Thursday, March 14, 2024

San Francisco Ballet - "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust Photo © Lindsay Thomas

San Francisco Ballet
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
March 12, 2024

I think a number of Bay Area dance goers have déjà vu right now. I certainly do. In the first week of March four years ago, I was scheduled to take in two shows – The Joffrey Ballet at Cal Performances and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at San Francisco Ballet. I was super excited for both performances. Midsummer, in particular, for two reasons. In 2020, I had had the lovely opportunity to interview Sandra Jennings, who had staged the work on the company, and in addition, this was going to be the first time SFB would dance the narrative in over thirty years. But the universe had other plans, and COVID shut down everything. SFB did give one performance of the ballet (and a filmed version of Midsummer was included in SFB’s 2021 digital season), as I sat in the audience at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. Most of us never did see Midsummer live, that is until this past Tuesday night. What a treat to finally witness George Balanchine’s 1962 sojourn into Shakespeare’s comical story, made all the more dazzling by Christian Lacroix’s updated and rich Scenic and Costume Design. It was fun. It was joyful. And while titled A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there couldn’t be a ballet more suited for spring, with the florals, the forest, the winged beings and all the sparkling colors.

Those familiar with Shakespeare’s source material know that the play opens with the promise of an ultimate celebration, the soon-to-be wedding between Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and Theseus, Duke of Athens (Nikisha Fogo and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira on opening night). Five acts of hilarious romps and entertaining shenanigans follow. There’s humor, crossed connections, romance, confusion, impatience, mischief and spells. Very Noises Off. Balanchine envisioned a shorter, compressed adaptation for the ballet audience. His Midsummer unfolds over two acts, with an expanded wedding (for three couples) taking place in the final thirty minutes and the bulk of the action playing out in the first seventy-five (truth be told, Act I does come off as a bit lengthy). So, when the viewer is thrust into this mystical fairyland of wonder and amazement, it really feels like one is entering a living storybook, where we encounter all the various characters, see how they relate to each other and learn of their wants and desires. The romantic and lovelorn. The confidently regal. The prankish personalities.

Speaking of the different characters, there was an abundance, to be sure! Midsummer boasts a huge cast, and it truly is an ensemble ballet if ever there was one. There are the expected principal moments, but so many different roles are featured and highlighted throughout, including over twenty talented and well-rehearsed young students from the San Francisco Ballet School. Sasha De Sola and Esteban Hernández were the picture of royalty and elegance as Titania and Oberon, while Cavan Conley’s Puck orchestrated events like a gleefully wicked child. Hernández was the stand-out performer of the evening, with a flawless batterie variation in the first act. Oberon’s choreography seems impossibly difficult, yet Hernández more than delivers. All of the choreography was really quite magical. Flowy and lilty phrases abounded, as did some of Balanchine’s signature movements. The purposefully bent knee on relevé; the flexed palms. Flingy double attitude jumps; the exploration of demi-pointe in pointe shoes. We had been transported to another land that night, but it was definitely Balanchine’s land.

Act II’s wedding serves as a longer coda to the ballet, almost like a visual expression of the ‘happily ever after’ line at the end of classic fairytales. The dancing was celebratory and sweet, especially the pas de deux from Frances Chung and Isaac Hernández. But it was a shame that not everyone saw the splendor of the wedding scene. As Act I concluded, there was a full cast series of bows. Empty seats after intermission clearly indicated that some folks assumed that the ballet was over. And it did feel like the end. Did we really need the bows at the midway point?

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs until March 23rd.

No comments: