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A Midsummer Night's DreamPerformance reports


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#1 Helene

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Posted 10 June 2004 - 11:31 PM

Tonight's performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream had so many wonderful performances, it's hard to know where to begin. The characteristic that was consistent and most striking was the clarity of movement that so many dancers showed. So I'll start with Patricia Barker, who showed why she owns the part of Titania, with her beautiful extension, creamy phrasing, and ability to meld into the Mendelssohn score. I find her pas de deux with Bottom (Kiyon Gaines) a supremely moving love story: she shows not only affection, but the generosity of heart and spirit that she doesn't show to the boy toy Cavalier -- too bad, since he was the wonderful, attentive Maraval -- and Bottom is so much nicer to her than Oberon.

Josh Spell was a charming Puck, from the elegance of his arms to the sweet way he scratched Bottom's fur before leaving him at Titania's feet. In temperament, he reminded me a bit of Jean-Pierre Frohlich in the way that he was funny without milking the laughs, and his dancing was as memorable as his characterization.

In most performances I've seen, Hermia and Lysander are the light, cheerful couple, while Hermia and Demetrius are the dramatic ones; when Lysander is under the flower's spell and becomes aggressive and possessive, it's a complete turn-around. In this cast the pairs had opposite temperaments: after their cute entrance, Noelani Pantastico's Hermia and especially Olivier Wevers were very dramatic, while Stacy Lowenberg's Helena and especially Oleg Gorboulev were rather placid. When Lowenberg twice walked the diagonal, once offered a leaf to dry her tears by Puck -- which due to strange lighting she did in near darkness -- and the second time surrounded by the bugs, she seemed sad, but not she didn't convey the world-ending melancholy that Stephanie Saland and Lisa Apple, for example, have portrayed. Gorboulev's Demetrius was a rather mellow guy who was yearning for and seeking Hermia out in the distance; he only pushed Helena away because she kept getting in his way, and he didn't seem to enjoy the small rush of sadism. Pantastico and Wevers were so vivid and live: she was impassioned, and when she showed great sorrow in her solo, and when Wevers, who could have been playing Romeo, turned his attention to Helena, it was right in character.

The Divertissement demis were a feast for the eyes and a real treat. Two of my favorites, Nicholas Ade and Rebecca Johnston were paired, but the piece wasn't long enough to get my fill of Cruz and Kitchens and Postlewaite and Pacitti and...all twelve were worth watching individually. The main couple, Jody Thomas and Le Yin are a beautifully matched pair, and the central pas de deux they performed was stunning. Thomas' dancing was so clear, it was like crystal raindrops on a warm spring day, when the sudden, intermittent coolness enlivens the senses.

Brittany Reid made her debut as Hippolyta, and in the post-performance Q&A, Stowell said that she had performed twice that afternoon in the hour-long school performance version. I suppose that was an attempt to exhaust her from being nervous, but although she said after the performance that she was nervous, it didn't show: her movement is big, and she filled the stage. The fouettes were a marvel: they had authority and sweep and built to a wonderful climax. Never did they seem like a trick, and I think the reason is that she stood so tall with her head high and her center was so quiet.

The quiet center was what Jonathan Poretta had in common with Reid, and together with deep, pliant plie, it made his performance. He walked on during the overture with such authority, from his head held high on his shoulders to the point of back toe, but emanating from his sternum, and he maintained this authority through all the mime. If he had only performed this much of the ballet, it would have been a great performance. He followed it with a Scherzo that was magnificent: technically brilliant without once showing preparation or breaking the authority of the character. He gave a clinic of jumps and beats with beautiful turnout, placement, landings and impeccable phrasing. He did a series of split jumps -- they end in Russian jump position, but approached from the side -- that came out of nowhere, and got bigger as he crossed the stage, but they comprised one set of details in a bounty of dancing. I had always seen him cast before in energetic soloist roles -- typecasting, he would have danced only Puck -- but this performance was a revelation. I hope he gets to dance Prodigal and Apollo next year.

Edited by hockeyfan228, 11 June 2004 - 10:31 AM.


#2 Helene

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Posted 12 June 2004 - 12:25 AM

Another great night at the ballet. I for one wish that Stowell's dream for a summer stage came true, because I would go see A Midsummer Night's Dream every year, like The Nutcracker.

In tonight's performance, Carrie Imler danced Titania. The overture scene set the tone of her performance as a generally happy, loving Fairy Queen, who was upset at a particular incident. In her major scene with her retinue and Cavalier, Imler started unusually conservatively, but that didn't last long. (Usually when paired with Batkhurel Bold she dances with abandon from the get-go.) Soon into the pas de deux she not only started to move big, but she took over half the balances a la Farrell, at an angle. It was remarkable to see her repeatedly on the full diagonal, from the angle of her foot and standing leg to the working leg extended up and away, her entire body fully extended. In her pas de deux with Nicholas Ade's superb Bottom, she was a young woman who fell madly in love. (Ade's Bottom is so fully realized, that by the end of his pas de deux, he doesn't seem like that much of an ass after all, despite the ears and a penchant for grass.) What was most striking was the scene in which she realizes that she's fallen in love with an ass, and then returns to Oberon, not as a humbled Queen having been brought down a notch, but as a wife who's fallen back in love with her husband. Usually the performers convey that the Oberon/Titania relationship depicted is just another round in an never-ending battle of two duelling personalities, like Zeus and Hera, but in this case, although I wouldn't expect a Happily Ever After ending, I felt from this interpretation that they would fight again because of the nature of relationships, not because they are deliberately trying to one-up one another. A different, striking interpretation, and wonderful, full-bodied dancing.

Tonight I was sitting a lot closer, and Jonathan Porretta was just as magnificent as Oberon as he was last night. What a beautiful performance and such a privilege to see him dance this role. Maybe there will be a few more Princes in his future...

Olivier Wevers reprised the role of Lysander, again as an impassioned lover of both Helena and Hermia. Christophe Maraval was equally passionate, and between the two men, Kaori Nakamura's tigress of a Hermia, and the Maria Chapman's physicalization of despair, there were sparks flying all over the stage among this beautifully matched quartet. Nakamura's solo was pierced by whipping turns and razor-sharp but light jumps. Hers was a Hermia that might have been feeling despair, but I was certain that she was going to do something about it, which she did with a fury during the Forest scene. Helena was a great role for Chapman, and she looked gorgeous with Maraval. Maraval had a wonderful characterization as well, as the energy and focus of his single-minded pursuit of Hermia blossomed into a more gentle and courtly love for Helena at the end of Act I.

What a treat to see newly appointed Principal Dancer Noelani Pantastico dance Butterfly. Even in the Scherzo, at full extension or multiple turns, she always looked like she had extra time to smell a flower or two, and she lofted her jumps. Jordan Pacitti, a muscular dancer with a pliant plie and wonderful pop and hang to his grand allegro and jumps, danced Puck. His style of humor is definitely on the broader and exuberant side, but it showed in the timing and physical humor, not mugging; I think a saw a little bit of Wylie Coyote and Road Runner tossed in.

Stacy Lowenburg jumped and turned and filled up the stage as Hippolyta in the Act I forest scene, but she was even more impressive in the wedding party coda after the Divertissement in Act II, where she danced all-out, partnered by the elegant Karel Cruz. The six Divertissement couples were again splendid, this time comprising over half of last night's featured dancers: Reid, Thomas, Vinson, Gaines, Gorboulev, Herd and Spell. Tempe Ostergren was a standout: she's one of the shortest dancers onstage, but when she points her foot and stretches in arabesque, her legs look two feet longer, and she dances with energy.

Patricia Barker and Jeffrey Stanton danced the Divertissement couple, and tonight Barker showed why she owns this role, too: her command began from the moment she first entered the stage. The pas de deux is such a masterpiece and the centerpiece in Act II, and it's easy for the principal roles in the public movements to recede by comparison, especially the way the six couples are featured. When Barker dances it, it's easy to think of the entire Divertissement as a major ballet on its own. Although the energy and style is different in the first/third compared to the pas de deux, she contrasts the public and the private moments while retaining a stylistic unity and core temperament. She dances with such ease and mastery. I think this is also one of Stanton's best roles in recent years, not only as a partner, but for clarity of the images he creates during the short, intermittent solo parts.

