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A Midsummer Night's Dream


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I am surprised to see no postings of these performances in Phoenix. I'm a New Yorker who happened to be out there and saw the production and have been watching for reviews or comments. Nothing. Why?

I was taken aback at the change in the company since the last time I saw it (ca. 4 years ago) and the quality of this production. Beautiful sets and costumes, wonderful dancers, and a story charmingly told. Very unlike Balanchine's version - different music in some parts and a totally different emphasis. More import given to the story-telling and all of it very well done. The sections with the Lovers were clear and very amusing. An Act II telling of the Romeo & Juliet story, with Juliet played by a young boy in drag as in Shakespeare's time, was a laugh-out-loud hoot. Go figure. You'd have thought it would be tacky. It wasn't at all. The company has a considerable number of new, really good, dancers from all over - the Bolshoi, Scotland, Poland, you-name-it. Lucky Phoenix.

I had a wonderful time and I hope it was a big success for the company, which deserves to be better known.

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I am surprised to see no postings of these performances in Phoenix. I'm a New Yorker who happened to be out there and saw the production and have been watching for reviews or comments. Nothing. Why?

Welcome to BalletTalk, Rock. :P Thanks to you, we now have a post on the production, and it was a pleasure to read. If you can provide further details (including which dancers you saw and how they impressed you), all the better.

We depend on our members to keep us informed of performances all over the globe. Unfortunately, our Arizona contingent is small, and perhaps some don't attend every program. I'm glad you, even though you're not an Arizonan, did, and we look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Meanwhile, we'd love to hear more about you. Feel free to introduce yourself in our Welcome forum.

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I appreciate the review, Rock, and welcome to Ballet Talk. I was in Ottawa last weekend and couldn't fly to Phoenix for this production :thumbsup: I'm hoping Richard Nilssen was right in his review that this is likely to become a regular part of BA's rep, because I'm looking forward to seeing it very much the next time it is performed.

There was an interview with Ib Andersen, links on the Ballet Arizona website. Andersen said that he originally intended to produce the Balanchine verison, but found it took too many dancers.

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I only saw them once so it's hard to say, but...

Astrit Zejnati was Oberon. Handsome, he danced and acted very well.

Chelsea Wilcox - new to the company, was Titania. Blonde girl. Good dancer.

The Lovers were Ginger Smith, Paola Hartley, Ilir Shtylla, and Russell Clarke. They were all excellent - in their acting as well as their dancing.

Kenna Draxton was Hippolyta. The tallest girl in the company by far. Beautiful creature.

Ross Clarke was her Duke. Brother of Russell - from Scotland, both trained at the RB.

Roman Zavarov - a young Russian - was Puck. A bravura dancer with a perfect body. Huge jump, turns like a top.

Joseph Cavanaugh was "Juliet" in drag, and what was so funny was that he didn't "act" at all - didn't comment on the material either - just played it straight. It was hysterical.

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Someone sent me a review from the Arizona Republic which states that "the rustics present their lampoon version of Pyramus and Thisbe for the king and queen at the wedding. The pantomime takes on at least as much genuine pathos as it does comedy, with special note to Joseph Cavanaugh in drag as Thisbe and Sergei Perkovskii in a lion costume providing the threat".

Oh. Pyramus and Thisbe. Who knew? What's that you might ask? From Wikipedia:

In the Ovidian version, Pyramus and Thisbe is the story of two lovers in the Middle East who occupy connected houses, forbidden by their parents to be wed. Through a crack in one of the walls, they arrange to meet near a mulberry tree and state their feelings for each other. Thisbe arrived first, but upon seeing a lioness with a mouth bloody from a recent kill, she fled, leaving behind her veil. The lioness drank from a nearby fountain-then by chance mutilated the veil Thisbe had left behind. When Pyramus arrived, he was horrified at the sight of Thisbe's veil, assuming that a fierce beast had killed her. Pyramus proceeded to then kill himself, thrusting a sword into his groin. Thisbe returned, eager to tell Pyramus what had happened to her, but she found Pyramus' dead body under the shade of the mulberry tree. Thisbe, after a brief period of mourning, killed herself. The combined blood of the bodies seeped into the ground, staining the previously white fruit of the mulberry tree a deep purple. Thus, the mulberry tree became a symbol of the deaths of these two lovers.

