'A Midsummer Night's Dream'
by S.E. Arnold
February 14-16, 2003 -- Cincinnati, OH
At the close of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Oberon commandshis Fairy host, "To the best bride-bed will we/ Which by us shall blessed be/ And the issue there create/ Ever shall be fortunate." If given voice, the Lilac Fairy makes the same command -- that fortune shall forever shine on all of Aurora's kin. Like its production of "Sleeping Beauty," the Cincinnati Ballet's translation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," choreographed by Artistic Director Victoria Morgan, lights the matter of the human condition through the gels of a medieval sensibility.
Morgan's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" reveals the intimate, indeed, necessary relationship between supernatural and mortal beings. Human destinies, "Beauty" and "Dream" affirm, depend upon the divine -- whether manifested through the actions of fairies, spirits, or Gods -- to shape their ends. While in truth all ends will vary, in fancy will ends all happily.
Morgan's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a magnificent flight of fancy, a vivid rhapsody of images delivered with the breathless speed of an endless sentence. The stream of Morgan's "Dream," which compresses the action of Shakespeare's five-act play into a Prologue, two Acts and four scenes, flows via the varied rhythms of entrances and exits. Characters come and go at a rapid pace, their time upon the stage sometimes brief, sometimes sustained, sometimes alone, other times in groups of two or twenty. Most important of all, however, Morgan's translation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" into a ballet loses none of the dramatic engine that drives the play. Conflicts such as authority and obedience verses self-willed action or reason verses passion among others clearly motivates the action and interaction of the characters. Morgan's choreography leaves no doubt as to who is doing what and why.
The use of petite allegro --jumps and beating movements both small, grand and in every direction --with turns and turns and turns, further fuels the dramatic energy native to the story and renders the inward passions of Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena visible.
In Act II, scene i of Shakespeare's play, Oberon, in an endless sentence, describes the 'Big Forest' sets of the ballet. Designed by David Guthrie and produced by the Ballet's in-house scene and costume shops, the Big Forest drops, legs, and valances "quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,/With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine" the performance space. Moreover, Guthrie has costumed the confused couples in the "weeds of Athenians" --Lysander and Hermia in pale blue and Demetrius and Helena in pale orange. In addition to banishing a viewer's confusion of who belongs with whom, the classical flavoring of the décor -- the familiar columns and domes of ancient Greek architecture, for example, that depict the Palace and Garden of Theseus -- gives visual support to the conflict that drives the drama or the world ruled by reason (the form ordered space of the Palace) versus the world misruled by passion (the tangled space of the Big Forest).
And Morgan's casting worked perfectly. The company, including the great flock of young fairies, the Changling Child, and the"'supers" looked bright and natural. Brightest and, fittingly the most natural of all, however, was the performance given by Michael Wardlaw as Puck. If one should doubt the power of supernatural beings to effect events in the natural world, it is Puck, that whisks away scrims, beckons in the Big Forest, and commands the final curtain to fall. Yet, in this "Midsummer Night's Dream" the power of the supernatural, whether Oberon's or Puck's to manipulate events or images yields to the sonic power of Mendelssohn, the ballet orchestra, members of Miami University Choraliers, and vocal soloists, Sebronette Barnes and Cecily Nall.
The familiarity of Mendelssohn's music for "AMidsummer Night's Dream" along with the harmonic and formal transparency of his string symphonies -- Morgan selected movements from the string symphonies for the Act II divertissement, the rustics' play within Act II, and to characterize Helena's pursuit of Demetrius -- invite attention to the slightest flaw or deviation. Performances of Mendelssohn must, therefore, be flawless and they were.
Moreover, the musical command of choreographer, dancer, and conductor, Carmon DeLeone, generated such memorable moments as Hermia's distraught solo, for the awakening scene to the "Help me, Lysander, help me" music. The role of Hermia, danced in alternating performances by Cheryl Sullivan and Tricia Sundbeck, featured a solo that marries its circuitous floor patterns, slicing turns, and sudden, thrusting poses to the rhythmic drive and the mosaic of timbre that spins from a repeating figure that cascaded downward through the woodwinds into the strings.
Act II -- where all except the rustics, the Fairy King, Queen, Puck, and Changling are dressed in white -- is both a wedding celebration and a vision scene. This dream within a dream is indeed an abstract dance, a neat summing up of the textures of rhythm, volume, and musicality that shaped the Prologue and Act I. Counterpoint and unisons inform the ever, and swiftly changing combination of dancers on stage. In fact, the traditional grand pas, danced alternatively by Lorna Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal and Janessa Touchet and Benjamin Wardell, broke into pieces and pleasantly mixed into this flow.
Morgan's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" both honors the rhetorical intent of Shakespeare's play and equals it in fun. Moreover, the dance celebrates Mendelssohn, flowing through the music exposing its subtleties and thereby freshening its familiar sonorities.
Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.
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