ASKED TO LIST the elements most common to the ballets of George Balanchine, one would most likely respond: clarity and complexity of design and musical score, speed, modernity, spareness of costume and decor.
In other words, one does not equate Balanchine with story ballets.
Yet in 1962, the great master confounded all expectations by creating "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Based closely on Shakespeare's play, the two-act, evening-length work -- which runs through Sunday afternoon at the Kennedy Center Opera House -- is replete with intricate plot, extended passages of mime, much theatrical fanfare and stage business and elaborate sets and costumes.
To top it off, the ballet is set to the lush and shimmery strains of Felix Mendelssohn's familiar "Overture and Incidental Music to 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' " plus several of the composer's lesser-known works.
Balanchine divides the evening into two distinct parts. The complete story is told in the first act, and the second act -- the wedding celebration -- is pure dance. The narrative, with its confused lovers and spirited, squabbling fairies, is conveyed by means of myriad crossings and encounters; the use of "invisible" characters from the fairy world (invisible to the mortals onstage, that is); and a fine balance of satire and romance.
Act II is far less compelling, but the ending, with Puck sweeping up fairy dust and flying off, is worth the wait.
NEW YORK CITY BALLET -- in George Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Kennedy Center Opera House, Friday at 8, Saturday at 2 and 8, Sunday at 1:30.