REVIEW: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Albany Berkshire Ballet

by Jenny Hansell

 

The Albany Berkshire Ballet brought their excellent company of dancers to Northampton as part of their 50th anniversary production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There is one more chance to catch it, at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield on September 7, and it’s well worth it for the magic of the fairies, the rude humor of Puck’s pranks, and the surprising sweetness and even heartbreak before all ends well.

 

For a small regional company to undertake a full-length production like this is a huge challenge, and Midsummer Night’s Dream is the ABB’s only second such production, other than the Nutcracker. To pull it off, they have assembled a top-flight cast, revived a gorgeous set from a previous production that was cancelled during the economic crisis of 2008, and put the cutest group of little children twinkling across the stage that one could imagine.

 

A quick plot refresher: Theseus, the Duke of Athens,  is about to marry Hippolyta. At the same time, the king of the fairies, Oberon, is having a quarrel with his wife Titania, so Oberon decides to play a trick on her. He summons Puck to sprinkle the drops of a magical flower on her eyes to make her fall in love with the first thing she sees. Puck, being, well, puckish, also sprinkles his magical flower drops on the eyes of a few others, causing trouble among two young couples Helena and Lysander, and Hermia and Demetrius. He also transforms a drunken actor into an ass, to become the object of Titania’s affection.

 

Confusing? Even more so when, at least at first, you can’t tell who is who since there is no spoken word.

 

Yet in Paula Weber’s choreography, new for this production, and the expressive performances by the excellent cast, all soon becomes crystal clear.

 

As Oberon, Shane Horan was powerful and elegant, with a long line and great hang time in his jumps and turns. Anna Acker as Titania matched him perfectly.  Vincent Brewer was precise and crisp as Puck, though I sometimes wanted him to be less exact and more free. His comedic acting loosened up as the night went on, and his delight in the mischief he was causing was infectious.

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Marie Buser as the rejected and heartbroken Helena, was also superb. Not just an elegant, strong and flexible dancer, her acting was affecting.  As the rest of the confused and squabbling quartet of lovers, Leonardo Victorino (Demetrius), Kaila Feldspausch (Hermia) and Ruslan Sprague (Lysander) danced at the highest level and their comedy of errors when Puck cast his love spells was terrifically amusing.

 

Additional comedy comes from the three actors, who show up, drunk, to perform a play that appears to be about a tragic death. Jai Mason is Bottom the one chosen by Puck to become a donkey, and he emotes with great gusto.

 

There wasn’t a lot of dancing in Titania’s pas de deux with Bottom, just a lot of very funny ear-scratching and foot-pawing. Her delight in her new paramour was evident, and he returned the feeling.

 

The fairies were uniformly lovely, though their choreography was a bit repetitive.  The children, who mostly appeared to be on either side of 10 years old, did a fine job, fluttering and floating with admirable smiles, turnout, and graceful arms all around.

 

The sets and costumes were terrific, but the staging occasionally suffered from some awkward blackouts during scene changes. The music sounded pretty good on the Academy of Music’s sound system, but it’s no match for a live orchestra (which would probably have doubled the cost of the production – hard to imagine anyone other than the largest metropolitan companies taking that on.)

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, at the Northampton Academy of Music (August 31) and the Colonial Theater, Pittsfield (September 7)

Choreography: Paula Weber; Music: Felix Mendelssohn; Costume Design: Sam Meridith, Pro Tutu Studio; Original Set Design: Thurston Munson, Lighting Design: Kevin McGerigle

 

Titania: Anna Acker; Oberon: Shane Horan; Puck: Vincent Brewer; Hermia: Kaila Feldspausch; Demetrius: Leonardo Victorino; Helena: Marie Buser; Lysander: Ruslan Sprague; Hippolyta: Chrissy Geren; Theseus: Timur Kan; Bottom/Actor: Jai Mason; Actors: Jun David Simons, Joey Dumas; Peaseblossom: Lisa Iannicito McBride; Mustardseed: Danielle Troyano; Cobweb: Kayleigh Danowski; Moth: Allegra Holland. Fairies: Kerry PIaggione, Margaret Vivian, Gigi Robinson, Rachel Weber, Madeline Art: Children: Addison Corbett, Grace Connors, Mary Haight, Ella Ives, Lindsie Johndro, Nia Johnson, Charlotte McKenna, Emalie Mendes, Sage Moran, Aida Nagle, Julia Powell Evelynn Powell, Moira Shannon, Lauren Strassell. Changeling: Mila Krol.

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