The Ultimate Penultimate
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Saturday, 9 April 2011
by Dean Speer
The full depth and richness of experience of the cast in its aggregate really struck me while absorbing and enjoying the return of the Martin Pakledinaz production of George Balanchine’s 1962 “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that PNB commissioned in 1997. By my own feeble arithmetic, there had to have been more than several hundred years of training and knowledge brought to a single stage in a single moment – from those principals, soloists, corps de ballet members leaving or retiring plus one important principal restarting her performing career following maternity leave, to each company member and PNB School student who filled out the large cast.
The show was uplifting, exciting, exacting, and represented both a degree of sadness and loss yet also that of celebration as we said “thank-you” and farewell as some of these dancers were making their final or nearly-final appearances to their appreciative public.
Probably the best known and beloved were Ariana Lallone whose splash across the proscenium screen was greeted with cheers and applause which honored this artist’s great contributions, over the course of 24 years, in one of her signature roles – that of Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons and Olivier Wevers in his penultimate performance, taking the role of the cavalier in Act II’s “Divertissement” pas deux.
From the posted cast listings of the run, it would appear that this was Lallone’s final essay as the head Amazon and what she did as she ripped into the part – made for the equally athletic Gloria Govrin – was thrilling, and as the choreography built to the series of fouettées, we were right with it every moment.
Beyond her solo – which includes multiple entrances and exits interpolated with her “hounds,” there is a lot of dancing. Act II had an extended pas de six, plus dance acting as Hippolyta interacts with other characters. To each moment, Lallone brought her sense of joy, amusement, love of dance, strength of character, not to mention her reservoir of technique. Lallone is an honest performer and it was clear why her audience base of many fans were happy to see her every time.
Another would be Wevers, whose intelligent and cogent dancing couple well with his elegant line and princely bearing. While this may have been his second to last performance, you would not have known it from what we saw up on stage. He was very much in shape, never held back in any way and gave us a performance that said “I could still be doing this 10 years from now if I wanted.” Double tours en l’air, relevé pirouettes – all of the virtuoso package you could want and then some.
Returning to the stage...and hopefully gracing it for a long time to yet come, was principal dancer Kaori Nakamura, whose pixy size belies an enormous technique, panache, and a happy energy that informs each of her roles. As Wevers' female partner during the pas de deux, she and they together could not have been more perfect. This is a soft and lyric – romantic – duet and while it presents plenty of technical challenges, these are hidden within its text and context, presenting an image of light blue tossed with waves of lifts, falls into an arm, and an extended concluding port de bras, turning over into a finishing pose.
Act I is a lesson on how to succinctly pull off telling a complex, narrative story through dance movement. Act II is a lesson on how to effectively use patterns, formations, and get large groups on and off while they join, split, intermingle, and re-join, often with a tutti motif in the coda.
Staged with her usual meticulous care, Francia Russell’s insight into the inner workings of the Balanchine oeuvre is virtually unparalleled and PNB its beneficiary.
This includes all production aspects – choreography is what we tend to think of first but also lighting, costumes, sets and how each of these elements work together. One of the most important of these being the music – in this case Mendelssohn:(Overture and incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 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).
Conducted by interim Music Director Allan Dameron, the mighty PNB Orchestra delivered its goods with bright and clear ensemble playing. Notable were the singers, Christina Siemens, Sarah Mattox, Maria Mannisto, Melissa Plagemann, Sarra Sharif and Linda Strandberg.
Pacific Northwest Ballet gave one of its most cohesive and best shows in recent memory. Lucky us – to have it right here in Seattle, in our own backyard!