New Casting in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

"A Midsummer Night's Dream"
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
April 27, 2006

by Michael Popkin
copyright ©2006, Michael Popkin

New York City Ballet’s break for March and April is over and the company is opening its Spring season with a series of performances of George Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  Nine of the season’s first fourteen performances are of this ballet and the company is taking the occasion to work a large number of its younger dancers into the key roles; three different casts are rotating this week and two more will be added next week. To watch “Midsummer” this week at City Ballet has thus been to observe a process of maturation and a shift in generations. Most of the dancers involved, with the exception of the company’s two beloved senior ballerinas Darci Kistler and Kyra Nichols and of Maria Kowroski—who returned to the stage Thursday night as Titania after an absence of nearly ten months – are very young and it seems that each night’s program involves at least half a dozen debuts.

Besides Kowroski as Titania, the cast on Thursday night featured the young Antonio Carmena (recently promoted to soloist) as Oberon and Ana Sophia Scheller as Hipollyta, a role she was dancing for only the third or fourth time.  Debuts were made by:  Sean Suozzi as Puck; Kristin Sloan and Abi Stafford as Helena and Hermia; Edwaard Liang as Demetrius; Alina Dronova as the lead Butterfly; Jason Fowler as Titania’s Cavalier; and William Lin Yee as Theseus.  And though Andrew Veyette’s performance as Lysander was not a debut, Veyette is so young that this too can hardly have been more than his third or fourth time dancing the role. 

To the company’s credit, the performance was crisp and well rehearsed. The orchestra played the Mendelssohn score beautifully.  As a piece of theater the ballet worked.  The story was well told and the performance evoked the positive response one expects to see from an audience at this ballet at precisely the places one expects to see it.              Oberon’s great scherzo was danced very physically by Carmena, who tore across the stage with at high speed and with huge elevation. Carmena is a jumper and a charismatic performer and, while he may not be a particularly strong partner in other roles at this point in his career, Oberon is a role which requires no partnering and which is tailored to his strengths. Likewise, the pas de deux between Bottom (turned into a mule) and Titania—one of the high points in the entire Balanchine repertory—was sensitively and tenderly performed by Seth Orza and Kowroski, who together struck just the wistful and romantic chord necessary to a successful performance of “Midsummer.”  

Kowroski, for her part, returned to the stage Thursday night in good form and showing amazingly little rust from her layoff. Titania is one of her best roles.  She is a beautiful girl with a regal presence—a Queen more than a Princess and a natural comedienne to boot. These are not qualities that often go together and all of them make for a memorable Titania. Her performance was successful from both the dance and the dramatic point of view.  She mimed clearly, her facial expressions projected to the back of the theater, and one could well believe that her reconciliation with Oberon was capable of restoring harmony to Athens and to the Forest World around and behind it.

Both Kristin Sloan’s and Abi Stafford’s debuts as Helena and Hermia were successful and Stafford’s in particular was more than that.  Not only did she dance her solos with ease and classical restraint, but dramatically Stafford—who had gone a little blonder than usual for this role—portrayed her character with a sensitivity and a comic turn one has not seen from her before.   

In a similar vein, Ana Sophia Scheller was a strong Hipollyta.  Scheller had the dance chops—the jump and the fouettees —to clear the stage at the conclusion of Act I with a physical bravura that evoked bursts of spontaneous applause from the audience. But she also had the elegant technique to lead the wedding march, and the Pas de Deuxs for the three principal couples in Act II, with a refined classicism. Scheller has a strong physical presence.  When doing as little as pacing downstage on a high and pliant demi point she can command all of your attention.  Her battery and footwork could be clearer, however. One wishes at times to see her feet more clearly presented, her beats more visibly completed.    

Sean Suozzi’s debut as Puck was also very promising.  Suozzi is a physically strong dancer with a stretched physique.  As Puck he appeared relatively tall, particularly after seeing Daniel Ulbricht dance the role earlier in the week.  Suozzi’s version of Puck was at once classical and mischievous, a successful and welcome reading of the role. The tall and elegant William Yin Lee also acquitted himself well as Theseus, although his partnering of Scheller in the Act II pas de deux was not without its difficult moments. 

The Act II divertissement was performed by Yvonne Borree and Nilas Martins.    

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of the most performed ballets in the repertory at City Ballet.  Year after year, the company either closes its Spring season with this ballet and/or takes it to Saratoga to open its Summer season.  In a sense, many of the company’s most beloved dancers—Suzanne Farrell and Edward Villella, for example, or more recently Peter Boal—have left their marks on the principal roles, although it would be truer to say that they have left their marks in the audience’s memory and on its imagination. 

For this reason “Midsummer” is not only a familiar work, but also one that is difficult for many members of the audience to watch without a great many “after images” of other dancers intervening between themselves and the stage.  The new casts on display at the State Theater this week have had that to contend with. The positive thing is that, after three performances, one finds they are making their way. The ballet seems fresh and the dancers are making it their own.  Like Midsummer’s Eve itself, Spring ballet seasons keep coming around, young dancers keep growing up and going into roles, and the show keeps on going on.

Photo of Maria Kowroski in "Midsummer Night's Dream" by Paul Kolnik.

Volume 4, No. 17
May 1, 2006

copyright ©2006 Michael Popkin



©2006 DanceView