A Midsummer Night's Dream

Local Arts Reviews

A Midsummer Night's Dream: Giddy and Profound

Bass Concert Hall, May 9

Billed as a family-friendly ballet -- a catchall that might as well have included not only the kiddies but anyone who has approached the "high" art form with trepidation -- the charming A Midsummer Night's Dream by Ballet Austin delivered two ballets, really: a highly accessible story-driven first act, followed by a more traditionally balletic second. Credit choreographer and BA Artistic Director Stephen Mills with offering an easy way into his clever and fanciful yet intricate work.

For those unaware of the plot, 'twas ever thus: Oberon and Titania, fairy king and queen, are at odds. Titania is doting over a young changeling child; Oberon is trying to dote on Titania: The child is in the way. While the lustful fairy king works gentle vengeance on his queen to regain her attentions, two pairs of young Athenian lovers stray into the fairies' wooded domain, bringing a complication of affections as the four chase after, or run away from, each other. Oberon seeks to redress the imperfection of three loves and four lovers through his sprightly sidekick, Puck, who screws things up right royally -- and who then, of course, makes amends, restoring harmony and couple-dom to all. After the forest reconciliations, it's back to the city of Athens in time for the wedding party of Theseus and his fair Hippolyta, to which all are invited.

Act I, then, was the rambunctious, earnest, sweet story of forest mix-ups and restorations. Jim Stein offered a commanding Oberon, but it was Anthony Casati as Puck who was the ballet's real lead. Hot for the female fairy Cupid (playfully danced by Lisa Washburn) was Puck, and when not bashfully or brazenly wooing the lass, there he flapped at Oberon's beck and call, a combination of goofy servitude and dynamic agility. Titania was the elegant Inga Lujerenko, and the agent of Oberon's vengeance on his queen was the donkey-headed mechanical, Bottom, danced by Todd Rhoades, a happy marriage of the ludicrous and endearing. The four lovers were cookie-cutter duplicates: the girls, Helena and Hermia, pretty and perky as danced by Margot Brown and Gina Patterson; the boys, Lysander and Demetrius, sharp, clownish, and oh-so-desperate, danced by Frank Shott and Allen Abrams. Mills had a lot of fun with the lovers' chase scenes, an ebullient silliness for sure, but one that never strayed from the romance of Mendelssohn's score. There was a lot of indicating, perhaps too much -- hiccups of over-simplicity in the otherwise skilled smoothness of Mills' storytelling -- but given time and opportunity to laugh, the audience took it happily.

Act II was the wedding ceremony, a series of dances involving the stately Ashley Lynn and Eric Midgley as Hippolyta and Theseus, with a wedding party comprised of the quartet of young lovers and a host of male and female attendants. Here was the more traditional fare, neatly executed by all. Mills had his company well-drilled technically, and his choreography was refreshingly engaging in its visuals, finding depth and layers in duets as well as the wholly populated numbers. While the onstage antics ran the gamut from tenderness and delicacy to all-out romp, the music, performed by the Austin Symphony under the always-attentive Peter Bay, proved consistently evocative and fresh. Shakespeare's tale is hundreds of years old, but Ballet Austin showed -- and the audience gratefully rediscovered -- that love's follies and triumphs just grow more giddy and profound with the right infusion of skill and song.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream, Ballet Austin, Stephen Mills, Jim Stein, Anthony Casati, Lisa Washburn, Inga Lujerenko, Todd Rhoades, Margot Brown, Gina Patterson, Frank Shott, Allen Abrams, Ashley Lynn, Eric Midgley, Austin Symphony, Peter Bay

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