City Ballet wound up its spring season with a one-week run of Balanchine’s sublime A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Who can resist it? Shakespeare’s vision is irresistible, Mendelssohn’s music is irresistible. And Balanchine’s genius for narrative is beyond praise. The fluttering fairies and butterflies and bugs, the angry, disputatious Titania and Oberon, the endearing Puck, the two mixed-up sets of lovers, the wooing King Theseus (of Athens) and Hippolyta (Queen of the Amazons), Bottom and his rowdy artisan gang—they stride and scamper over the stage with absolutely clarity and perfect timing; there’s not a moment of confusion or blur.
Dream is now 50 years old. Happy golden anniversary!
This year some of the casting, at least of the two performances I saw, was questionable. Maria Kowroski is at her most gorgeous as Titania. She’s both soft and commanding, delicate and imperious, girlish and grand, innocent and sensual. Alas, Teresa Reichlen is short on these qualities. She’s an astonishing physical specimen, almost extraterrestrial—extremely tall with a small head and thin gangly arms. She has remarkable technique, but it’s dissipated as, flinging her limbs around, apparently uncentered, she unleashes a series of startling separate effects that don’t add up to a convincing character or a convincing style of classical dancing. Her one great role is as the big girl in “Rubies”; in ballets like Concerto Barocco and Dream she’s like Alice after drinking from the bottle she finds at the bottom of the rabbit hole.
Another of Peter Martins’s current favorites is pint-size Megan Fairchild. Unsuited as she was to the first movement of Symphony in C and the “Theme and Variations” section of Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3, she was even less satisfactory in the exquisite and subtle pas de deux that Balanchine created for Violette Verdy in the second act of Dream. Fairchild was nervous, and she faltered, but that’s not the basic problem; she’ll improve. What’s unfixable is that she will never be a paradigm of classicism, and she’s being given the big classical roles for which she doesn’t have the power, the amplitude or, for that matter, the essential articulation in her feet. We’re getting a replay of the Yvonne Borrée story. (On the other hand, she has real comic talent; she was the best thing going in the current revival of Susan Stroman’s Double Feature, a Broadway show masquerading as a ballet. Stroman has musical-comedy smarts, but she has no ballet vocabulary.)
At one Dream performance we had the tallest Butterfly (Brittany Pollack) and the shortest Hippolyta (Ana Sophia Scheller) I’ve ever seen. It was cuckoo. When Savannah Lowery thundered on as the Amazon Queen things were restored to normal: Get out of her way! There were charming performances from Taylor Stanley as Bottom and Chase Finlay as Lysander. from Rebecca Krohn and Sterling Hyltin as Helena and Hermia. The single finest performance of the season, not surprisingly, came from Tiler Peck in the Dream pas de deux—she’s so musically intelligent, so secure, so effortless, so fluent that the Fairchild version vanished like a … dream. But Peck has been these things in every role this season.
Dream is so rich that each time you see it you fall in love with something you hadn’t focused on before. This year, for me, the most moving moment lasted less than a dozen seconds. Bottom has served his purpose as the donkey, and when his worried pals come looking for him, there he is, restored, the donkey’s head vanished. Bottom’s himself again, and the five men hug and prance offstage, the goodness and health of their humanity revealed in a flash. Yes, Balanchine (and Shakespeare and Mendelssohn) are telling us what fools these mortals be. But they also know what mortals these fools be.