By the end of this performance, everyone was in love and happy, except for Puck and the Butterflies. A much more optimistic sense in the air, and a very welcome one.

#3 Helene

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Posted 13 June 2004 - 12:14 AM

Tonight (Saturday), some of the dancers reprised their roles, but some with different partners; others danced different roles. Patricia Barker's luminous Titania was matched with Maraval's elegant, attentive Cavalier again, but later with Ade's superb Bottom. Among the lovers Maria Chapman's Helena was paired with Oleg Gorboulev's Demetrius, while Jodie Thomas danced Hermia with Jordan Pacitti's Lysander, fresh off of last night's Puck. Imler danced Hippolyta coming from last night's Titania, and Nakamura and Wevers led the Act II Divertissement. A Midsummer Night's Dream not only means casting from the school, but also double-casting school dancers for the four members of Titania's retinue who hold her cape at the end of the ballet, because the original four are needed in the Divertissement. From my perspective as an audience member, given the short runs of each program, I would rather see the forty or so Company members in multiple parts and kids from the school getting stage experience than have more dancers with fewer opportunities, but I'm not the one who has to figure out the casting chart or rehearsal schedule.

There was some shifting around of the cast list from what is published on the website: Poretta, originally cast for Oberon, danced Puck, and Le Yin danced Oberon, the same casting that is listed for tomorrow. I really like Le Yin's dancing, and he was wonderful in the role; he is technically capable of its virtuoso demands. There was just a little bit of visible preparation, and a tiny bend from the waist to propel him in the big sissones with beats on the diagonal, that made me aware that I was watching a dancer, not a character; but except for sadness at not being able to see Poretta's Oberon again this year, I will be happy to see Le again in the role tomorrow. Poretta's Puck was the broadest of the three dancers' characterizations, but his mime was the most developed and clear. An example is when he captured Lysander and was about to wave the magic flower over him. Poretta's Puck looked quizically at Lysander as if asking, "is he the right one?," paused, shrugged his shoulders as if saying, "he'll do," and enchanted Lysander. Since Puck hasn't been watching the lovers interact, and Oberon's instructions to him in mime are vague, in most performances Oberon comes across as the King/Boss who blames his subjects/subordinates for his own mistakes. (Because he can.) With this little injection of mime, Puck became the co-worker who knew s/he should find out whether s/he'd gotten it right before proceeding, but decided not to bother, which caused a big mess down the road. Poretta, too, must know his cartoons; his physical characterization incorporated the improbable contrasts of acceleration and stillness that are found in the best animation.

If last night's quartet was temperamentally from Naples, most of tonight's were from Greenwich, with Chapman playing a visiting Italian cousin. Gorboulev's Demetrius is a like well-mannered preppie; it's only when this crazy-woman who keeps throwing herself at him distracts him from his yearning for Hermia that he finally gets angry. Chapman danced Helena's solo of despair with drama and conviction, and was moving in her surprise that Demetrius was now in love with her. Jodie Thomas and Jordan Pacitti began as the most genuinely sweet Hermia and Lysander that I've ever seen. When Pacitti's Lysander was bewitched, he not only fell in love with someone else, he acted like a regular guy who'd been seduced by a temptress and became someone else: cunning, tempetuous, and a little ridiculous. Pacitti showed the latter when he was pursuing Hermia; while she'd eluded him temporarily, he'd spied her: Pacitti physicalized sneaking up on her as if there was actually a set of trees in the middle of the stage behind which they were both hiding.

Imler ruled her forest through huge, sweeping leaps and fast, centered turns. The role of Hippolyta looks like it was made for her. In the only role in which I've seen him in this production, Stanko Milov was an authoritative Theseus. A mime and partnering role, it's not often played to its fullest, but Milov made the most of the mime by taking up space, as if he had been dancing. For example, when he walked away from Hippolyta after blessing the two couples, he went rather far downstage, and while he didn't quite mimic Oberon's "I have an idea" gesture, his expression brightened, and his return to propose to Hippolyta had a lot of panache.

