Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
It may sound glib, but it's too true to resist - "Dream" is a dream. George Balanchine's dance version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," that is, which the New York City Ballet presented at the Kennedy Ball Cente Wednesday night in the first of a week-long series of performances, is a vison of unceasing enchantment. It is also, as proved by a cast which included Karin von Aroldingen and Helgi Tomasson as Titania and Oberon, Jean Pierre Frolich as Puck, Patricia Neary as Hippolyta, and Suzanne Farrel and Peter Martins as the Divertissement couple, a superb showcase for the strength in depth of the company-s dancers.
No matter how often one has watched the ballet, it is always amazing to note the deftness and clarity with which Balanchine sets forth the action in this wordless medium. Shakespere's plot has as many entanglements as a French farce, its amorous mishaps involving, not only two pairs of mortal lovers, but a fairy king and queen, earthly nobility and lowborn rustics as well. Yet Balanchine makes everything instantly clear and convincing, using only a few telling strokes in each scene to introduce the characters and show us who loves whom and why. He once wrote that he hoped people could enjoy the ballet without knowing the play, and in this he has succeeded brilliantly.
Balanchine has also said that not Shakespeare, but Mendelssohn's music, was the primary inspiration for his choreography, and one sees this, too, at every turn. It is to the sweet amours and flitting ebullience of the score that the dancing most closely corresponds, and from the same source come to the ballet's lyrical and virtuosic highlights.
The entire story is compressed into the first act. The second act, the wedding scene, is pure dance divertissement. To support the breadth of this structure, Balanchine fleshed out the famous incidental music for the play with a number of other, lesser known but wonderfully ingratiating Mendlessohn pieces, all of it performed with keen spirit by the pit orchestra Wednesday night under the direction of Robert Irving. Making the acquaintance of this supplementary music is one of the added, and by no means minor pleasures of the ballet.
The opening night dancing was a feast of splendidly attained characterizations. Suzanne Farrell had some bumpy moments technically, but gave the pas de deux just that billowy tenderness of feeling it requires. Martins was a bit too neutral in aspect as a cavalier, but danced with his customary aplomb.
Karin von Aroldingen made a majestic Titania, but softened to girlish susceptibility in her irrestible love scene with Bottom (Bart Cook). Helgi Tomasson flashed his way brilliantly through Oberon's prestissimo Paces, and Jean-Pierre Frohlic's Puck darted across the stage in jets like hunting arrows. Patricia Neary's imperious, stunning fouettes, and the fretful passion of Hermia, marvelously projected by Sara Leland, were among other memorable features of the evening. Let's not forget, however, the children - D.C. area students - whose euphoric zest and comeliness shed a halo of joy over the entire production.