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Flash Review 1, 6-26: Dancing Fairies
A Dream 'Dream' from City Ballet

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a Balanchine story ballet, told as only Mr. B would tell it: he gets all the narrative out of the way in Act I, so he can devote Act II to just dancing. Sets by David Hays and Karinska's costumes are lavish and colorful in tastefully sophisticated hues -- umber, rust, mossy green, burgundy, old gold -- washed by Mark Stanley's lighting, after Ronald Bates's original design. At Tuesday's New York City Ballet performance, Andrea Quinn conducted Mendelssohn's familiar music at lightning speed, setting the dancing on fire.

The New York State Theater stage sparkled with committed dancing by a first-rate cast, led by Darci Kistler as Titania and Peter Boal as Oberon, surrounded by children from the City Ballet's school skittering on tiny feet and fluttering their little arms with verve as butterflies and fairies. Kistler, who has been with the company since 1980, danced with technical patina, gained from years of wrapping her delicate frame around Balanchine's fast-paced choreography. Coolly regal, warm, convincingly attracted to Bottom (James Fayette) when he's turned into an ass, Kistler clearly relished the role. Charles Askegard was her gallant, smiling cavalier in a pas de deux.

Boal, another City Ballet veteran, who joined the company in 1983, radiated avuncular affection, as he marshaled his miniature entourage, and studly charm, as he kibitzed with Titania over her small page (Sarah Oberman). In his variation Boal displayed blistering technique: brilliantly crisp petite allegro footwork, jetes that flew across space, and a serenity that sent the audience wild with enthusiasm.

As Boal matures and expands his immersion into the postmodern repertoire, his stage presence grows increasingly more gracious and his acting range broader. Combining youthful vitality with mature control, he is a treasure.

Albert Evans's Puck was as broadly acted as it was fully danced. He mischievously wagged a magical flower in the lovers' faces that made them fall in love with the first person they saw. Even Titania was his victim, falling for Bottom in an ass's head. Evans's prankish cavorting was the glue that kept the confusion comprehensible to us. His Puckish personality was so ebullient that at the finale, when he flew aloft, one could almost believe that no wire was necessary. Amanda Edge was a fluidly athletic Butterfly. She kept pace with the brisk music without losing amplitude in her extensions or getting tangled up in the crowd of nymphs-in-waiting and baby butterflies that constantly swarmed around her.

The pairs of lovers that suffered Puck's practical jokes were Alexandra Ansanelli (newly promoted to principal) and Sebastien Marcovici as Helena and Demetrius, and Rachel Rutherford and Jared Angle as Hermia and Lysander. Ansanelli's limber legs flew with appealing flourish in her tempestuous duets with the intense Marcovici. Angle's Lysander was gaga over Rutherford, even though she tends to impel chaine turns with her elbows; their love affair is more pacific.

A swashbuckling duel between the apparently jilted Demetrius and Lysander -- with Puck interloping -- on a mist-covered stage adds slapstick fun. Hyppolyta came leaping through the fog in the person of Jennie Somogyi. I'm not sure why she appeared in the forest, except that she got to show off her perfectly split jetes and rock-solid fouette, which electrified. In the second act she married Theseus, Duke of Athens (Henry Seth).

The highlight of Act II -- after lots of traipsing in beautifully choreographed canons and counterpoint wedded to the music, Balanchine's passion, which depicts the weddings of all the mortal couples -- was the Divertissement, a ravishing adagio duet by Wendy Whelan and her redoubtable partner Jock Soto. Whelan floated through the air on Soto's strong arms with astonishing lightness, and in the intricate promenade turns that lace the dance, arms twined like macrame, legs delicately, fluently sliced the air. Whelan and Soto's mutual trust was palpable. The finish of their duet, when he let her free-fall from one of his arms to catch her in the other in a swoon, was breathtaking.

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