Expansive and explosive, Joel Prouty is the barmiest and most beguiling of the three Pucks. (Given that Balanchine conceived Oberon as a short man, I wonder why Prouty isn’t dancing that role.) Daniel Sarabia and Jared Redick are more apt to seem feckless and befuddled, which works in its own way. The moon smiles on the three Helenas: Kathleen Breen Combes with her hunching shoulders, jittery hands, and basilisk venom; Heather Myers all comic overstatement; Lia Cirio wistfully poignant. Melanie Atkins makes the most of the little Balanchine gem where Hermia finds Lysander and Helena in a clinch and inspects with microscope eyes, then gives the audience a “Can you believe this?” look; she’s also the most spider-and-screech-owl-haunted in her solo. Erica Cornejo is the most determined at pulling Helena’s hair; Tai Jimenez blushes the most becomingly when her Lysander kisses her. Pavel Gurevich as Lysander and Carlos Molina as Demetrius are the most earnest of the men, Gurevich elegant, Molina wrathful. Yury Yanowsky works layers of matinee-idol parody into his Demetrius that culminate in total dead weight as Puck tries to move him. Sabi Varga’s Lysander is ingenuous and a shade obtuse, with details like the wobbly collapse after Puck puts the purple flower under his nose. James Whiteside’s is outsized and cartoonish: he thuds to the floor as Helena eludes his grasp, and when he sees her cuddling with Demetrius, he thumps his chest as if to say, “Guess no one told him she’s MY girl.”
None of the three Hippolytas — Lia Cirio, Melissa Hough, and Kathleen Breen Combes — is quite Amazonian, but they do fair justice to her flicking jetés and mist-shrouded fouetté sequence. I liked Tempe Ostergren’s wriggling, corporeal Lead Butterfly, a seductive partner for her Puck (you can also see her as a Butterfly on the Pacific Northwest DVD), though the airy fluttering of Rie Ichikawa and especially Misa Kuranaga is probably closer to what Balanchine had in mind.
The entire second act, where Phoebe beholds her watery visage, is a kind of Divertimento No. 15 with Mendelssohn instead of Mozart. Back in 1962, some opening-night reviewers found its liquid pearl too austere after the first act’s fond pageant, but as so often in Balanchine, familiarity breeds respect. In the case of the dancers, it breeds improvement: the ragged entrance of the Six Couples on Thursday had firmed up by Saturday afternoon; the six women — Kuranaga, Hough, Myers, Ichikawa, Ostergren, and Sarah Wroth — were like a planet’s moons, individual but all in the proper orbit. The music includes the first two movements of Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No. 9, which he wrote when he was 14; Edwin Denby felt the constraints of its “tight two-bar phrase pattern,” and it’s probably what New York Times critic John Martin had in mind when he referred to Balanchine’s choice of “essentially Biedermeier music.” But Balanchine finds the measure of that pattern, and the dancers’ easy grace as the stars twinkle behind the trees and the pas de deux begins might lead you to think you’re about to see “The Man I Love” from Who Cares? Thursday night Larissa Ponomarenko never settled; she seemed out of phase with the music and couldn’t find in Roman Rykine a lulling snakeskin. Friday Lorna Feijóo with Carlos Molina also looked a bit impatient; it was left to Romi Beppu and Nelson Madrigal to untighten and tease out those phrases.
Throughout, the Boston Ballet Orchestra under Jonathan McPhee provides sweet thunder (including the Overture’s donkey hee-haw). If the playing scores higher in temperament than technique, so does the dancing. A little more trippingly and all would have escaped this critic’s serpent tongue. But there’s not much for Puck to sweep up, either.