Spirit makes this 'Dream' come true
When George Balanchine was only 8 years old, he appeared as an elf in a production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in his native St. Petersburg, and it ignited an enthusiasm for the play that lasted a lifetime. However, it was Mendelssohn's sparkling incidental music that inspired the great choreographer's transformation of the play into one of the most charming and inventive story ballets in the repertoire. Created in 1962 for New York City Ballet, the work was Balanchine's first full-length original ballet, and it is a story of the immortal Oberon and Titania, a crew of mischievous fairies and clueless mortals, magical spells, and the redeeming power of love.
Staged by Sandra Jennings, Boston Ballet's first attempt at Balanchine's classic is a winner, a gorgeous, spirited production given strong performances throughout the ranks, including the excellent orchestra led by Jonathan McPhee. Some of the characterizations are not the most sharply etched, but the storytelling unfolds less through mime than through expressive movement skillfully integrated into the flow of the choreography itself.
The most vivid character is Puck, a role the talented Joel Prouty seems born to dance. Small and compact, deliberately maintaining a low center of gravity, he displayed quicksilver turns, buoyant off - kilter leaps, and fantastic comic flair.
As Titania, Lorna Feijoo was regally elegant yet spritely, a gracious queen with a playful sense of humor. She has beautifully articulate feet and a sense of molten suspension in the arms and upper body. Despite a shaky opening lift, Lorin Mathis was an effective partner, nicely matching Feijoo's timing as her cavalier.
Though not the most vivid actor, Reyneris Reyes was handsome and fleet as Oberon, with long elegant lines and impressively liquid arms. His footwork was tight and impeccably clean, launching him into high leaps with buttery soft landings.
Of the mortals, Tai Jimenez was most notable as Hermia, the lyricism of her movement imbued with pathos as she faced abandonment by her beloved Lysander, danced by Pavel Gurevich . Lia Cirio ripped off a dazzling series of fouettes as the huntress Hippolyta.
The corps looked impressively at home in Balanchine's choreography, and hopefully some of the discrepancies in ensemble timing and precision can be chalked up to opening night jitters. And with their antennae headgear, the large contingent of children were adorable as forest insects, skittering and clustering like swarms of bugs but also soaring with impressively executed leaps.
Martin Pakledinaz's Act I sets and imaginative, sumptuous costumes gave the work a dreamlike enchantment, aided by the dappled nocturnal chiaroscuro of Mark Stanley's lighting. But with its focus on the triple marriage celebrations of the mortals, the second act is a world away and, like Shakespeare's play within a play, a little jarring. However, instead of the bard's silly theatricals, Balanchine uses the occasion to showcase a series of lovely divertissements, including corps work of arresting patterns and an exquisite, lyrical pas de deux for Larissa Ponomarenko and Roman Rykine that seemed to float on air.
But as in Shakespeare's play, when night falls, the fairy realm takes over and once again Puck has the last "word," rising to the heavens on a gossamer web.