Thoughts strayed to another Puck tonight at the Royal Ballet’s Gala performance of Frederick Ashton’s The Dream. Albert Evans, who for many years danced a brilliant and unmatched Puck in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the same theater, passed away last night. May he rest in peace.
The Royal Ballet’s gala program was a brief evening so that the gala folk could get to their dinners. For the next three nights, The Dream will be on a program with MacMillan’s Song of the Earth.
It’s been more than a decade since the company made an official visit to New York. Its week at Lincoln Center is being sponsored by the Joyce Theater and it promises to be a treat as the company presents a wide array of repertoire later in the week in addition to The Dream and Song of the Earth. Members of the New York City Ballet Orchestra are in the pit for the engagement. This evening it was interesting to hear an interpretation of Mendelssohn’s bright music that was sometimes quite different from what we’re accustomed to hearing in that theater for New York City Ballet’s version or in the Met Opera House for ABT’s version of the RB production. At times, Conductor Barry Wordsworth delivered an almost chamber-like delicacy in the strings. The Brooklyn Youth Chorus, also in the pit, had a bolder, much richer sound than we usually hear in that theater – all of it very pleasing.
The highlight of the evening was the final Pas de Deux - always beautiful and tonight exquisitely danced by Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae. Gosh, does she ever have lines that are like pure notes of song along with feet that are so supple, she couldn’t possibly have had much of a shank in those shoes, if at all. It makes such a difference in quality when the ballerina is strong enough to dance without so much cardboard and paste in the shoes. Fewer and fewer are willing to do that these days; it’s part of the art that seems to have been lost. What was so noticeable in the quality of Sarah’s dancing was quite simply the good taste and high quality in every step and gesture. While there were few surprises, it still managed to seem fresh and original.
Steven McRae delivered wonderful variations in the PdD but prior to that point was a little incomplete in his interpretation. He didn’t use his eyes as dramatically as Anthony Dowell did or as the Oberons at ABT who Dowell set the work upon do. In most of ABT’s memorable Oberons (Stiefel, Gomes, Hallberg, Stearns), one can always see Anthony Dowell in their postures, the whip of the head, and use of the eyes. There wasn’t much of that visible in McRae’s interpretation.
James Hay as Puck was delightful – not quite up to our own Herman Cornejo’s blazing dancing – but nevertheless superb. Bennet Gartside as Bottom along with the Rustics (Sander Blommaert, Benjamin Ella, Kevin Emerton, Erico Montes, and James Wilkie) skillfully dispatched some of Ashton’s most brilliant character dancing. The comic sparring of Itziar Mendizabal and Johannes Stepanek as Helena and Demtrius was sometimes easily anticipated. Christina Arestis and Valeri Hristov as Hermia and Lysander were charming although Christina had a little bit of trouble bringing those long limbs to a sudden stop once or twice.
The Corps de Ballet Fairies and the special Fairies – Cobweb, Moth, Mustardseed, and Peaseblossom – were extraordinary in their flight, lightness, charm, and coordination. Our hats are off to this corps who revealed the beauty of Ashton’s sweeping and bending in the bodies. A special little winged HH Pump Bump by designer Sarah Webster for all of them: