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Flash Review, 7-3: Spells
Mixed 'Summer' from City Ballet

By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2003 Alicia Mosier

NEW YORK -- George Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was a sweeter sight than ever this year after the perpetual February New Yorkers have endured in the past few months. With the little butterflies and fairies whirligigging in their hobo togs, a rosy queen nodding off in a forest glade, lovers and tricksters and a heavenly wedding dance, the ballet gives us in two acts and six scenes the essence of summer, its feeling of heady warmth and liberty, its tempestuous emotions and sighs of peace. I had the fortunate misfortune of seeing it twice last week at the New York City Ballet. The misfortune was that the performance under review here (that of last Thursday night) did not come close to equaling in beauty the one I saw simply for pleasure. But the chance to see this ballet one more time -- as well as to see role debuts by several promising young dancers -- was fortunate indeed.

It was only a matter of time before Daniel Ulbricht was cast as Puck; his debut in the part on Thursday met every expectation for how brilliant he would be. The height of his jumps and the definition and speed of his footwork gave the impression of a creature truly not of this world. It was, in a word, a complete performance: from his super-defined twiddly-footed jump when greeting Oberon to his cowering under the chastisement of Titania's retinue, Ulbricht's Puck was well thought out and fully invested with Ulbricht's own gleeful dynamism.

Amanda Edge has made the role of Butterfly her own of late; her buoyant pep was missing from Megan Fairchild's debut in the part on Thursday. But Fairchild had a different Butterfly in mind -- not a showpiece, but a glimmering part of the whole forest landscape -- and it was a very lovely interpretation. She is in my view the most interesting of the newer corps dancers. She doesn't grab for your attention, but once your eye lands on her she holds you with her exquisitely calibrated carriage of head and shoulders, the quick, sensitive movement of her beautifully shaped legs, and the sweetness of her demeanor. She moves like a butterfly already; her dancing in this role was less showy than Edge's but more compelling in its gentleness. She had a moment of trouble navigating the throng of children on the stage, and a moment after some applause where she couldn't quite hear the music, but those bobbles will be ironed out over time and in what I trust will be a reprise of this role next year.

Tuesday's veteran cast of lovers (Jared Angle, Sebastien Marcovici, Rachel Rutherford, and Alexandra Ansanelli) brings just enough melodramatic humor to make their turmoils seem like what they are: expressions of innocent young people's mercurial passions (yet no less deep and true for being so). Thursday's cast missed the melodrama somehow, and in the process missed the charm of these scenes. Jason Fowler is a dancer I usually appreciate. Here, in his debut as Demetrius, he was appallingly aggressive, so much so that I really just wanted him to leave the stage. With Dena Abergel, having a very off night as Helena, he scowled and stalked and hurled her to the floor; pursuing Jennifer Tinsley as Hermia, he looked more like a prospective rapist than an impassioned suitor. Fowler needs to rethink his role and, quite simply, lighten up. In his debut as Lysander, in contrast, Stephen Hanna was utterly sweet with the magnificently focused Tinsley. But the brutality of the encounter between Fowler and Abergel left a very unpleasant taste.

It's hard to know what to say about Maria Kowroski. She is very beautiful: a dewy, chiffon-draped, tempestuous Titania. And she is, as a dancer, very out of control. Her hips and back are looser than ever. Her legs careen aimlessly from floor to sky. The energy in her arms stops at the wrist; her fingers are waving spikes. She sloshes from one movement to another, unable or unwilling to bring her body into the discipline of phrasing. Her dancing lacks dignity. As breathtaking as she is to look at, I find watching her a deeply disappointing experience. However, her duet with Seth Orza (new as Bottom) -- involving as it does very little dancing -- was very sweet, and her reaction very funny when she realizes she's been in love with a donkey. (The charm of Bottom in this duet is that although he is experiencing donkey-ness for the first time, he is all donkey. Orza needs to play his physical jokes more naturally.)

Aesha Ash, another beauty, was forceful but not powerful as Hippolyta. There was fire in her eyes, but not in her body; she did not soar in those big jetes (though her fouettes were rock-solid). As for Benjamin Millepied as Oberon, his dazzling technique left the audience pretty bored, in contrast to Peter Boal's performance earlier in the week during which there was hardly a moment without applause. What was the difference? Maturity of style -- in other words, that Millepied seemed a little bored himself.

Jenifer Ringer gave a serene and wistful performance in the ballet's most beautiful moment, the Act II Divertissement. But the humdrum partnering of Robert Tewsley (in a debut) made her phrasing choppy and kept the pas de deux from floating like it should. Tewsley, a British dancer who joined NYCB as a principal last year, is clearly still adjusting to the company's style. He turns well, but the Balanchine forward-step/hip-thrust eludes him (he turned it into a mere fondu). The corps did a fine job in the busy wedding scene. Just one question: Deanna McBrearty, what was with those dangly diamond earrings? This is the State Theater, not Las Vegas!

The superb conducting by Richard Moredock of Mendelssohn score and the crisp, bright sound of the orchestra Thursday night was a huge contrast to Andrea Quinn's muddled tempi and flat notes Tuesday.

I would like to say a word about the other performance of the ballet I saw last week -- the one Gus Solomons reviewed, the opening night. In a month I will be leaving New York for a wedding of my own, and will come to you next as a correspondent covering the ballet in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the five years I have lived here, I have seen many beautiful things, both in and out of the theater -- the Frick Collection, Gramercy Park after a spring rain, the view from the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight. The most beautiful of all was Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto dancing the Divertissement pas de deux in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" last week. I'm grateful to them for that pas de deux, as I am for all the dancers I've had the privilege to see and write about here.

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