Articulations

At the Ballet

"Pleasant surprise" doesn't begin to do justice to the experience of seeing Stephen Mills' staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream for Ballet Austin last week. Enraptured enchantment comes much closer to the mark, for this was a dance of almost supernatural charms which cast its spell on you from the first strains of Felix Mendelssohn's sprightly -- or should that be sprite-ly? -- score, from the first glimpse of the luxuriant scenery and outfits rented from the San Francisco and Pacific Northwest Ballets, from the first whimsical steps danced byChristopher Hannon and Lisa Washburn as the flirtatious faeries Puck and Cupid.This was a dance that understood lightness of spirit -- the same lightness of spirit that suffuses the original play by William Shakespeare and the music Mendelssohn wrote for it -- and expressedit in steps as delicate as moths' wings (so many dancers floating along en pointe), in a pace as brisk as a brook in a spring flood, and in glorious physical comedy that captured the exuberant essence of youth and romance and summer all at once. Mills managed to tap the froth and folly in the Bard's witty words and stage business and not only translate it to the wordless form of dance but conveyed it to every dancer who set foot in this magic wood. The entire cast radiated a buoyancy of heart, and it made watching their antics an endearing pleasure. And the quality of the acting was part of the treat; these weren't dancers struggling to convey character through something other than movement, but players as eloquent in expressing inner desires and disappointments through their faces as in the sweep of their arms. Chris Hannon -- could he be having a more exciting season? -- was a memorable Puck: coy, springy, impetuous, ever in motion, as if an unseen force were bubbling inside him, and possessing a limberness of form that was otherworldly. Edward Moffat kept him in check, as an Oberon of stately strength and authority. As his opposite, Titania, Inga Loujerenko mustered all her ethereal grace to fashion a faerie queen of surpassing lissomeness. But the dancers who captured my fancy most were those playing the young lovers. Their tussles and tumbles were spectacular, exhibitions of comic schtick executed with acrobatic skill and the timing and attitude of veteran comics. I was unprepared for the boyish humor exuded by Willy Shives andShane Hogan as Lysander and Demetrius, and was just floored by the refined clowning of Nadya Zybine and Margot Brown as Hermia and Helena. Zybine proved herself as adept at baggy-pants pratfalls as at elegant pirouettes, and Brown was simply a revelation, giving us a Helena in all her colors -- moonstruck, lovelorn, leery, spiteful, sweet -- conveyed crisply in step, in posture, in flips and falls, and in her own luminous countenance.

This production bodes well for BA's future, showing well what Mills and this company are capable of. And as the program for this show refers to Mills for the first time as the ballet's associate artistic director (superseding his title of resident choreographer) and reveals that the 1999-2000 season rests choreographically on his shoulders, that's salient. But surely the success of this show owes something to the legacy of artistic director Lambros Lambrou, whose contract with BA is not being extended beyond next year. He brought this institution and many of these artists to the point that they were capable of such an exceptional work. As Ballet Austin explores what looks to be an exciting new direction, here's hoping the folks there remember that it's hard to get where you want to go unless you know where you've been.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Visual Art, Performing Art, Theatre, Dance, Robert Faires

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