Lots of magic in American Repertory Ballet’s reinvented ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

AMERICAN repertory ballet midsummer night's dream


From left, Michelle Quiner, Nanako Yamamoto, Aldeir Monteiro and Clara Pevel in American Repertory Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The woods outside Athens may be dangerous to lovers, but audiences delight in the mischief and romantic confusion of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The unreal atmosphere of Shakespeare’s fairy play also makes it congenial to ballet companies, including American Repertory Ballet, which reprised this modern classic in a strongly danced version choreographed by artistic director Ethan Stiefel, May 10 at The New Brunswick Performing Arts Center.

Packed with comic incidents and charm, Stiefel’s ballet boasts original elements that distinguish it from the popular Midsummers by Frederick Ashton and George Balanchine. In addition to employing Felix Mendelssohn’s celebrated incidental music for the play, Stiefel incorporates portions of Erich Korngold’s reorchestration of the score for a 1935 Hollywood film. Here women on pointes dance the roles of both Oberon and the Changeling, supercharging the ballet’s classicism and giving Puck considerable responsibilities as a partner. All the leading characters of fairyland, including Puck and the Changeling, come with their own retinues of elves and attendants. At the conclusion, Stiefel weaves these cadres into an ingenious, multi-stage divertissement that milks applause with a teasing series of false endings.


From left, Jillian Kramarck, Seth Koffler and Tiziano Cerrato in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

On the comic side, the choreographer has eliminated most of Shakespeare’s “rude mechanicals,” leaving only the essential character of Bottom. This Bottom is not a conceited actor, but a naturalist named Bugzy, out collecting specimens. The nyuk-nyuk factor is plentiful, and the forest has its revenge as Puck’s galumphing elves snare Bugzy in their butterfly nets, and transform him into a donkey.

Though whizzing through the ballet with leaps and well-centered turns, Michelle Quiner manages to make Oberon a rounded character. Imperious but petulant, she is also suitably jolly when interviewing Titania after her madcap adventure with Bugzy/Bottom. Clara Pevel flounces defiantly as Titania, but learns to temper her hauteur with sweetness. Nanako Yamamoto is an effervescent Changeling, who would sparkle even without a costume fitted with electric lights. (Phosphorescent purple scenery by Howard C. Jones turns the Athenian woods into a psychedelic jungle.) Seth Koffler’s Bugzy has a sturdiness well-suited to the character he plays. Aldeir Monteiro’s Puck steals the show, however, with his slick technical assurance and expressive mien.

Though the intrigues of fairyland may entertain us and absorb our attention, they do not capture our sympathy in the same way as the foolish mortal lovers, who pick the wrong night to seek refuge in the forest. Love, not power, is at stake in Midsummer’s secondary plot. Again, the roles seem suited to the dancers’ natural physicality. Annie Johnson and Andrea Marini are all freshness and clean lines as the happy lovers. He carries her snuggling on his hip; he supports her gallantly with one hand behind his back, until a misapplied love potion puts their relationship out of joint. Erikka Reenstierna-Cates displays a manic energy as Elena, clinging to and smothering Roland Jones, the flexible but unwilling object of her infatuation. A magic blossom intensifies the dizzying confusion, until both couples are locked together and spinning like a whirligig, the women’s bodies flying.


Aldeir Monteiro, far left, Michelle Quiner, center, and Ensemble members in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

It takes more than pantomime to set things right. The divertissement, advancing in orderly stages, is what brings peace to fairyland. The Changeling becomes a link between Oberon and Titania; their retinues integrate; and the mortal lovers happily embrace. Classical ballet stands for the triumph of reason. Ironically, only Bottom (the naturalist) cannot share this vision of social harmony. Though released from enchantment, he is soon recaptured; and we have the sense that this donkey-head will always be deluded by his own obsessions.

This Midsummer Night’s Dream packs a great deal of rapid dancing into an hour, and feels as if it could be expanded and divided into two acts (the Balanchine model). A swarm of little fireflies and buttercups are no doubt in the wings, waiting for their cue. Perhaps Stiefel fears that today’s audiences lack the sitzfleisch to enjoy a full evening of dancing. But with a classic story and a cast of talented dancer-actors to enchant us, this Dream could go on forever.

For more on American Repertory Ballet, visit arballet.org.


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