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Pennsylvania Ballet - 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

by Lori Ibay

April 15, 2006 -- Academy of Music, Philadelphia

Pennsylvania Ballet captured the magic and the comedy of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in their presentation of George Balanchine’s ballet, set to music by Felix Mendelssohn.  Although a medical emergency in the audience rattled the crowd and delayed the opening of the curtain, once the situation was under control, the orchestra began the lively (and thankfully, lengthy) overture, allowing the audience to settle into their seats, and soon they were ready to be transported to a mystical, faraway land.  The company did not disappoint.

The curtain opened on a forest, dark and deep, with colorful creatures emerging from every corner.  Students from the Rock School of Pennsylvania Ballet, the Metropolitan Ballet Academy, and the Dance Academy took the stage by storm with impressively clean technique, neatly pointed toes, and wonderful enthusiasm.

Laura Bowman as the leader of the Butterflies danced a dainty solo, making easy work of the releves and pirouettes.  Jonathan Stiles as Puck was the next major character to enter, and (once it was confirmed that he did, in fact, remember to wear a costume) his energy and animation was infectious.  The first mortal appeared in the form of Riolama Lorenzo as the forlorn Helena, hopelessly in love with the indifferent Demetrius (Meredith Rainey), and thus the twisted story of spells, mischief, and love began. 

As Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, Julie Diana was regal and radiant.  With her attentive Cavalier, James Ihde, Diana exhibited exquisite balance and showed off her remarkable extension.  The pair danced well together, and Diana’s countenance gave a calming air of effortlessness.  Around them, the women’s corps as Titania’s Retinue looked lovely and graceful in peach costumes with flowing skirts.

Opposite Diana’s Titania, Zachary Hench’s King Oberon was equally royal and wonderfully mischievous, and the pair’s chemistry was alluring.  In the forest, Hench muscled through airy jumps and crisp beats.  As the forest creatures around him, the ballet students were once again impressive, admirably keeping up with the quick tempo without missing a beat.

The real mischief began when Oberon summoned the playful and impish Puck to bring him the “flower pierced by Cupid’s arrow…which causes anyone under its influence to fall in love with the first person their eyes behold” (program notes).  Here Stiles truly impressed with his quick footwork, firing off grand jetes at a full sprint. 

Along with the spirited Stiles, the spellbound lovers also demonstrated their mastery of physical comedy.  Lorenzo’s Helena was desperate and clingy as she attached herself to the apathetic Rainey as Demetrius, then hilariously averse to the lovestruck Lysander, played by Matthew Neenan (in place of Maximilien Baud).  Tara Keating was sweetly loving opposite Neenan’s Lysander, then amusingly outraged when her lover suddenly lost interest in her while pursuing Helena.  A neatly timed swordfight and hair pulling ensued to the delight of the audience, even when the quarrelers stumbled into the thick trunks of the fabric trees of the forest.

Jeffrey Gribler as Bottom, with companions Ian Hussey, Keith Mearns, Yorgo Papadakis, and Michael Patterson drew laughs from the crowd, and Gribler once again conveyed his intrinsic sense of comedic timing, even through the head of an ass.  Christine Cox was a strong and steady Hippolyta opposite Alexei Charov as Theseus.

The conflicts are resolved and the plot of the story is complete by the end of Act I, and even the curtain call at the close of the act gave the sense that this would be an appropriate end to the performance.  However, the three couples -- happily reunited Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, and Hippolyta and Theseus -- return for a series of divertissements after their triple wedding.

The Courtiers were vivacious celebrants, some with smiles showing more enjoyment than the newly married couples.  Arantxa Ochoa and Alexander Iziliaev danced with textbook technique in their pas de deux, albeit with little emotion.  The ballet ends with a return to the magical forest with Puck rising above Oberon’s creatures, with the enchanting effect of glittering fireflies against the dark background sky.

The voices of the Philadelphia Kantorei, directed by Elizabeth Braden and accompanied by Lisa Harer de Calvo, with soprano soloists Amy Armstrong and Susan Polack augmented the orchestra, conducted by Beatrice Jona Affron, in Act I. 

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