Ballet Austin's presentation of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC enjoyed sell-out crowds, enthusiastic responses, and a glowing review in the Washington Post.

BA Delights D.C.

Ballet Austin has a new fan: the city of Washington, D.C. That's certainly how it looks after the company's recent visit to the nation's capital to play the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. BA's presentation of A Midsummer Night's Dream in the complex's 513-seat Terrace Theater January 3-6 enjoyed sellout crowds, enthusiastic responses, and a glowing review in the Washington Post. Ballet Austin Artistic Director Stephen Mills, speaking from the Center's Terrace Theater while the final performance of Midsummer was still going on, sounded a bit dazed by it all. "It's been a whirlwind," he said, noting the two matinees on Thursday for charter and private school students, a school matinee and public performance in the evening on Friday, two public performances on Saturday, plus a special tour of the Capitol from Congressman Lloyd Doggett, and the closing matinee on Sunday, with just about every moment in-between scheduled with some thing or other. But Mills also characterized it as a great experience, from the support of the Kennedy Center staff ("they were tremendous") to the size of the crowds ("the staff was amazed because traditionally, the first week of January does not sell at all") to the warmth of the audiences ("whenever the dancers went to meet-the-audience events, they were mobbed by the kids"). A parting kiss to the company came on Monday with the publication of a review of their appearance in the Post. Under the headline "Fun With Shakespeare," critic Sarah Kaufman offered some notable praise for Mills' adaptation of Shakespeare's play and the company as a whole: "The slapstick missed embraces, conked heads, and spread-eagle belly-flops may be what most of the children in the Terrace Theater audience remember of the hour-long ballet. But the production was also fortified by exceptionally clear storytelling and spirited dancing, qualities that can be missing from many a more serious evening at the ballet ... Any initiative of this sort, especially one that is more imaginative than simply dusting off another Nutcracker, is a laudable one. But this production offered a surprise -- it told a funny, fanciful, kid-friendly tale, but also spotlighted a promising regional company, one that Washington audiences might otherwise never see ... Mills's original Midsummer is a full-length work, boiled down to an action-packed hour for these performances. As such, it hung together just about perfectly -- it's hard to imagine anything extra. Especially notable was the sense of lively but wholly natural animation among the dancers -- an element that is often either overlooked or forced in much larger companies." Kaufman had a few special comments for a few of those dancers. Of Christopher Hannon, she wrote "[His] Puck, equal parts acrobat and dancer, nearly ran away with the show, rolling like a tumbleweed at Oberon's every dismissive wave." And of Margot Brown, who danced the role of Helena, she wrote: "Hyper-excitable and capable of a hundred different expressions of horror, Brown was nevertheless believable and even poignant." In the end, though, she returned to the choreographer and his deft working of the play's comic moments. "In these scenes, Mills was at his comic best," Kaufman noted, "engineering one sequence of horseplay after another, but always with a sense of the emotions and the story in mind. In other words, these weren't gratuitous laughs, but logical manifestations of the plot and its repercussions." Well-deserved recognition for this fine production, this talented company, and its exceptional artistic leader.

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Ballet Austin, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Stephen Mills, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lloyd Doggett, Sarah Kaufman, Christopher Hannon, Margot Brown, Washington Post

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