Pacific Northwest Ballet’s current production of George Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is nothing short of enchanting.
Martin Paklenidaz’s lush magical forest and costumes and Randall G. Chiarelli’s ensorcelled nighttime lighting, joined by Felix Mendelssohn’s spritely score and Balanchine’s gorgeous choreography, adroitly conjure the bewitchingly fantastical and funny world of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Unless you know Shakespeare’s play, the plot in Balanchine’s abridged rendition may lose you at times. That said, the production is brimming with the comic gusto of the original play, plus some beautiful dancing.
Balanchine packs an abbreviated version of Shakespeare’s complex tale into Act I. King Oberon and Queen Titania of the Fairies are in the midst of a colossal falling-out. So Oberon commands his mischievous right-hand fairy, Puck, to bewitch the queen with a magical flower to fall in love with the first being she sees when she awakens — which just happens to be a peasant Puck has transformed into a donkey.
Of course, why not use the flower to rearrange the affections of four ill-matched Athenian lovers so they each fall for the right person — after all, what could possibly go wrong? And then there are the pending royal nuptials of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, not to mention an inept group of rustics rehearsing a play to present as a wedding gift.
Act II kicks off with a triple wedding at the duke’s palace set to Mendelssohn’s famous “Wedding March” and includes a variety of dance entertainments to celebrate the royal nuptials. One of those dances is a wistfully romantic pas de deux by a couple alone onstage in the light of the moon.
On opening night last Friday, April 11, Kaori Nakamura and Seth Orza danced the pas de deux to a thunderous ovation. Watching Orza’s muscular fluidity and Nakamura’s featherlight grace flow seamlessly together, each supporting the other, it was never more apparent why Orza and Nakamura have so frequently been paired. Their performance of Balanchine’s exacting choreography was spellbinding.
This ballet places greater acting demands than most on a number of roles, and the dancers rose admirably to the occasion. Kiyon Gaines was a delight as his kinetic Puck — with a touch of demon to him — snaked, leapt and darted across the stage in pursuit of mischief.
While Bottom makes a relatively brief appearance — and most of it under a donkey head — Ezra Thomson used his body language to communicate his emotional responses to Titania’s advances, from fearful hesitation to pompous enjoyment.
Benjamin Griffiths even elicited some laughs with his dignified, but sometimes pontifical, Oberon, and Lesley Rausch as Titania was every bit his equal, particularly when smitten with Bottom.
Lindsi Dec, Sarah Ricard Orza, Jerome Tisserand and William Lin-Yee provided more high-caliber performances as the four young lovers, struggling to hold onto love in the face of magical obstacles.
Some of the corps de ballet made the most of their opportunity to shine: Brittany Reid as a soaring, athletic Hippolyta, and Joshua Grant as a cavalier whose powerful leaps were belied by his whisper-quiet landings.
More standouts among the ballet’s many charms were the company’s students in roles such as Hippolyta’s dog-like and otherworldly hounds and the twinkling fireflies punctuating the darkness that slowly envelops the stage in the ballet’s finale — one last gratifying moment of pure theatrical enchantment.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performs at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St.), through Saturday, April 19. For tickets and information, visit www.pnb.org or call (206) 441-2424.
MAGGIE LARRICK is a former editor of the Queen Anne & Magnolia News. To comment on this review, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.