Opening Nights: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St. (Seattle Center), 441-2424, $28–$174. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Fri., 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sat. Ends April 19.

Opening night at Pacific Northwest Ballet last weekend was its 101st performance of George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. PNB first presented the work in 1985, has toured it nationally and internationally, and even made a film of it for the BBC in 1999. It’s become a calling card for the company, and a great way to gauge its artistic health. This production is all about new casting, with 28 people stepping into new roles—10 of them last Saturday afternoon alone. (Keeping the different choreography for multiple roles separate in their heads is a skill that almost everyone in the company must master.)

With three sets of earthly couples falling in and out of love, a quarreling king and queen of the fairies, a roiling band of dimwitted actors, plus butterflies, bugs, and retainers, there are more than enough parts to go around. Balanchine manages to tell Shakespeare’s story in just over an hour, and the action is indeed brisk. But this leaves the second act for a more formal exploration of idealized love, with one of his most beautiful pas de deux at its center.

Benjamin Griffiths continues to refine his technique as Oberon, translating precision into power. James Moore’s debut in the role worked in that same vein—they both assert their authority through detail. As their Titanias, Lesley Rausch and Laura Tisserand are equally wild and queenly. Kiyon Gaines sharpened his visual focus as Puck, especially in his asides to the audience, while adding a goofy Lysander to his repertoire. Lindsi Dec and Jessika Anspach debuted as Helenas opposite two new Demetriuses, William Lin-Yee and Joshua Grant. Balanchine’s kinetic equivalent of that relationship (Helena tells Demetrius to “treat me as you would your dog”) is full of thrashing temper on his part and heedless devotion on hers, stopping short of actual violence.

The Act 2 Divertissement pas de deux knits together several movement themes from various characters in Act 1: the lovers’ twining arms, Titania’s daring plunge into a deep arabesque, and her multiple changes of direction throughout a single extension. Kaori Nakamura has performed this duet several times in the past—she and Seth Orza make long phrases out of these elements that ebb and flow organically, so that the audience is holding its collective breath by the end, as they shift through an exquisitely arched back-bend. It’s a beautiful contrast to Titania’s Act 1 duet with Bottom transformed to an ass—the fairy queen turns in arabesque while holding onto his impressively large snout.

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