Texas Ballet Theater Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
May 6, 2022 | Winspear Opera House – Dallas, TX, USA
May 6 marked the opening evening of Texas Ballet Theater’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream based on the quintessential Shakespearean story of romantic mix-ups and magical creatures.
Friday evening’s audience enjoyed the world premiere of TBT Artistic Director Ben Stevenson’s first new, full-length ballet in 22 years. Originally intended to close the 2019-2020 season, Stevenson’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream marks the 2021-2022 season’s final production.
As the first notes of Felix Mendelssohn’s melodious score consumed the space, the curtains lifted to reveal an enchanted forest enveloped in a light haze. Seated at center stage is the mischievous sprite Puck, danced by company member Andre Silva who patrons may recognize from Stevenson’s "Star-Crossed" earlier in the season.
I cannot help but compare this production with Balanchine’s version that, until this evening, had been my only exposure to a balletic adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As Puck stands, he beckons Queen Titania’s retinue of fairies to join him.
The set, designed by David Walker, is far more elaborate than expected, although I was disappointed by the lack of wings worn by the fairies because there was missing what I at first believed to be a critical distinction between them and the humans. The absence of wings is compensated, however, by incessant fluttering of the arms, similar to what one would see in Swan Lake, yet less undulating.
Stevenson’s choreography was anything but academic. Whimsically, the fairies flitted around Puck, who, upon being the initial character to which the audience is introduced, is already evidently principal to the plot.
As the fairies danced, Queen Titania appeared upstage deep in the wood accompanied by her changeling, performed by TBT School student Ian Johnson.
Company dancer Carolyn Judson captivated the audience as Titania. After 19 seasons, A Midsummer Night’s Dream marks her final performance with TBT. She brings a girlish charm to the role, although her regality is unquestioned by the precision with which she moves.
Not long after the audience is introduced to Titania, King Oberon, portrayed by company dancer Carl Coomer, steps onto the stage with an impressive prowess.
I wish I could say the same for his steps which seemed calculated and contrasted what one might anticipate for a king. His leaps lacked height, although this worked in his favor as it only made him appear more grounded and powerful than his livelier and more comical counterpart Puck. Together, the two dance an odd pas de deux as Oberon plots his revenge against Titania.
Next to step into the story are the four lovers – Hermia, Helena, Lysander, and Demitrius. Hermia, danced by Alexandra Farber, and Lysander, performed by Brett Young, are madly in love, and as much is evident by the sophisticated quality of their duet. The elegance with which they danced greatly contrasted the amusing awkwardness of the interaction between Helena, danced by Samantha Pille, and Demetrius, portrayed by Kyle Torres-Hiyoshi.
Departing from Balanchine, Stevenson was bold in his decision to have Helena so severely contrast Hermia. Choreographically, Helena stomped around on the stage, while Hermia appeared to effortlessly float. Regarding the costuming, Hermia’s hair flowed freely while Helena’s was tightly bound to her head, and the latter also wore glasses. At first this seemed like an insignificant choice until they were removed in the end when Demetrius finally falls in love with her; as if to imply that one is more beautiful without.
Stevenson continued to toy with audience expectations by the omission of Balanchine’s Botticelli-esque shell during Titania and her retinue’s dance. Instead, Titania is escorted into the base of a large tree which seems somewhat undignified for a queen.
Titania’s fairies were remarkably synchronous, and Judson herself was nothing short of perfect. The expressive lyricism of Judson’s movements is mesmerizing, and this is only aided by her unfettered smile.
In this same section, I also appreciated how the changeling was actively involved, being successively rocked by the fairies rather than made to stand there as an accessory as the character often is.
Aside from the four lovers, the villagers are the only other humans in the story and add a lighthearted interlude between the complicated plots… until one is drawn into the ridiculous tale by being transformed into the donkey-headed Bottom.
As Bottom is undergoing this transformation, Riley Moyano expertly portrays the change with an initial clumsiness, as would a foal gaining its footing, and an eventual confidence and clarity in movement.
As Titania, who has been anointed by Oberon’s love potion, awakes, she falls in love with Bottom and attempts to make him feel the same for her. Although there may have been a few too many attitude promenades and a marked amount of mirroring, the pas de deux between Bottom and Titania is humorous yet endearing, and I especially enjoyed the moment when she cradles herself on his side.
As Titania’s retinue emerges from the wings, I was entertained by their apparent shock yet unceasing support for their queen.
Act II opens on what at first appears to be an empty stage but is instead enveloped once more in a light haze shrouding the sleeping fairies and Puck.
By this point in the narrative, our fairy queen has fallen for a donkey-headed drunkard, and the conflict caused between the four lovers is being rectified.
Puck and the fairies return for another dance, and it is here when Silva shows his strength as an impish sprite and a solid turner. Puck’s role requires much athleticism and speed, and Silva rose to the challenge.
Once Titania awoke, she was released from the spell and danced a glossy pas de deux with Oberon. There was some dynamism with the variation of levels between the two dancers, although the choreography was repetitive. Oberon excessively cradled Titania, which only worked to undermine her maturity.
And I mean no offense to Coomer (who I thought performed the part of Oberon very well) when I say this, but I hardly noticed him during the divertissement. This dynamic between the pair is more indicative of the rigidity of gender roles in this ballet than their expressiveness. In fact, it is a testament to his partnering skills how beautiful Judson appeared.
Overall, Stevenson sculpted a captivating dance that emphasized certain strengths of both performers.
In the end, Puck puts everything right, and all of the characters gather on the stage for a wedding celebration. Before the curtain drops, however, Puck ventures downstage and shakes the magical flower that has caused much chaos over the audience, as if implying that we are to soon wake from what has all been a most magnificent dream.
On Sunday, May 8, TBT will conclude its run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Dallas before moving to Fort Worth for another weekend at Bass Performance Hall beginning Friday, May 20.
Featured Photo for this Texas Ballet Theater review of Andre Silva as Puck in Ben Stevenson’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.
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