Birds, Bees, and Butterflies
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
McCaw Hall, 12 April 2014, Evening Performance
by Dean Speer
I’ve always throughly enjoyed Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” but have to say that the introduction of freshly designed costumes and sets by Martin Pakledinaz really ramped up the delight and charm factor exponentially and this 2014 revival was most welcome, even if it did mark the penultimate performances of one of its most cherished stars, Kaori Nakamura.
Balanchine’s retelling of the famous comedic Shakespeare play immediately makes plain the story – clear and easy to follow and its alternating scenes between the human and fairy world are not at all jarring nor do they stop the plot but reveal and build the mix-ups and fix-ups that attend. Act II is almost the opposite tack – almost all pure dancing and very little narrative, including a divine “Divertissement” pas de deux, rendered heavenly by Nakamura and her attentive partner Seth Orza. Mr. Balanchine knows how to build a ballet and smartly lets most of the dancing happen prior to the introduction of duet about two-thirds of the way through, and by pulling away the corps and other soloists, the focus is solely and suddenly on a rather quiet and nuanced dance that, in itself, builds to a glorious and rapturous ending with the ballerina turning under and changing leg and arm positions, held in a backward “fall” by her cavalier. Really lovely, romantic stuff.
Deftly, the ballet concludes with Puck [Eric Hipolito, Jr.] sweeping the stage, cleaning up after his own mess, who climbs into a web and is pulled skyward while surrounded by butterflies and lit by a background of fireflies. Curtain. End of ballet.
Apparently having only made five narrative ballets, Mr. Balanchine never-the less shows his genius for this form here – my other favorite of his being “Prodigal Son.”
Following the overture, the actual dancing begins with a “bug” upstage left corner – one of the many children cast from PNB School. More than just flapping around, they get to do “actual” steps and are tightly integrated into the choreography and overall concept.
I wrote a few months ago of Lesley Rausch’s triumph as Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty” and that thought equally echos and resonates again with her foray into the Titania role – one half of the fairy Titans leading their kingdom. During PNB’s recent Teachers’ Seminar, I got to meet Benjamin Griffiths’ first ballet teacher [from Boise, Idaho] – and she confirmed it: Yes, perfect already at the age of 10 as he began ballet. If you want to see 100 percent clarity in steps, phrases, and alignment with musicality, he’s the one to watch. His Oberon defines this. A la seconde leaps with the legs etched in the air, sharp développés to the front while traveling on a backward diagonal, turns that are energetic and exact.
I’m so glad that Joshua Grant re-joined the Company...and can safely bet that he’s probably glad too. He’s been given more and more visible opportunities and dancing Titania’s Cavalier is one to note. Also a very notable relatively new asset to the Company is the addition of Leta Biasucci [Butterfly] who is often given technically difficult assignments and aces them with aplomb. Exciting with a role [Hippolyta] originally made for a superb jumper and turner – Gloria Govrin – I’ve associated it most recently with Ariana Lallone, Carrie Imler, Brittany Reid, and now Elle Macy has assumed this part tidily, readily attacking the fouettés and saut de chats.
Set to some of Mendelssohn’s best, PNB’s "Midsummer" works its shimmering magic again, lifting us by the sublimity of the whole – with the mighty PNB Orchestra conducted by Emil de Cou.