To ballet fans in New York City, the yearly re-emergence of Balanchine’s classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the NY State Theatre is a sign that the New York City Ballet spring season is coming to a close. In the last week of the 2003 Spring Season, sparkling performances by two casts, with debuts abounding, brought the season to a poignant and delightful end.
On Thursday, Benjamin Millepied was a youthfully regal and spectacular Oberon. Balanchine’s first act solo for Oberon is not only technically challenging, but requires extreme precision in the bravura choreography. The dancer must execute a slew of quick beats, jumps and leaps while carefully threading his way through the legions of young bugs, danced with charming enthusiasm by young dancers from the School of American Ballet. Millepied's performance was doubly breathtaking, as not only was his dancing superb, but he also seemed to tread the line between bugs and stage very finely. The stage did not seem large enough to contain his sweeping grand jetes, one sequence finished with a stunning switch split, and his beats were high and precise. If Millepied has a weakness, it is in his tendency to underplay the role, omitting or shortening some meaningful mime touches. He could learn a lot from the performances of Peter Boal, who danced the role on Friday night. Though his dancing no longer has quite the speed it once had, Boal combined beautifully clean technique with a fully fleshed out, poignant characterization of Oberon. Boal knew exactly how to engage the audience and his fellow dancers, delighting with his facial expressions and interaction with Puck. His solo was excellent, his soaring leaps and elegant line on display as always.
Though she invested great detail in the characterization of Titania on both evenings, Maria Kowroski had some difficulties on the technical side Thursday night. Kowroski appeared to slip during the approach for the grand leap into Charles Askegard's arms, but both dancers reacted quickly, Askegard catching Kowroski at waist level and setting her down into a beautiful arabesque. After this miscue, Kowroski seemed bit off in the rest of her solo, her balances not held as long as usual and the her flow not as as stunning as normal. The lift was flawless on Friday night, and with Kowroski impressive in all her dancing.
A number of dancers made promising debuts on Thursday night, led by Daniel Ulbricht as a hyperkinetic Puck. With his short, but solid stature, Ulbricht was well-suited to the role, an enthusiastic powerhouse of a magical imp. As chaos ensued, Ulbricht’s face radiated mischievous delight. A superbly talented young dancer, he can be too forceful and enthusiastic in his characterizations. With experience, he should settle down into the role and make some of the humor a bit more subtle. Albert Evan’s Puck on Friday night had just the right combination of impish energy and perfectly balanced acting, neither to subtle nor in your face. Evans also ad-libbed nicely when an unknown glitch prevented him from “flying” in the final scene.
Another notable debut came from Seth Orza as the man turned donkey, Bottom. Endearing in both his human and animal forms, Orza handled the tricky pas deux with Titania with aplomb. Ask LaCour was a towering new Thesius, a perfect height mismatch for the powerful Aesha Ash. Henry Seth was a noble Thesius the following night, partnering Jennie Somogyi, who liberally infused her fouettes with stunningly solid triples. Debuting as Demetrius and Lysander, Jason Fowler and Stephen Hanna were both excellent partners and good actors. Megan Fairchild in another debut, gave the butterfly new charm! In the final debut of the night, Robert Tewsley partnered Jenifer Ringer in the Divertissement pas de deux. Elegant and supple his brief solos, Tewsley’s outward calm was belied by his overly cautious manner. During the otherwise notable pas de deux, he held Ringer so close that her foot collided with his legs three times. More experience will undoubtedly make both dancers more comfortable with the partnership and choreography.
The roles of Helena and Hermia were in good hands with both casts: Dena Abergel and Jennifer Tinsley, and Alexandra Ansanelli and Rachel Rutherford. Ansanelli’s solo was particularly poignant, Helena’s desperation and broken heart beautifully illustrated in her powerful and dramatic dancing. Jared Angle, returning after a long injury layoff, and Sebastian Marcovici were Ansanelli and Rutherford’s capable lovers on Friday.
The corps finished the year on a high note, showing good form and technique on both nights. Titania’s retinue and the divertissement dancers all danced with energy and appropriate emotion. The performances by the women were made even more lovely by Karinska’s gorgeous costumes, especially the dresses and tutus for Titania’s retinue-each costume totally unique, but perfectly harmonious together. Many thanks to all the dancers for a wonderful end to a wonderful season!
Mendelssohn’s joyous music was conducted by Richard Moredock on Thursday and Andrea Quinn on Friday. The ingenious and effective scenery, which decorated the whole stage, including the ceiling, came from David Hays, with lighting by Mark Stanley.