Dreaming and remembrance

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  February 21, 2007

The four hapless mortal lovers’ merry chase is set against the intimate holding and balancing moves of the pas de deux — implicit partnerships broken apart by fate. When they’re finally sorted out with the right partners, they celebrate their weddings with brief proper duets of their own, and then share a triple duo with the duke, Theseus (Bo Busby), and his bride, Hippolyta (Lia Cirio).

All of these duets avoid flashy virtuosity. This is reserved in ample supply for Oberon and Puck (Reyneris Reyes and Joel Prouty), and for the flittering, airborne butterflies, fairies, and bugs. Like most of the characters most of the time, Oberon and Puck are at cross-purposes. Puck is overeager, Oberon impatient. In one stunning scene, they rush in and out in alternation with the fairy pack, each doing variations of tremendous elevation and allegro footwork. Reyes displayed impeccable beats and classical line; Prouty made his eccentric jumps and skidding stops seem part of a mischievous, bumbling personality.

This production was borrowed from Pacific Northwest Ballet, and to my eye it suffered from Martin Pakledinaz’s designs, which are way fussier and gaudier than the originals by Karinska and David Hays. Maybe you rationalize these preferences after the fact, but the subdued colors and slim lines of Karinska’s first act costumes, the mossy forest creatures and rustics, the quiet elegance of the second act, all allowed the three worlds of the story to seem compatible though different. Pakledinaz serves up spangly costumes in saturated colors and flowing fabric, obtrusive sets made of cabbage roses and glitterized vines, and cute billboard-size frogs and spiders.

All ballet classics undergo rethinking and visual renovations as they migrate around the globe. Balanchine’s work is no exception. But I think his Dream is more mature, in both serious and comic ways, than this production’s Disneyfication leads us to believe.

Twenty-five years before Balanchine’s Midsummer, the young English choreographer Antony Tudor was also rethinking the conventions of ballet. Unlike Balanchine, whose main choreographic interest was in form, Tudor was a social critic. His finest ballets are about communities and characters under stress. Dark Elegies is a lament, set to Gustav Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (“Songs on the Death of Children”). Rather than theatricalize the grief of the individual parents, like Balanchine’s unhappy lovers dancing out their melancholy, confusion, possessiveness, Tudor gives us a group of villagers acting out a somber ritual, feeling their way toward some kind of resignation.

They gather a few at a time in comfortless circles, enter and leave with lagging steps. They turn to each other momentarily, clasp hands or touch someone’s shoulder, but there are no histrionics. Personal sorrow is contained by evolving patterns of stepping and circling. Even when someone ventures an individual statement, the vocabulary of the outcry is withheld, linear, as if giving way to the emotions would shatter the community itself. The solo women seem to rise on pointe only to attenuate their stricken bodies. In the only male-female duet, she rushes blindly and he prevents her from going out of control, catching her in crooked poses and lifts.

I thought the Conservatory students danced with clarity and respect, but the Thursday-night cast I saw didn’t have the weightiness that conveys tragedy. In place of the original backcloths designed by Nadia Benois, there were some effective (uncredited) photographic projections of threatening clouds.

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