Oberon was intruiging and unique. Woetzel's Oberon is much more laid back, more human-like fairy king who looks on with some amusement at the woes of the forest's human occupants and is less concerned about his marital spat. Like Boal, he gives Oberon a hint of a mystery, possible the faintest trace of a dark side. In Woetzel's Oberon there is a sense of a vague, shiver-inducing darkness – the possibility of an unseen evil. (In folklore, fairies can and sometimes do have some evil qualities). I would compare his Oberon to the elves in Tolkien's stories. They are eerily human-like, aloof folk, who seem pure and good. However, there is enough mystery surrounding the high elves, that one is unsure what they might do with the great magic they possess. Like the elves, Woetzel's Oberon seems to hide much behind his frequently poker face. Woetzel is a natural actor with a very expressive face and he seems to have fun with the dramatic elements of Oberon (though the kick he gave his Puck was real enough!).

Darci Kistler, Kyra Nichols and Maria Kowroski are all excellent Titanias. On the first night, Kistler was an elegant Titania who looked like she was having fun with her younger cavalier (Charles Askegard). Unfortunately the too-speedy tempo detracted from an otherwise excellent pas de deux. Nichols was a very mature, regal Titania, a good match for the ever solid James Fayette as her cavalier. Though Nichols' extension and technique are now limited by age, she has a presence on stage that makes her Titania truely royal. Kowroski's Titania, on the other hand, was of a younger generation. Her fast footwork and effortless extensions imbued her Titania with a youthful, more energetic spirit. Askegard also was her cavalier and Kowroski danced beautifully, though with not quite the same mature refinement as Kistler.

Which Puck to pick – that must be Martin's biggest quandry when it comes to casting A Midsummer Night's Dream. Albert Evans, Tom Gold and Adam Hendrickson are all fantastic Pucks with energy, speed, and the necessary touch of magical mischeviousness. Puck is one of Albert Evans' signature roles, and he has truely made it his own. Evans' Puck is mature, but not without sense of mischief and his misadventures with the magical flower seem more playfully purposeful than accidental. Evans also has a wonderful rapport with the children in the ballet, chatting with the little page during the first act bows. Gold is a younger looking, seemingly slightly less bright Puck, nonetheless full of energy. Gold is not as muscular as the other two Pucks, but still has zip in his dancing. Adam Hendrickson is the newest Puck, having made his debut last spring, and after just a handful of performances has firmly established himself in this role. Hendrickson is by far the most spectacular and energetic Puck, with huge leaps and an abundance of energy. A youthful character, Hendrickson's Puck is the mischevous teenager of the fairy world. Yet Hendrickson has a very mature grasp of the comedic mime, with excellent timing and an expressive body. If there is anything he needs to work on, it might be slowing down just a brief second occasionally to let the "punchlines" sink in. With Evans and Gold among the most senior members of the company, it will likely fall to Hendrickson to lead the next generation of Pucks (Daniel Ulbricht and possibly Antonio Carmena??).

In the human roles, all the dancers were equally competent and enjoyable. On Tuesday, Jenifer Ringer was an especially stunning Helena, her dark hair in beautiful contrast to the deep red-pink costume. Carla Körbes made her debut as Helena the following night. She did a good job, but with more time and maturity she will be able to add more depth to the role. Alexandra Ansanelli was an especially emotional Helena, all frenetic energy, her feet in constant motion. Stuart Capps made an excellent debut as Demetrius on Tuesday. Unlike the mortal men of the other two nights, to whom Hippolyta's hounds were just unseen, but sensed shadows, Capps and Alexander Ritter's men clearly saw and chased the hounds. On Wednesday night, Jared Angle returned to the stage as Lysander after almost a year off due to injury. Angle is an elegant dancer, and I hope that he will continue in his return to dancing without any setbacks. Jennie Somogyi is without a doubt the superior Hippolyta, exuding more energetic solidity on stage than Aesha Ash (in her debut) or Pascale van Kipnis. Somogyi's series of fouettés, multiples liberally sprinkled throughout, was simply fantastic. Ash has the necessary solidity, but her dancing tended to look effortful and forced. Jason Fowler made a good debut as Thesius, but the very tall, blond Robert Lyon has a regal presence in the role that no other dancer has yet matched.

Fayette and Kipling Houston are old hands at the role of Bottom, yet it was the debut performance of Capps on Thursday night that stands out in my mind. The role of Bottom is one of the more challenging in the ballet, as it requires good acting, good partnering skills, good timing, and all where while wearing a bulky donkey head. Capps has the acting aspect down, though he had a tendency to carry his arms in a strangely stiff position (donkeys do not generally move stiffly). He was particularly endearing the brief pas de deux with Kowroski, in part, I'm sure, because he and Kowroski are also a couple offstage. Capps was an excellent partner, and the pas de deux looked unusually smooth for a first-time Bottom. In the second act pas de deux, Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto set the standard on Tuesday night. Soto is an extremely solid partner, and there was nary a wobble or outward sign of insecurity from either dancer during the entire pas de deux. This sense of fearlessness and security in the choreography, combined with Whelan's elegance made the performance magical. My only hesitation is that, even though he is a superb partner, Soto just does not have an ideal body type for classical dance. I prefer Soto's partnering skills, but Philip Neal's and Askegard's appearance.

Jenifer Ringer made a stunning debut in the pas de deux on Wednesday night with Charles Askegard as her partner. Ringer's dancing is serene and elegant, perfectly suited to this emotional pas de deux. She seemed just slightly tense, but with a bit more experience, she should relax and truly sparkle in the role. If anything, Askegard is a bit tall for Ringer, and I would love to see her dance the pas de deux with Fayette, a new principal and Ringer's offstage husband. On Thursday, Yvonne Borree was technically competent, but the obvious trembling in her arms & body detracted from the overall performance. Philip Neal was an extremely supportive partner, giving Borree plenty of time to prepare for the gentle drop into the final pose.

The corps in general was excellent. Titania's courtiers were appropriately refined, and there were only a few obvious glitches visible over the three nights. The only truly distracting errors were in the synchronization of the trios of Hippolyta's hounds. I'm sure the doggy masks make it hard to see the other dancers, but it would look much better if they could enter in straight lines and jump together. The courtiers and divertissement dancers in the second act were excellent, especially the experienced male corps dancers in the divertissement. In particular, Antonio Carmena really stood out from the rest of the dancers. He's a very talented dancer, and this past year he has really made huge strides in his dancing. His extension, stretch, ballon and spins are a level above most of the other corps dancers and he has a beautifully finished look to his dancing. In the divertissement, though he is one of the shorter men, he got the most height on his jumps, and had the fastest, most well-centered, stable multiple pirouettes. I hope his talent will be nurtured with suitable roles, and that he not be left to stagnate in the corps.

 

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Edited by Malcolm.


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