Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY; 2(m) July 2014

Colleen Boresta

The July 2nd matinee featured two ballets originally written as plays by William Shakespeare. ‘The Dream’ is the perfect example of how to turn a literary work into a beautiful ballet. “The Tempest” shows that there are times when the Bard’s work does not make for a successful dance piece.

“The Dream” is a jewel of a ballet with choreography by Frederick Ashton which exactly matches the music of Felix Mendelssohn. It is a condensed version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” set in the Victorian Age.

Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of Fairyland, are quarreling over which of them gets to keep the Changeling Boy. When Titania spirits the boy away, Oberon gets his revenge by having his wife fall in love with Bottom, a rustic who Oberon turns into a donkey with the help of his sprite Puck. Soon two human couples enter the forest. Oberon sees how unhappy Helena is because Lysander does not return her affection. He decides to help the young woman by making Lysander fall in love with her. Puck, however, mixes up the two men and sprinkles the magic flower dust on Demetrius, not Lysander.

By the end of “The Dream” Oberon repairs the damage Puck has done so that Lysander loves Helena and Demetrius love Hermia. After spending the night with Titania, Bottom turns back into his old self. His time as a donkey is remembered as a dream. Oberon and Titania make their differences and declare their love in a glorious pas de deux.

All the dancers in “The Dream” are wonderful, but as usual a few stand out. I have seen ABT’s production four times previously, but this is my first time seeing Herman Cornejo dance Puck live.  As good as the other Pucks were, especially Daniil Simkin, no one fits the role like Cornejo. He soars into the air and hangs there suspended for what seems like an eternity. His multiple air turns are beyond exciting. He also exactly captures the humor in the character of Puck.

Cornejo’s chemistry with Cory Stearns’ Oberon is delightful to see. For me, the main partnership in ‘The Dream’ is not between Oberon and Titania but Oberon and Puck. As Oberon, Stearns reminds me of a young Anthony Dowell, the creator of the role. His extraordinary line and gorgeous placement make Stearns’ Oberon both noble and magical.

Gillian Murphy’s Titania stood out for her sparkling footwork. The role of the Fairy Queen shows off Murphy’s magnificent lyricism. Blaine Hoven was a very funny Bottom with marvelous pointe work.

Seeing ABT perform “The Dream” is such a special treat. I hope they continue to dance it for years.

Alexei Ratmanksy’s “The Tempest”, however is a ballet I hope never to see again. Wednesday’s matinee is my second viewing of the piece and it still makes little sense. As far as I can make the story is that Prospero, once the Duke of Milan, has lost his throne to his brother, Antonio and two of Antonio’s friends, Alonso and Sebastian. Along with his daughter, Miranda, Prospero has been exiled to a small island. As the ballet starts, Antonio, Alonso and Sebastian are caught in a storm and are shipwrecked on Prospero’s island. Prospero has two slaves on his island – the birdlike Ariel and the monstrous Caliban. Prospero has promised to free Ariel if he helps him get his throne back. Caliban is largely ignored by everyone on the island, especially Propero. Also on the island is Alonso’s son, Ferdinand. Ferdinand, of course, falls in love with Miranda. Somehow by the end of the ballet Prospero gets his throne back.  Everyone leaves the island except poor ugly Caliban.

Ratmansky’s “The Tempest” is a waste of a lot of dance talent. Marcelo Gomes, Daniil Simkin, James Whiteside, Sarah Lane and Joseph Gorak all dance very well, but I see no point to any of their steps and movements. The music, by Jean Sibelius, is atonal. My only thought throughout the whole ballet is the hope that it will end soon. Obviously not every great work of literature can be made into a ballet.