Filled as it was with nods to William Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death, Carolina Ballet’s 2015-16 “Season of Drama” is ending appropriately with the delightful and magical ballet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as choreographed by the great George Balanchine. With this season’s offerings ranging from this light-and-lovely comedy to the darkly tragic Macbeth, Robert Weiss’ Carolina Ballet has both paid homage to the Bard and has also showcased its dancers in a way that has carved a solid niche for the troupe in the ballet world.
Both of the evening’s pieces ( A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as George Frideric Handel’s Water Music) celebrated the talent of the ballet — principals and beginning dancers — in a manner both masterful and enchanted. It is the perfect ending to a season that both celebrated and demonstrated genius. Charming!
The evening begins with Weiss’ version of a ballet set to Handel’s Water Music. Written by the composer in 1714, the music celebrates the beauty of water and was commissioned by Baron Kilmanseck. In 1987, Weiss created this dance for the Pennsylvania Ballet. Against a simple blue screen, the dancers perform in costumes decorated in pastel watercolor designs that evoke the theme of the music. Principals Margaret Severin-Hansen and Richard Krusch and soloist Alicia Fabry dazzle the audience with solos and pas de deux that are measured and elegant, knife-sharp and embodied with the pure beauty of the dance.
The choreography is metaphorically stunning, and the fact that the background is stark serves to highlight the dancers in a way that respects Handel’s gorgeous music. Accompanying Fabry, Adam Crawford Chavis (soloist) and Miles Sollars-White (company) work well together in their energetic pas de trois, a dance that allows Alicia Fabry to become the center of the attention.
One of the most interesting moments of this performance is the pas de deux between the two lead female ballerinas, Margaret Severin-Hansen and Alicia Fabry. Their skills are fairly equal, yet their styles and body shapes are completely different. Somehow, each aspect balances the other to create a simply beautiful dance by two powerfully talented principals.
After a short intermission, A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens to a forest wonderland populated by nymphs, faeries, Amazons, fireflies, and ladybugs. The story revolves around events during the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens (danced with grace and elegance by principal Marcelo Martinez) and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (danced with a Wonder Woman strength by soloist Alyssa Pilger). Though their love story provides the backbone for the play/ballet, the comedy of errors that occurs when Puck, a mischievous sprite (portrayed hilariously by principal Pablo Javier Perez), casts a magical flower dust over several romantic couples is what drives the play.
The ballet provides many opportunities for pas de deux and corps-de-ballet dances that enable Robert Weiss to bring dancers together that might not have had a chance at any other time during the season. Ladybugs and fireflies are danced by the children’s corps de ballet, who perform seamlessly together. The talent of the younger dancers is impressive and reminds us that the younger generation might provide us a gifted group for future years. They flit and flutter about stage in perfect unison, performing arabesques and leaps with aplomb.
The comedic moments bring outright laughter from the audience, particularly when Puck transforms Nick Bottom (played with a great sense of comedic timing by soloist Yevegny Shlapko) into a bumbling ass/donkey. As in some other plays, Shakespeare has great fun with the young lovers in this story. Not only does he provide romantic tension between Hippolyta and Theseus, but he also creates the same type of stress between the fairy king, Oberon (danced athletically by soloist Nikolai Smirnov) and his queen, Titania, embodied delicately by principal Lilyan Vigo Ellis. Their argument over Titania’s child causes Oberon to demand that Puck wave the magical flower in front of Titania, causing her to fall in love with Bottom in his donkey persona.
However, there are other couples who also become victims of Puck’s magic flower dust: Helena and Demetrius (danced by company member Ashley Hathaway and soloist Oliver Béres) and Hermia and Lysander (danced by soloists Lindsay Purrington and Adam Schiffer), and confusion abounds. In both couples, one is heartbroken because the other loves another; and Puck’s intrusion into their relationships confuses the issue even more.
Fast-paced and light-hearted, this ballet showcases a wide range of styles and dancers themselves, as previously noted. Though wonderful to watch, the ballet relies upon the acting ability of the dancers almost more than their ability to create other complicated steps, such as adagios or arabesques. The leaps are challenging, and several of the principal dancers add a sparkle to the choreography. And one cannot fail to mention Felix Mendelssohn’s score, especially the well-known Wedding March. The beauty of the magic is equally matched by Balanchine’s glorious choreography.
This ballet is the perfect ending to the season celebrating the most famous playwright of all time, an appropriate precious gemstone to complete the crown that Carolina Ballet artistic director Robert Weiss has created. If this season is any indication, the Triangle should be in for another treat for the senses when the 2016-17 season provides “A Feast for the Senses.” The tantalizing schedule includes principal guest choreographer Lynne Taylor Corbett’s Carmina Burana, as well as The Little Mermaid, and works by Carolina Ballet choreographer-in-residence Zalman Raffael, which include the premier of La Mer, a new ballet, as well as refreshing the iconic George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The lineup is thrilling and fresh; and the season promises to be even better than this one, so it might be a good idea to purchase season tickets before the best seats are all gone.
Bravo to the Carolina Ballet for a season of premieres and standards that provided a very respectful nod to Shakespeare. Encore!
SECOND OPINION: May 7th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article76297787.html; and May 6th Raleigh, NC WNCN interview with baller master Dameon Nagel and dancers Dameon Nagel and Dameon Nagel, conducted by Valonda Calloway for “My Carolina Talk”: http://wncn.com/2016/05/06/carolina-ballet-a-midsummer-nights-dream/.
The Carolina Ballet presents A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at 8 p.m. May 13, 2 and 8 p.m. May 14, and 2 p.m. May 15 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $30.14-$93.14, except $20 per ticket for college students with ID.
Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900 or https://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/836166.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-719-0900 or http://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets/group-sales/.
SHOW: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/a-midsummer-nights-dream, https://www.facebook.com/events/929378343806295/, and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/amidsummernightsdream-5540.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/carolinaballet, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet.
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet artistic director and choreographer): http://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_%28choreographer%29 (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.