In Balanchine's Midsummer Night's Dream, the rustics are out to present Romeo & Juliet. Ib Andersen went in a different direction apparently. Trust me, it was really funny.

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Rock, so glad you enjoyed this delectable performance, and recognized that this company is underappreciated among national balletomanes. I promise to write in detail about this production sometime in the next couple days -- just been too busy -- I saw all 4 performances. As for the "Arizona Republic" *review* -- we unfortunately have a critic who is knowledgeable about music but knows next to nothing about dance. It is better than nothing at all in the state's largest paper, but never what the dancers deserve.

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Balanchine never explained anything. His rustics are out there for about one minute. Someone carries "a wall", another guy is "the girl" and blows kisses over to wall to a kneeling guy. A "director" is "feeding them lines." Then Puck pushes everyone over, they fall asleep, when they wake up their friend has become Bottom. They freak and run off. Lucky Bottom stays to have a PDD with Titania.

Since there was a wall, and not a balcony, Balanchine most probably knew it was intended to be a performance of Pyramis and Thisbe - but of course he never said that - never explained anything. So the dancers think they're being Romeo & Juliet and that's what the parts are called. Makes no difference does it? Not actually. Them what knows - knows. Them what don't still get the gist of it. There's actors rehearsing a play in the forest and Puck turns one of them into Bottom.

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Oh I am so sorry! Too many thoughts, and not enough time:

Ib Anderson and Ballet Arizona continue to demonstrate versatility, high-level artistry and wit. In this production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, Artistic Director Ib Anderson creates casts with contrasts and pairings in mind. While another AD may have a specific type of body or dancer in mind for a particular role, casting quite similar dancers for alternate casts, Anderson revels in the contrasts. At times, he casts quite different dancers altogether, while at other times, he chooses dancers who share some qualities, but who are sufficiently different that the cast choice, in itself, proves inherently interesting. This, and the depth of talent the company now has, provides ample reason to attend multiple performances.

For instance, both newcomer Chelsea Wilcox and established principal Natalia Magnicaballi were cast as Tatania. Ms. Magnicaballi, who always delivers an emotionally-satisfying, rich performance, completely immersed herself – and her audience -- in the fairy realm. With her elongated limbs and enormous, intelligent dark eyes, Ms. Magnicaballi often seems otherworldly. Here, even the quite hideous curly blonde wig she was forced to wear could not detract from her ethereal, effortless beauty. Her lightness of movement and phrasing, accentuated by deft balances, contributed to her creation of a fantasy world. In contrast, Ms. Wilcox’s Tatania was more an earthly woman, more obviously athletic, more girl-next-door, present in this world. Both were strong, legitimate interpretations.

Another, equally interesting set of cast choices were Roman Zavarov and Daniel Marshalsay, each as Puck or Bottom. Mr. Zavarov is a greyhound – lean and long, with something both noble and elusive about him – while Mr. Marshalsay is a Jack Russell Terrier – compact, muscular, direct, with a bit of swagger. Both demonstrated comedic skill, providing many laugh-out-loud moments.

As a dancer, Zavarov was stunning, with flying grandes jetes in perfect form accentuating his long lines. Although he has extreme flexibility, it is used to enhance, rather than distort. He played Puck as a creature other than a man, crouching at the feet of Astrit Zejnati’s Oberon and, catlike, swiping at Oberon’s gold cape as it swirled by. Feline, but more mountain lion than house cat, he leaped up from the rock outcropping upstage, giving himself a fall of 7 or 8 feet, landing crouched and silently, as if weightless. While onstage almost the entire production, Zavarov was always interesting, his face continually changing, reflecting the character’s thoughts as plainly as if he had spoken aloud. At the end of the “play,” he swept away the dream, then leaned on his broom, showing us, this time, a man, well-satisfied. The audience was wild about him, exclaiming while he danced, talking about him during intermission, then shouting and leaping to their feet for him at the conclusion. I hope that Mr. Anderson will agree that Mr. Zavarov hints at great depth, and will not pigeonhole him as a novelty dance, soley.

