If you have a little girl, or know a little girl, you have to take her to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Pacific Northwest Ballet, where girlish fantasy is fulfilled onstage. Fairies in flower petal skirts, iridescent insect servants, a queen in a snail shell boudoir – all framed by sumptuous cabbage roses and morning glories on a scale to make the dancers seem Tinkerbell-sized.
I’m not usually a fan of story ballets, and Shakespeare’s comedy is too convoluted for children to follow anyway, but Midsummer Night’s Dream maintains pert pacing with a fairly direct retelling of the story, which is told in full in the first act. The entire second act is given over to the grand triple wedding and the elegant divertissement pas de deux. Kaori Nakamura danced the pas de deux on the day I watched. She is one of my favorite dancers, and since she is retiring this season, I relished the opportunity to watch her again, even though divertissement usually annoy me. The dancing in Midsummer Night’s Dream is purely pretty. Balanchine’s choreography never challenges the viewer, except for challenging the preconception that ballet can’t be funny.
A jealous lover circles her opponent en pointe; Bottom, with the head of an ass, stretches after a handful of greens as the fairy queen attempts to woo him; Puck, looking a bit like Sting in Dune, with unnecessarily acrobatic energy, tries to make sense out of the muddle of lovers lost in the forest. Unlike so many who attempt Shakespeare, Balanchine was not awed by the majesty of the bard; he captured the bard’s earthy humor without losing the lyricism.
In the final scene, Puck grabs hold of a glittering spider web and rises into the air above the stage. My five-year-old daughter gasped in wonder. I’m not usually a fan of story ballets, but at that moment, the little girl in me did, too.