Friday, July 4, 2014

American Ballet Theatre - The Dream & The Tempest - 07/01/14

The Dream
Choreographer: Frederick Ashton
Composer: Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins
Chorus: The Young People's Chorus of New York City
Artistic Director: Francisco Nunez
Solo Soprano: Elizabeth Nunez
Solo Mezzo-Soprano: Lindsay Bogaty
Titania: Julie Kent
Oberon: Marcelo Gomes
Puck: Daniil Simkin
Helena: Gemma Bond
Hermia: Nicola Curry
Demetrius: Sterling Baca
Lysander: Roman Zhurbin

The Tempest
Choreographer: Alexei Ratmansky
Composer: Jean Sibelius
Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins
Chorus: Cantori New York
Artistic Director: Mark Shapiro
Solo Mezzo-Soprano: Heather Johnson
Prospero: Cory Stearns
Miranda: Yuriko Kajiya
Ariel: Gabe Stone Shayer
Caliban: Blaine Hoven

After a long and frustrating month of live performance deprivation, I was only too happy to join two friends of mine at The Met on Tuesday for a highly anticipated evening with the American Ballet Theatre, William Shakespeare, Felix Mendelssohn, Jean Sibelius, The Young People's Chorus of New York City and Cantori New York, who would all joined their formidable forces for two dance performances that mixed up classical drama and Romantic music while featuring one of the world's premier classical ballet companies. I ain't no ballet afficionada, but this program was pretty much a no brainer, and how could I resist finally getting to hear Mendelssohn's famous "Wedding March" in context?
Both ballets had many obvious connections, including the themes of magic and reconciliation, and there's little doubt that both teams had been working extra hard at dealing with the embarrassment of richness that is The Bard's plays. But each had clearly found its own way around it, and the contrasting productions turned out to be totally enjoyable as high level entertainment as well as unquestionably interesting as parts of a comparative study.

Although Frederick Ashton's "The Dream" is turning 50 this year, the performance we saw on Tuesday wasted no time proving why it has remained such a perennial favorite. Cleverly streamlined and resolutely focused on the world of fairies and the four lovers, the one-act production boasted such crowd-pleasing qualities as a tight structure and seamless flow, a dream-like set and attractive costumes, almost too cute but still highly effective playfulness, tremendously complex yet impeccably executed dance routines, and of course Mendelssohn's unabashedly melodic score. Add to that an eerily gravity-defying Daniil Simkin as the mischievous Puck, who effortlessly stole every scene he was in, and the first half of the evening passed by as pleasantly as a midsummer night's dream indeed.
After the flawless classicism of "The Dream" came the more uneven, but occasionally more boldly creative, production of "The Tempest" by Alexei Ratmansky, ABT's current Artist in Residence. From the get-go the ballet understandably disregarded the original story's intricacies and presented a series of scenes, which ranged from truly inspired to decidedly puzzling, instead. The endless inventiveness of Sibelius' score, on the other hand, made for a constantly evocative accompaniment thanks to a brilliant combination of delicate melodies and disquieting dissonances, an ingenious use of the various instruments, especially the otherworldly harp, and Cantori's discreetly haunting singing. The subtly poetic music sometimes felt at odds with the assertive dancing going on, but there was still plenty to relish when everything came together on the tastefully exotic set (never mind that the brightly colored, spiky hair of Ariel and the Chorus of the Winds could have been toned down a notch). All things considered, it certainly looked like my summer season got off to an unusual but good start.

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