Opera House, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC; 6 June 2014
Like the Boston Ballet, which visited the Kennedy Center earlier in the week, the Pennsylvania Ballet is celebrating its 50th anniversary season. The Pennsylvania Ballet has a significant Balanchine-based repertoire, and for its turn at the Kennedy Center, the company presented Balanchine’s full-length ballet “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. One of the highlights of the program was the live music. The Pennsylvania Ballet’s Beatrice Jona Affron served as a fine conductor. I loved seeing a woman leading the orchestra. Although I’m no music critic, I felt strongly that in her hands the Felix Mendelssohn ballet score sounded especially good.
The costumes and scenic design by Martin Pakledinaz effectively conjured a storybook, with flower garlands and romantic pastels that reminded me of Victorian postcards. The Opera House transformed into an enchanted forest. Cute children in winged costumes flitted across this forest with the utmost aplomb. Their antennae wiggled with the rhythmic beats of their arms, all in time with each other. The presence of these talented little ones added a great deal of charm to the ballet. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” overflowed with charm, in fact, but when it came to excitement, the ballet didn’t register much. Only Alexander Peters as Puck truly commanded the stage whenever he graced it. His strength and character burst forth in his powerful and playful dancing. He sailed high into the air in a mid-air crouch with his knees tightly pulled upward toward his chest. Peters made an excellent impish creature. I thought he outshined the rest, although perhaps this an unfair assessment given that he had the juiciest part.
Jermel Johnson, as Oberon, and Brooke Moore, as Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, also gave notable performances, as did Lauren Fadeley and Zachary Hench in the second act’s divertissement. Johnson perfectly embodied the proud demeanor of a royal family member as the King of the Fairies. He danced with an impressive calm, and his enviable long limbs made his leaps very grand indeed. Moore looked equally at home in her role as an Amazonian queen. She was appropriately fierce. Fadeley and Hench danced brightly. Fadeley flashed an attractive high wattage smile, and Hench flawlessly partnered her. Lillian DiPiazza was well cast as Titania, but her wispiness and delicacy were almost too extreme for my taste.
The first act of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” contained the whole of the Shakespearean tale, leaving Act II for more interesting dance sequences, which no longer needed to be in service of the story. In Act I, chaos ensued as dancers lusted after the wrong partners, bringing plenty of humorous moments. In Act II, the dancers celebrated the fact that everything had been put right, and the proper lovers had been reunited. They moved in intricate patterns, weaving through and around each other. The Pennsylvania Ballet delivered a sweet and dreamy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” more pleasant than stunning, but enjoyable nonetheless.