This was Alexandra Dickson's and Melanie Skinner's last performance in the Divertissement. Sniff. (In their final performance tomorrow, Dickson will dance Hermia and Skinner, Helena.) Kaori Nakamura and Olivier Wevers danced the principal roles. With Nakamura's combination of softness, elegance, and precision, she reminded me of Verdy, and it took her dancing to remind me that the role was choreographed for Verdy. Only Poretta's Puck got an equal ovation, and on my way out, I overheard several groups of people who were clearly moved by their performance.

In the wedding coda, two moments stood out for me: Maria Chapman's beautiful feet in the supported beats, and the way in which Stanko Milov's stature anchored the three couples.

A third great night in a row at the ballet. Sadly only one more to go, and with Dickson, Skinner, and Gibson retiring after tomorrow's performance, it's sure to be a teary afternoon at McCaw Hall.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 13 June 2004 - 06:00 AM

These are such a treat to read - thank you again, HF! I have great affection for this staging of Midsummer. It's the production that made me fall in love with the ballet. I saw it in DC when it was new, and the company danced it as though it was new. It's great to read that the production still holds up and is danced so well.

And I'd add my thanks to others, on previous threads, for your long, detailed reviews. You're letting those of us who can't see the company know about some very interesting dancers. Keep 'em coming!

#5 Helene

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Posted 13 June 2004 - 04:41 PM

This afternoon's performance marked the end of Francia Russell's and Kent Stowell's penultimate PNB season and farewell performances by Alexandra Dickson :(, Melanie Skinner :(, and Paul Gibson :(. (If there was a crying icon, I'd use it instead.) All but five dancers -- all principals -- were onstage as Dickson and Skinner and Gibson took their final bows and received flowers from real-life partners and Francia Russell. (Timothy Lynch brought out his and Dickson's little son as well.) There were many flowers thrown onstage, and at the very end, one single flower practically dropped into Alexandra Dickson's hand -- what a catch! I think that Hermia is one of Dickson's best roles, and Skinner did the role of Helena proud. The Artistic Directors' essay in the program for A Midsummer Night's Dream was dedicated to the three dancers, lauding their careers and speaking of what they will do next: Dickson will receive Pilates certification in the fall and join the Conditioning staff at the company, Skinner will pursue a BA at Seattle University, at which she had participated in a joint program with the school, and Gibson becomes Assistant Ballet Master for PNB, for which he will choreograph. including a premiere during next year's New American Choreographer's program. Watching him partner Louise Nadeau in the Act II pas de deux, it felt unreal that he would never dance again. :(

Stanton danced Demetrius, and Maraval switched roles to Lysander, to which he gave a different twist: aside from the part in the overture where he wrests Hermia from Demetrius' grasp, he was a gentle, rather than hot-blooded Lysander, but once he became enamoured of Helena, he turned into a total goofball, so singlemindedly declaring his love for her with a big, goofy smile, that he was oblivious to the fact that she was rejecting him. (He was a heartbreakingly courtly partner to Dickson in the wedding procession and coda.) And at the end of the act, when the lovers are paired off, Maraval and Stanton had two little mime sequences around the handshake: first, they had a little "conversation" that seemed to suggest, "Things got out of hand" and then the smallest gesture of "I don't know what I was thinking." Most of the time, Lysanders and Demetrius' don't acknowledge that anything has happened, as if the flower erased the men's memory.

I love to see details like that fill out the characterization. Josh Spell did a great one as Bottom: after Titania gives him the grass, instead of chomping on it immediately, he turned his donkey head towards her and paused first, a very sweet gesture.

Le Yin, Jonathan Poretta, Noelani Pantastico, and Carrie Imler were superb again as Oberon, Puck, Butterfly, and Hippolyta. Batkhurel Bold danced Theseus; besides the mime skills from Russian training, he also has the essence of "ta-da" factor: in the wedding coda, he had so much charisma, that even though he does almost no dancing and just a couple of minutes of partnering, from his aura, I was almost convinced that he had danced a virtuoso solo just minutes before.

There were a ton of little girls in the audience, and Poretta's Puck had them howling, but sometimes it was hard to hear their laughs over the grown-ups'. So an off-topic tirade: where were the little boys? Jock Soto said he wanted to dance when, as a child, he saw Edward Villella dance on Bell Telephone Hour. I can't think of anything that would make a boy want to dance more than seeing Puck, Oberon, and Bottom and his friends! :wub: Oh, I think I answered my own question.

