Friday, February 12, 2010

Culture Cat: BalletMet's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Tonight I saw BalletMet's Valentine-themed program at the Riffe's Center's Capitol Theater. The double bill featured former Artistic Director David Nixon's one act adaptation of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", as well as a premiere by choreographer Ma Cong, entitled "Temporal." As usual, the program was technically brilliant and artistically superb, which is what I have come to expect from BalletMet. 

"Temporal" featured 10 dancers--five pairs of men and women. Choreographer Cong, named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch", notes that the piece was inspired by Mediterranean life and culture, and is a "study of love and spirituality and speaks sensually about he human condition." Set to vocals and electric jazz, the piece showcases the both the athletic and sensitive sides of dance.

Adrienne Benz (also one of Dance's "25 to watch") and David Tlaiye were the number's featured couple--their elegant pas de deux formed the center of the piece, which was made up of five segments. Since Benz's beautiful performance as Juliet two seasons ago, I have greatly enjoyed watching her dance. She brings a rare combination of strength, athleticism and sensitivity to her dancing, which was showcased to great effect here. Benz seems to have a spotlight on her whenever she's onstage. Tlaiye partnered her perfectly, showing her off to her best advantage. As a partner and a soloist, he shines. (In fact, all of BalletMet's male dancers are uncommonly good. We're spoiled.) The two of them seemed very comfortable dancing together, which made their duets a pleasure to watch. 

Other notable dancers in "Temporal" were Jackson Sarver and Adam Hundt, who partnered Annie Mallonee and Courtney Muscroft, respectively.

Bottom and Titania in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" 

The second act was Nixon's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", a streamlined version of Shakespeare's play that focuses on Oberon and Titania and the two pairs of crossed human lovers, Demetrius and Helena and Lysander and Hermia. Hermia's father is forcing her to marry Demetrius, but she's in love with Lysander. Helena is in love with Demetrius, who only has eyes for Hermia. When Oberon sends his sprite servant Puck into the woods with the nectar of love, hilarity ensues.  Puck also puts the spell on Titania, Oberon's wife and Queen of the Fairies, so she falls in love with the first person she sees upon awakening--in this case, the actor Bottom, who has been transformed into a donkey. 

Emily Gotschall was a radiant Titania; petulant and teasing in the beginning, when she refuses to share her changeling child with her husband, she falls head over heels in love with Bottom midway through the piece. After Oberon poitns out her mistake, she apologizes, presents the changeling to her husband, and all is well again. I had not seen Gotschall in a major role before, and she danced Titania wonderfully, with grace and spirit.  Her husband was danced by Bryan Jenkins, whose commanding presence and scheming ways are a delight to watch. He doesn't have much to do after the beginning--he mostly watches the antics of the lovers from a suspended swing--but his final pas with Gotschall were technically sound and artistically sensitive. Both of them are fine actors, as well as excellent dancers. 

Dustin James, as Puck, provided a lot of laughs with his athletic and comedic dancing. You could tell he loved getting to play this part. With elf-like ears and glitter in his hair, he was truly spritely as he pranced about the stage wreaking havoc. 

Most of the havoc is felt by poor Helena, danced by Emily Ramirez. A brilliant actress and comedienne, she plays the love lorn Helena to perfection. At first, all she wants is Demetrius to pay attention to her (David Tlaiye, in his second major role of the night), but he continually (and hysterically) rebuffs her. She goes from having no suitors, to having two, when Puck accidentally puts the nectar on Lysander's (Adam Hundt's) and Demetrius' eyes--now she has two suitors, who literally toss and pull her back and forth as if she's a rope in a tug of war. 

Her more refined counterpart, Hermia (Annie Mallonee), wants nothing but Lysander's love, and early on, she seems to have it. In fact, she has to rebuff his too amorous advances during their pas de deux. But after a brief sleep, she awakens to find that both men are in love with her best friend, making her furious. An amusing, hair-puling fight between the two women ensues as the men look for weapons with which to duel. 

In the midst of all this, Titania and her fairies (Peaseblossom [Jessica Brown], Mustarseed [Carrie West], Cobweb  [Emma Misner] and Moth [Olivia Clark]) are doting on Bottom (Andrew Notarile). When Titania announces her new love to her fairies, their expressions range from pure shock (Brown's hysterical Peaseblossom) to shrugs of acceptance (West's Mustarseed). Soon they are bedecking him with flowers, and placing him in Titania's bower. 

Oberon finally straightens out the mismatched lovers, and all is well. With Titania and Oberon reunited, the Royal Couple heads to Titania's bower, as Puck brings down the curtain.

The dancing is not just technically involved (as is usual with Nixon's ballets), but requires superb acting ability from every dancer. This challenge is well met with this cast. The facial expressions and choreography convey the comedy splendidly. 

"Midsummer" also featured the company's trainees as Titania's Fairies. Monica Giragosian, Kerri Riccardi and Emily Loscocco were in tonight's cast (they were joined by Company member Courtney Muscroft), and all performed admirably. You couldn't tell the seasoned members from the trainees in this case. The Academy was also represented, with student Connie Yuan playing Titania's Changeling Child. Bottom's theatrical comrades were well danced by Austin Finley and Emilio Lugo (also a trainee). It's great to see so much comedic talent in the company. Technically sound dancers are great to have, and provide the strong foundation. But artistry, timing, interpretation and comedy are skills that cannot be taught. These intangibles BalletMet has in abundance. Passion, laughter and love make this a Valentine's Day program to remember. 

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" runs through Sunday at the Capitol Theater in the Riffe Center. The next two programs for BalletMet are "Carmina Burana", opening March 5, and "American Legends", which opens in late April. Go to for ticket information. 

All photos: Will Shively 

And a random neat note: This program didn't require all the Company dancers to be involved. But I still saw dancer Andres Estevez and his wife, dancer Zoica Tovar, in attendance. Unfortunately I forgot to ask them to sign my program!

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