writers on dancing


Midsummer Night's Debuts

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream"
New York City Ballet
New York State Theatre, New York
Thursday, June 24, 2005
Friday, June 25, 2005

by Tom Phillips
copyright ©2005 by Tom Phillips

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is unusual among Shakespeare’s plays in that there are no old folks among the main characters—everyone is of marrying age or younger, including the fairies who are, of course, eternally young. So it was a perfect setting for some of New York City Ballet’s youngest talents, in George Balanchine’s fast-paced, full-length adventure in the woods. Thursday night’s performance featured four debuts by young dancers in principal parts, two of them remarkable.

Sterling Hyltin set the tone as a diaphanous butterfly, with arms that fluttered and floated on the air. She has a perfect frame for flying, with broad shoulders to support her wings. But the key to her lightness is the way she carries herself —with a proud chest, not puffed or sprung, just lifted to its full height, so that even when she’s on the floor she seems to be heading upward.

The main heroine of the night, though, was Ana Sofia Scheller, leaping onto the scene as Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. This young lady may have a gyroscope somewhere in her, because no matter how high she leaps or how fast she turns, her upper body floats above with never a wobble. As for her lines, they were straight as arrows from her bow. She even survived a wardrobe malfunction: during a series of turns one of her gauzy sleeves flew up and covered her head, so she simply went on for a few measures, dancing blind until she could flick it away, never missing a beat. In all she seemed imperturbable, joyful and elegant as royalty. This was more than a debut, it was a proclamation: watch this girl!

Another new face was mostly hidden under a donkey’s head. Adrian Danchig-Waring took on the role of Bottom, clomping and chomping his way through the pas de deux with the dreamy Maria Kowroski as Titania. Danchig–Waring made an ass of himself in expert fashion, his feet turned in and his back hunched over as he gazed at his gossamer queen. He was more frolicsome and less morose than some of his predecessors, but it worked. And when he was finally liberated from his donkey’s head, the expression on his face spoke Bottom’s ecstatic report:
“ I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was…”

Also making a first appearance was Ask la Cour in the role of Demetrius, one of the quartet of mixed-up lovers. A big guy, he went galumphing across the stage in search of his love, Hermia, and in pursuit of his rival, Lysander, while trying to fight off his admirer, Helena. La Cour had the right comic approach, but his timing needs work to get the most out of the funny parts.

Because of its large cast and its relatively long run, “Midsummer” has always presented opportunities for young dancers to step up to principal roles. Maria Kowroski was a young corps dancer when she first took on the role of Titania several years ago, and it has fit her from the start. To her natural dreaminess and beauty, she has now added a fine comic sense. On Thursday night, when she refused to hand her little page boy over to the pleading Oberon (Tom Gold), she did it with peremptory petulance, the kind of ridiculous behavior that is the theme of the play. She’s a self-centered fairy queen in an illusionary world—but oh, the beauty of that illusion.

The next night, Friday’s performance also featured two debuts, corps dancer Antonio Carmena in the role of Oberon, and new principal Sofiane Sylve as Titania. In both cases, their dancing was better than their acting. Carmena flew through Oberon’s opening scherzo, with hummingbird beats and grand jetes that went past the horizontal—rare for a man. But even there he had a couple of heavy landings. His dramatic performance was stiff, with stock gestures of desire and frustration, so that his quest for revenge against Titania seemed to come more from conventional mean-spiritedness than some metaphysical obsession. The trick is to be small-minded yet somehow larger than life.

As for Sylve, she was gorgeous, but also a little detached from her role. Her classical lines set the standard in this company, and made the pas de deux with Bottom (Henry Seth) look like “beauty and the beast.” She made him look ridiculous, but she didn’t quite do the same for herself—and that’s the key to a great Titania.

Friday’s performance also featured the wonderfully practiced pair of Alexandra Ansanelli and Rachel Rutherford as Helena and Hermia. They have their timing down pat as they fling themselves at their lovers, and then at each other in the catfight where they send each other’s long tresses flying.

Albert Evans has Puck down pat, and so does his heir apparent in this central role, Daniel Ulbricht, who played it on Thursday. Ulbricht is the company’s leading leaper, not just high but fast, as in his mad dash to the ends of the earth, to fulfill Oberon’s imperious demand that he fetch a magic flower from a distant shore, “and be thou here again ere the leviathan can swim a league.”

The real magician, of course, is Balanchine, who packed five acts of Shakespearean plot into one hour, in order to leave time for an Act Two of pure dancing pleasure. The high point is the pas de deux, a gentle series of walks, low lifts and caresses, set to Mendelssohn’s shimmering strings. On Friday night, Jenifer Ringer and Charles Askegard gave it a sense of quiet rapture. On Thursday, Nikolaj Hubbe did everything he could to help Yvonne Borree through it, but she seemed oblivious to everything but her own anxiety. Borree is visibly uncomfortable in romantic and classic parts, and the mystery remains as to why she is so chronically miscast. It’s not fair to the audience, the other dancers, or even to Borree herself, who can be so lively and witty in less formal roles.

Returning to debuts, there was one other new face worth noting, in part because it’s the first non-white face amid the company’s women in years. Less than three weeks after scoring a triumph in “Western Symphony” at the School of American Ballet Annual Workshop, Coco Gonzalez joined the cast as an apprentice, bounding through the forest with Hippolyta’s hounds. Gonzalez moves big, clearly likes to be seen, and adds a long-needed dash of color to NYCB’s female ranks. Another girl to watch.

Front page: by Paul Kolnik

Volume 3, No. 25
June 27, 2005

copyright ©2005 Tom Phillips



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last updated on June 27, 2005