Kylee Kitchens made a very impressive debut as Titania. She's a rather interior dancer -- Drama Queen is not on her menu -- but she has long, tapered legs and leg line to die for. I had read somewhere that Titania was another role Balanchine originally conceived for Diana Adams, and from the film clips I've seen of Adams, Kitchens' line reminds me of hers, especially in Agon, where Adam's positions were precise and never exaggerated. And while I can't always explain exactly why two dancers mesh, she looked great with both Casey Herd's Cavaliere and especially Le Yin's Oberon. (Maybe there is a Mozartiana in their future. :innocent: ) Talk about a trial by fire though. This performance was at once the farewell of three great dancers and a declaration of the new, homegrown (or at least home-finished) talent from the school: Kitchens, Imler, Pantastico, all of the women and all but one of the men among the six Divertissement couples, and students from the Professional Division who blended seamlessly into the corps.

A note for anyone who might attend a performance at McCaw Hall: the architects made a very interesting design choice: instead of extending the sections of the Main Floor (orchestra) all the way out to the sides, they separated a small section (3-6 seats) on both far sides by an aisle, and while the first couple of rows are ground level with the Main Floor, the remaining rows in this section ramp up to where they meet the Dress Circle, the first level off the floor. While the seats are on the far sides, they have the advantage of elevation. The ramped seats are called Gallery Lower and Gallery Upper (I'm not sure at what row the break is.) The last three rows of Gallery Upper are actually the side extensions of the first few rows of the Dress Circle, and they are labeled "Gallery Upper" but are rows A, B, and C. (And maybe D.)

I sat in row V, and was in seat 5, which was one from the far side. I lost a little bit of upstage right. I felt very close to the stage, and could see faces very clearly. The ticket cost $35, while the tickets I had in the First Tier -- the section behind the Dress Circle, on the first level -- and in the Second Tier cost $62. I think the Gallery Upper seats are a bargain, and next year, I'm planning to change my subscription seat from the back of the Main Floor to the Gallery Upper. This might not be the first choice for a single performance, but if anyone's making a weekend of it and wants to see multiple performances without breaking the budget, Gallery Upper is a great alternative.

#6 Guest_Idaho_*

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Posted 13 June 2004 - 04:56 PM

PNB - nice job this weekend

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Posted 13 June 2004 - 05:10 PM

It seems like you need a surname that begins with the letter 'P' as in Noelani Pantastico (as Lead Buttefly), Jordan Pacitti (as Puck) and Jonathan Porretta (as Oberon) to set the stage for elegance, humor and regality.

For Pacitti it was his timing and technique that put the audience firmly in their seats, while it was his uncanny knack in humoring the audience that made them want to come out of them. One of the better Pucks I have seen in years.

Carrie Imler (although not a 'P' name) was delightful in her spirited jumps, maybe that's why she was a such a little Sprite.

Overall, the company did a great job. This talent would really work in Idaho!

#8 carbro

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Posted 13 June 2004 - 07:24 PM

If there was a crying icon, I'd use it instead.

This ---> :innocent: is about halfway down the "show all" menu. And it seems you have valid reason to use it.

I'm willing to bet that after a few seasons upstairs, you'll appreciate the full view of the stage more tham you'll miss the faces. If you do miss the faces, well, it's worth investing in a good pair of opera glasses.

#9 Mel Johnson

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Posted 13 June 2004 - 07:36 PM

Fine, Midsummer might well work in Idaho, but is there a theater there that can handle the technical requirements? As hanging goes, between lights and drops, it's a fairly heavy show!

#10 sandik

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Posted 14 June 2004 - 10:11 AM

I'm glad to see the comments on the rest of the weekend -- I'd hoped to see the final matinee, but family commitments won out.

I agree with Helene about the side seats -- last summer when the architectural firm was touring people through the renovation, they called them the armchair (like the arms on a nice lounge chair). Since the remodel brought the sides of the theater in slightly, they do have excellent sightlines for the price -- much better than the old side location.

At the Friday night post-show session, Russell mentioned that they tried hard to rotate people through multiple roles, although the scheduling was very difficult.

And someone in the audience said that Hippolyta's dogs (which are designed to look like Weimeraners) reminded him of the William Wegman photos!




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