Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Madison Ballet's Midsummer Night's Dream Delivers

       Titania (foreground) and Puck.  Photo by Andrew Weeks 

by Susan Kepecs  
Peter Anastos’ Midsummer Night’s Dream, a blithe bit of fluff, wrapped up Madison Ballet’s fourth season (March 19-20 in Overture's Capitol Theater) with a bang.  Anastos’ ballet isn’t perfect.  I longed to see more from Titania’s lovely fairy corps, and in several spots slapstick acting upstaged dance.  The frequent tugs of war between the two jinxed couples in particular could have used some judicious editing, and a more balletic approach to humor would have played up the considerable chops these dancers possess, especially the limber Yu Suzuki (who also works with Chicago’s Elements Contemporary Ballet), in the Helena role.
Madison Ballet isn’t perfect, either.  While artistic director W. Earle Smith has assembled 17 strong dancers and stamped his rhythm-savvy Balanchine style on all of them, which lends unity to their individual strengths, the company’s other productions this year didn’t escape with clean slates.  But it was hard to find fault with this performance of Anastos’ 90-minute caprice.
In 2004, when Madison Ballet was still a pre-professional studio company, Anastos himself set the Titania role on Genevieve Custer Weeks, who often flew in for soloist roles while also dancing with now-defunct Oakland Ballet.  Last weekend a more mature Custer Weeks, in total possession of the part, took buoyant pleasure in its simple variations, pushing luxuriously through the music, syncopating a waltz or stretching an arabesque on pointe a breath beyond the beat.  Her acting-while-dancing skills are sharp, too – her gemlike little pas with the bumbling Bottom (played to the hilt by Zachary Guthier), hexed into a donkey by the wood sprite Puck shone with sincere humor.   
Joseph Copley, who joined Madison Ballet last year – he also works with San Francisco’s Margaret Jenkens Dance Company –  was an utter hoot as Oberon, parading around in a bright blue mohawk and long purple capes.  Copley, who’s blessed with both stage presence and striking technique, whipped off cabrioles, tour jetes, tours en l’air and a coupe jete menege with no break, and embroidered his entrechat quatres and brise voles with épaulement.  Even just standing, his back to the audience as he commanded his tiny fairies (drawn from studios across Dane County, including Madison Ballet) to dance, he was impressively expressive.
The wedding grand pas classique was gratifyingly full of movement.  The Royal Court corps and the two soloist couples flowed across the stage in kaleidoscopic combinations.  The regal, understated pas de deux was an ideal vehicle for Jennifer Tierney, an impeccable music box ballerina and a Madison Ballet soloist since the studio company days.  Tierney, solidly partnered by Gabriel Williams, floated in and out of his embrace, wheeling around in arabesque or rising weightlessly into low lifts.  At one point Williams kneeled; Tierney, balanced on pointe in deep penche arabesque, supported only by his upheld hands, lowered her head almost to the floor – a breathtakingly extended line.
A couple of amusing moments captured the essence of Shakespeare’s comedy without sacrificing the ballet canon.  Juliana Lehman, from Titania’s fairy corps, bounded onstage alone in a big pas de chat, eyes wide, only to be chased away by a hissing Puck.  Helena, fleeing the pursuing Lysander (Bryan Cunningham), disappeared stage left.  Cunningham flung himself into a wide échappé, pointed toward the wings – you could hear him thinking “Aha! There she is!” and lept after her.
             But it was Marguerite Luksik, as Puck, who stole the show, delivering her light, elastic, Pan-like variations, built from impish sixth position prances, low tours en l’air, pas de chats and bounding saut de chats, with sheer mischief.  That’s exactly how wood sprites would dance, if they were real. 

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