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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
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
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