In the 1980s, the mansion that now houses the Rockville Civic Center was a private, hilltop estate, and a popular parlor ballad was sweeping the world. Its name? "There Are Fairies at the Bottom of My Garden."
Almost a century later, more than 100 ballet-goers were treated to a recreation of a fairy kingdom as the Rockville Civic Ballet staged "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in the gardens behind the Civic Center mansion.
The music was not the 19th century parlor ballad, which has gone the way of gas lighting, but the more familiar Felix Mendelssohn.
Rockville's production included tiny pink fairies and tiny green fairies, the king and queen of the fairies (Oberon and Titania), wedding procession maidens, flower girls and some rustic mortals, one of whom was turned into a "donkey-headed montrosity." Quarrels, confusion, pranks and foolishness prevailed.
An enormous Oberon (Bill Wood) smoothly lifted and carried Queen Titania (claudia Mangan), who reigned as the most graceful of all the dancers. Mischievous Puck (Herb Poe) jumped in and out of the sprawling trees in the garden. Lights and speakers were hung on protruding branches, giving the lawn-chair audience the wonderful feeling of having stumbled into a magical event in the middle of a forest.
The tape of Mendelssohn's music was pure in sound and set at the best volume, often a problem in outdoor settings. The unique sight of a sword fight in ballet and a lavish wedding procession, including Mendelssohn's traditional wedding march, supplied moremagic. Dressing screens on either side of the stage served as resting (or hiding) place for the dance troupe.
The lead dancer, Claudia Mangan, is also the company's choreographer, director, assistant costume designer and set designer. She admits that staging the ballet in the garden -- a first -- was a matter of chance. Originally, the production was to be in the Civic Center mansion, but those plans were scrapped because a real-life wedding was scheduled for the same night. So the company scaled down the production, which had been planned for a large stage, to fit the confines of the small garden.
For the audience, the new plan was a delight.
This is the seventh season for the Civic Ballet, which is sponsored by the Rockville Parks and Recreation Department.
For Mangan, the garden production brought some special rewards.
" . . In this production I have the pleasure of seeing my students for the past five years dancing together," she said. "It's amazing how they have learned and grown."
Although Mangan is not shy about praising her company, she is more modest about her own accomplishments, a modesty which belies her professionalism. She has studied with Danny Diamond, founder of Maryland Ballet, and Kathryn Mullowny (one of the first dancers in George Balachine's American-debut piece "Serenade"). Mangan's troupe now is working on a new production of the "Nutcracker Suite," which the company hopes to perform this fall or winter. CAPTION:
Picture, Claudia Mangan and Bill Wood in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." By John Dwyier for the Washington Post