By Jessica Hergert
Audiences were taken on a journey that could have been pulled out of a story book, complete with fairies and donkeys, during the American Repertory Ballet’s (ARB) fall season premiere performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Choreographed by artistic director Douglas Martin, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” brought to life the 16th century Shakespearean fantasy world of love and magic through classic ballet.
The dancers proved their skill throughout the entire performance by combining elegant grace, mastery of ballet technique and comedy acting abilities together to create a unique artistic experience for the audience. The dancers ranged in experience level, with some dancers actually making their ARB debut on Rider’s stage.
The Bart Luedeke Center theater proved a perfect venue for the ballet, as even those sitting in the back row could see the dancers well. The close proximity allowed for each audience member to see details within the ballet, like dance moves and facial expressions, that one could miss in a bigger theater.
As 7:30 p.m. neared, the audience buzzed with anticipation until the lights went down. As everyone fell silent, their eyes were glued to the stage. The room erupted in a flourish of classical music, as the red curtains parted and the dancers appeared on stage. With the musical score by Felix Mendelssohn to accompany them, the dancers began their show.
There were very few tangible props and minimal special effects because of a simplistic set design, only a backdrop, keeping the audience’s attention completely focused on the dancers who were clad in 16th century costumes.
As with traditional ballets, the entire performance was devoid of dialogue, making the dancers’ job of conveying their story much more difficult.
The first act flew by, exposing the audience to a quadrangle of love stories that all needed resolution. The plot grew more complex with each character’s addition into the narrative, making the depicted relationships that much more chaotic.
Even with the complicated plot, the dancers did an excellent job of providing the audience with laugh-out-loud moments during the performance. Through slapstick comedy and facial reactions, the dancers were able to keep the plot light rather than dramatic.
When the lights came up for intermission, the room burst into a cacophony of opinion and predictions. Many children in the audience listened intently, while their mothers explained to them what was happening in the show.
The second act was truly a memorable experience as the dancers transported the audience to a fairy kingdom in the woods where magic and love potions are an everyday occurrence.
In this act, the events took place in a forest, justifying the almost eerie full moon and backdrop that had replaced the first act’s cheerier one. A heavy fog rolled over the stage and audience, creating a supernatural vibe as it spread throughout the theater.
The fairy dancers that followed truly lit up the stage, gathering “oohs and aahs” from the children in the audience. Their costumes of flowing, natural-colored skirts were distinguishable from the other characters who were dressed like traditional Grecians.
The most comical of scenes came during the second act when one of the characters had his head turned into a donkey’s. To make matters worse, the Fairy Queen, under a love spell, fell head-over-heels for the “donkey-man.” With a fake burro head on, this dancer held the audience in uproarious laughter for the duration of his number.
The act — and the ballet — ended happily as most fantastical stories do. The couples are in love again — some because of true love — others because of a little magic, and the donkey-man was cured.
With the premiere performance over and the crowd maintaining a lively applause, the dancers were able to take their final bows with pride. The ARB graced the stage with its performance and truly gave the entire audience a magical night.
Printed in the 9/28/16 edition.