Balanchine’s summer magic is revived at McCaw Hall

By R.M. Campbell

George Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of the most enduring, and magical, ballets in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s repertory. It never wears out its welcome. And so it was revived this weekend at McCaw Hall.

The ballet had its local premiere in 1985 and over the next decade was frequently performed. In 1997, the ballet was given an entirely new look, and what a splendid look it was with Martin Pakledinaz in control of the set and costumes. Astonishingly, the new design was the first for a Balanchine story ballet, this one dating to 1962. Dozens of dance critics held their annual meeting for the Seattle premiere. The next year the company took it on tour as its calling card for its European debut at the Edinburgh Festival, and the next season to London where it was filmed by BBC, with Istanbul, Hong Kong and the Hollywood Bowl over the next few years. Wherever the production went it received fulsome praise.

Among the most amazing aspects of the ballet is that it never loses its freshness. The tangled romance of Helena and Demetrius and Hermia and Lysander does not grow stale. Bottom and his quartet of companions remain charming. Titania and Oberon are splendidly regal, and Puck, funny and endearing. With the telling of the narrative finished by the end of Act I, there is only a trace of a story — everyone gets married — left for Act II. Like “Sleeping Beauty,” the second act is completely dedicated to dance.

In Seattle Pakledinaz is well-known, particularly at PNB and Seattle Opera. His work is constantly inventive with a huge range of color and styles. He is mostly a costume designer, so “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a rarity. Canny Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, co-artistic directors at the time, who invited him for this joint responsibility. Not everyone can make that leap but Pakledinaz did. His night scene in the enchanted forest, with its giant hanging pink roses and a frog lurking in the branches, among other visual delicacies, gives constant pleasure. So do his costumes. Randall G. Chiarelli’s lighting design works hand-in-hand with Pakledinaz’s decor.

The dancing was first-class. This ballet always seems to bring out the best in PNB dancers. The quartet of young lovers was fun and endearing and lithe. Maria Chapman danced Helena with Lucien Postlewaite as Demetrius; Chalnessa Eames danced Hermia with Olivier Wevers, as Lysander, in heated pursuit. Ariana Lallone danced Hippolyta, in her customary heroic manner, and Karel Cruz was Theseus.

Ezra Thomson, who joined the company only two years ago and is being given increasingly important assignments, made a superb Bottom. His companions were equally impressive: Andrew Bartee, Kyle Davis, Eric Hipolito and Steven Loch. Rachel Foster was a lovely Butterfly.

Carrie Imler was a regal Titania. It is not the sort of role one would not ordinarily associate with her, but she delivered the goods Oberon is not given much to do, so Jonathan Porretta was somewhat wasted in the role, but he did what he could to give it substance and flair. Josh Spell was quick and amusing as Puck.

Carla Korbes and Jeffrey Stanton danced the Pas de Deux in Act II. Korbes, who came to PNB with Boal, has always been a dancer of exemplary attributes. They merely increase with the years. Her dancing in the Pas de Deux was breathtaking in its seamlessness, the way she incorporated every detail into the whole, the beauty of her line. Her dancing alone was worth the price of admission. Her cavalier is not given a lot to do, but Stanton did it with aplomb.

Russell staged the ballet with her expected sense of taste and refinement. Little escapes her eye. The ensemble dances were handsome and well-executed, and the children enchanting.

The PNB Orchestra played well, conducted by Allan Dameron. This orchestra has to be one of the best in the country.

The production continues at McCaw Hall through April 17.


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