Midsummer's Night Dream
Watching a Balanchine "story ballet" is always a surprise, in the sense that he is so associated with "abstract ballets" that it's strange to find out that when he wanted, he could choreograph beautifully articulated, expressive mime sequences, or that his sense of storytelling was so right, so coherent, with care given to each character in the story. Midsummer's Night Dream is really a masterpiece on every level. It captures the essence of Shakespeare's play, but it's not derivative. It's recognizably a Balanchine ballet, with his trademark quicksilver choreography and aesthetic.
There are so many characters in this ballet that it really takes a strong, healthy company to put a performance together. Thankfully, the NYCB right now has perhaps the strongest female roster of any ballet company anywhere. The men are not chopped liver either. As a result, tonight's performance didn't have a single weak link.
Maria Kowroski was absolutely delightful as Titania. In the opening scene, Titania and Oberon argue over a little boy, and Kowroski imperiously snapping the boy back to her entourage underlined the character's willful streak. That Titania is used to getting whatever she wants, whenever she wants, was emphasized by the way Kowroski smugly sat back in her shell-chair as her attendants buzzed around her. Kowroski was delightful in the famous pas de deux with Bottom (Taylor Stanley). It was both funny and endearing to see this spoiled fairy queen mooning over a donkey, but Balanchine doesn't just play the scene for laughs. In the pas de deux Titania finally becomes more of a woman, less of a queen, and her body curves in that classic arc that Balanchine loved to use in the romantic pas de deux (see the top picture). Kowroski's gorgeous legs and feet, and naturally curved back enhanced this beautiful position. Lovely to see a veteran ballerina dancing better than ever. Jonathan Stafford was a handsome and capable cavalier but I have to admit that their pas de deux is to me maybe the least interesting choreography in Balanchine's otherwise sublime ballet.
Andrew Veyette was the Oberon. This role was of course made on Edward Villella, and there is a film from the late 1960's that shows him dancing the famous scherzo. The choreography for Oberon was tailor-made for Villella, who was maybe his generation's Natalia Osipova. If you see the film, you'll see his astounding elevation and ballon, and how he's one of those dancers (like Osipova) whose feet never seem to touch the ground. Big jumps, little jumps, backwards jumps, forward jumps, Villella breezed through all of it like a true fairy sprite. Veyette doesn't have Villella's ability to defy gravity. He got through the steps, but sometimes he landed on the floor in a loud thud, other times you could see the effort it took to get back in the air so soon after landing. But still, it was a good stab at a role really designed for someone who, as I said, could defy the laws of physics.
Puck was played with aplomb by Sean Suozzi, who I could see one day graduating into Oberon. He does have that kind of explosive jump and energizer bunny persona that I could see breezing through the scherzo. As it was, Suozzi was a great scene stealer and audience favorite. The four Athenian lovers were all excellent. It was great to see Chase Finlay back as Lysander, and Ask La Cour (Demetrius), Abi Stafford (Hermia), Faye Arthurs (Helena) all played the silly lovers with a great sense of humor and comic timing.
Alina Dronova was my big "who's that girl" discovery. She was absolutely amazing as the Butterfly. I see that she's only in the corps de ballet. After tonight, I hope we see a lot more of her! Savannah Lowery was Hippolyta. Lowery has a very unusual body for a ballerina. She looks ... well, no other way to put it, she looks rather masculine. Thick muscular torso, thick neck, a squarish face. It's also her style of dancing -- very solid, great turner, but not much in the way of delicacy. Hippolyta the Amazon is a good role for her, but I did think that if she wants to dance the more glamorous roles, she will have to somehow adopt a more feminine style of dancing.
I really chose this performance in particular because the second act divertissement pas de deux had the exciting debut of Tiler Peck! This is one of Balanchine's most sublime duets. And well ... what can I say. Tiler was just glorious. Tiler is one of ballet's classic examples of "good things come in small packages." She's like Ashley Bouder of the NYCB, or, worldwide, Diana Vishneva, Natalia Osipova, or Alina Cojocaru. Petite, dark-haired dynamos who can dance everyone off the stage. I first saw Tiler in the more traditional soubrette roles. But she's developed this beauty, grace, and lyricism in everything she dances, that each performance from her is one to look forward to, and afterwards, to cherish. She has the ability to stop time when she dances -- she often dances as if she was in a dreamy reverie, and the effect is mesmerizing. When she swooned backwards into Tyler Angle's arms at the close of the pas de deux, I think everyone in the audience must have thought that Tyler Angle at that moment was the luckiest woman in the world. And then, when she beamed at the audience, suddenly, we were the luckiest people in the world.
Spring season of ballet in NYC is really the greatest in the world. So many choices, so many great dancers, that life is sometimes really just rushing between the Lincoln Center Plaza. It's heaven, or, really, a midsummer's night dream.
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