The athletic Marshalsay was also a pleasure to watch, as well as a crowd-pleaser. His Puck, like Ms. Wilcox’s Tatania, was more mortal than fairy or other creature. In contrast, as Bottom, once the donkey head went on he was transformed into an animal, moving in a jerky manner, bent arms and legs in great imitation of a newly-formed ass. In both interpretations, Bottom was more comic than tragic, preferring the carrots she dangled to Tatania’s proffered charms.

As already noted, the play-within-the-play was hilarious. In less skilled hands, it would have bombed, as the skit was not inherently interesting. The cooing, then tragic, “lovers” (Marshalsay/Zavarov) and Joseph Cavanaugh, had the audience rolling with laughter. We were primed at the sight of Mr. Cavanaugh, who is solidly and roundly muscled, ridiculous in his women’s wig and toga “dress,” beginning his part of the skit with simpering bourees and swan lake arms.

Ginger Smith and Russell Clarke were a pretty, well-matched couple as Hermia and Lysander. Ib Anderson often puts together couples who look somewhat alike. In this case, Ms. Smith and Mr. Clarke have similar coloring (both have lovely medium-brown hair), long limbs, and a certain attractive roundness.

Mr. Clarke was all Young Passion, and Ms. Smith, Young Beauty. In one of their early pas de deux, he cradled her in his arms, while she was in arabesque. The Man behind me sighed and said “How gorgeous…,” and I couldn’t agree more. Mr. Clarke seems an unusually considerate partner for someone so young (19 or so). At the conclusion of this pas, they each lie down to sleep, on opposite sides of the stage. Ms. Smith’s smile to him, just before she put her head down, was so genuine, in addition, it made me think there could be a great future in this pairing.

This is now a good-sized company of 36 dancers, with nearly all of them used in large-group active dance scenes. In these, Mr. Anderson used the classical conventions I associate with Russian ballets – formal rows and columns, filling the stage, couples in synch or alternately performing the same steps. The choreography had less of the kaleidoscopic patterning I associate with Anderson.

The choreography of the men’s parts was tinged with a bit of Russian bravura, demanding repeated, punishing and giant leaps. There was a time when some of the men in this company were mediocre – certainly not at the level of the women. With this performance, any whispers to that effect must be completely silenced, as the choreography required *every* man dance at A-list level.

While all the men had lovely technique, Mr. Zavarov is a stand-out for the combination of lightness, height and form. A new addition to the company, Slawomir Wozniak, similarly demonstrated a lovely and unusual ballon, seemingly effortlessly, suspended while his peers were subject to the usual laws of gravity. It will be interesting watching the young Mr. Wozniak, who is just out of SAB, having previously received his training at the Polish State Ballet School, and, one assumes, his dancer parents.

Nathan Vanderstoep, with his blonde hair, open smile and natural stage presence always catches my eye. I would enjoy seeing him create a bit more character, beyond his natural presence.

The audience loved the use of children in this production. They were prominently featured, both opening and closing the performances. The curtain opened to fairy circles formed by their prone and overlapping forms, seemingly sleeping, one circle downstage left, the other upstage right, bathed in blue light. One lone fairy woke and stretched, woke a friend with her breath, and soon they were all up, with lovely pas de chat, sissones, and other well-executed basics. They closed the show, running in two opposing circles around the lone Puck as little hand-held lights glowed in their hands. All students were from the School of Ballet Arizona, auguring well for its future.

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Thank you so much, Arizona Native, for your long-awaited comments. They're a delight to read - filled with knowledge and insight into the company. Why are there no reports of Ballet Arizona's Nutcracker? One awaits word...

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