Late spring has sprung in Swarthmore, bringing with her the lush flowers and the shady tree canopy and the Farmers Market, and of course, the ballet.
Sweet young love is in the air at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre and the result is not what you might think – at least not at first! Shakespeare’s classic tale of love gone wrong and then very wrong and then right again is played out with humor in this dreamy production.
The performance space at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre is not large. Most productions have ingeniously minimal set pieces. But stepping inside the theatre for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the audience is instantly transported to the enchanted wood outside Athens. A venerable oak seemingly sprouts out of the stage floor. Boulders and vines blend the lines between the upper and lower stages.
At last Saturday morning’s production, a sold-out crowd of lucky audience members young and old watched the lights go down and then Mrs. Ardis herself came out to remind us of the story of the bard’s beloved tale.
Then the lights went down and out came the elegant Trinity Clow-McLaughlin to draw us into the story with a solo accompanying a narration of the fairy’s classic over hill over dale speech.
After that the show exploded forward with bevies of fireflies and fairies setting the mood of the magical forest and making the way for the fairy royalty.
Don Guthrie danced Oberon with great dignity, and Anna Si was appropriately indignant and haughty as Titania when Guthrie slyly tried to assume custody of her sprightly changeling boy, danced by Nate Mitchell. When it was clear that the fight was on between the fairy king and queen it was time for them to make way for the lovers.
Even if it’s been a while since you read Midsummer in high school, the four lovers made their roles clear with their first rate acting and the help of gorgeous costumes that helped the audience see who was meant to be together.
Though there were many laugh-out-loud moments in this ballet, few were funnier than the pas de deux between unrequited loves. Demetrius (Kevin Gardiner) expressed dismay when he suddenly found himself dancing with a hilariously enamored Helena (Anna Morreale). And later, Lysander (Will McCullough) abandoned poor Hermia (Martine Leech) for Helena, whom he was devastated to catch dancing with Demetrius. The lovers’ fight scene was incredible too.
Of course it’s not Midsummer without Puck. Nathanial Hodges was perfectly playful and spent as much time airborne as he did on the stage. His interactions with Oberon and with his butterfly companion (Elizabth Si) were light-hearted and delightfully expressive.
Led by William Hodges as Bottom, the rude mechanicals were fantastically funny. When Puck used his magic pollen to make Titania fall in love with Bottom the whole audience held our breath in anticipation.
Anna Si is such an achingly elegant dancer. It can be all too easy to forget her silly streak. The scene where Hodges literally chews the scenery as Si falls madly in love with him, donkey ears and all was desperately funny.
But what brought down the house was the arrival of the fairy attendants to dance with Titania. One after the next they each entered gracefully for their dance, only to do a comic double-take at the shocking sight of their mistress dancing with a donkey. By the time the final fairy danced in and then wandered to the edge of the wings in confusion the audience was in stitches.
Naturally Oberon urged Puck to make things right and one by one the lovers and Titania were all made to fall in love with their right partner.
At last Hippolyta (danced with strength and passion by Maia Virgil) arrived. She and the Duchess presided over a truly lavish wedding attended by a flock of flower girls whose infectious enthusiasm brought joy to the audience as well as the couples onstage.
Lori Ardis and Amber Flynn choreograph every single ballet on the dancers, meaning that every note of this two-hour production was crafted precisely to mine the talents of the dancers at hand. The result is that every dancer onstage is stretching his or her skills to the limit. And what they can accomplish is absolutely stunning.
If you are looking for a fun and inspiring way to spend your Saturday night, rumor has it that there are a few tickets left for the 7:30pm performance. Stop by the door at 7pm to check in!
Meanwhile, if you want to be sure not to forget to snag tickets next time, why not sign up for classes at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre? Learn more on their website at http://swarthmoreballet.com.
For info on what it’s like to study Ballet at SBT, check out the post here!