Posted March 29, 2016
By DEVON-ASHLEY WADE
Miami City Ballet enchants us with a new and richly suggested setting through the warm aquatic biodiversity off South Florida’s shores. On the ocean floor are a few pairs of mortal lovers engaged in romantic adventures and misadventures as well as quarrels and reconciliations.
This company’s 30th anniversary season came to a crescendo with a new production of George Balanchine’s ballet, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” based on William Shakespeare’s timeless tale of love and illusion.
Balanchine, a true genius, was recognized for producing exquisite ballets in a timely fashion.
A number of years ago, artistic director Lourdes Lopez served as the executive director of The George Balanchine Foundation and she wanted to develop a new production to his narrative masterpiece, while still using Balanchine’s choreography as a standard platform. Later, when Lopez moved to Miami to direct the Miami City Ballet, the possibility of her new creation was set in motion.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a shimmery, magical and wondrous dark playground of tangled lovers. Michele Oka Doner is an internationally acclaimed artist driven by her appreciation for the natural world, which helped to form the basis for her set and costume designs.
Her designs take inspiration from life on the South Florida ocean floor. This drove her to reinterpret the ballet, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and set it underwater. This concept originated from a collection of rare sea creatures belonging to the Marine Invertebrate Museum at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. Oka Doner had permission to photograph some sea creatures, which later served as a template for her costume design. The style was visually captivating adding depth to the ballet.
In addition to the spectacular new sets and costumes, add the breathtaking performances by dancers, Felix Mendelssohn’s glorious music, 24 children and six vocalists together, which made the premiere Friday night at the Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Center, a dazzling spectacle for audiences of all ages.
The ballet began in complete darkness. Gary Sheldon led the live orchestra with a startling fast tempo of violins, which built a visual image of fairies fluttering through the dark depths. The addition of six singers in two Shakespearean songs made chills creep down one’s body.
Focusing on the setting, Oka Doner included interchanging images upstage and a transparent screen in the front of the stage, which served a purpose for transitional effects. They were similar to a wavelike motion to shift from one scene of sea plants and creatures to another.
The experience became more of a cinematic atmosphere rather than strictly a ballet. However, each element of a setting plays a pivotal role in the dynamic experience. John Hall, coordinator of lighting and scenic design elements for Miami City Ballet, added an even darker mood of the deep sea by dimming the lights during various occasions.
The costumes were ornate incorporating glitzy and shimmery tutus, coral headpieces resembling a crown, solid leotards, puffy seaweed skirts and edgy superior trunk ridges, which helped the performers resemble exotic sea creatures.
Reimagined by two international artists from Miami—dramatic direction by Tarell Alvin McCraney and sets and costumes by Oka Doner—this ballet travels into the depths of a fantasy ocean, while always remaining true to Shakespeare’s play.
All of Shakespeare’s famous characters are present: Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the Fairies; the two pairs of mortal lovers; poor bemused Bottom, who eventually transforms into a manatee; Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, who is accompanied by her pack of seahorses when she enters the scene to marry Theseus, ruler of Athens, and troublesome Puck.
Balanchine, the supreme storyteller, holds a great reputation for his abstract ballets. He incorporates most of the climactic points into the first act of the ballet.
One of the scenes presents us with the complicated relationship between all of the mortal lovers. Helena (Emily Bromberg) is infatuated with Demetrius (Renan Cerdeiro), whose feelings change for Helena when he meets Hermia (Jennifer Lauren), who shares endearment for Lysander (Chase Swatosh). Puck constantly chased the lovers as the predicament was in full motion, which was a bit funny at several points.
For example, when Puck carried Helena away from Demetrius and she was shaking her body uncontrollably the audience began to laugh away. Puck conveyed a vivid, comic and graceful appeal as he leaped across the stage during this dilemma. Bottom (Didier Bramaz) transmitted a comical experience for the audience, especially when he transformed into a manatee and dragged himself against the floor in search of seagrass.
Of course, mischievous Puck made a grand entrance once again serving as the little seagrass angel for Bottom. The manatee mask looked like an immense bobble head on a skinny body by the way in which Bottom kept himself unbalanced as he walked across the stage. Each of the characters makes the story crystal clear, helping the audiences understand the enchanting and hilarious drama.
The second act was set in the court of Theseus, which had an elegant appeal. The costumes had tones of lavender and gold with a tint of glitter. The performance in this act is exquisite telling a story and expressing a thought or emotion that provokes a magical and exciting experience for the viewer.
The movement of the bodies is lyrical adding more depth to the scene. Hippolyta (Jordan Elizabeth Long), the principal performer of this scene, was graceful, strong and light on her feet as she spread her elegance with each pirouette (spinning on one foot) she did around the stage.
This performance was a labor of love re-imagined by Miami City Ballet, which is focused on keeping Balanchine’s legacy alive. The beauty of this new production draws one to love the stunning ballet and reminds one of the magical and rich biodiversity that lies underwater.
- Miami City Ballet presents: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
- Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts, Miami, Fla.
- Ticket prices: $35-$175
- Performers: Renan Cerdeiro (Demetrius), Jennifer Lauren (Hermia), Chase Swatosh (Lysander), Didier Bramaz (Bottom), Jordan Elizabeth Long (Hippolyta)
- Run time: 120 minutes
- Dates: Friday, March 18 – Sunday, March 20
- Directed by Lourdes Lopez
- Orchestrated by Gary Sheldon
- Costumes by Michele Oka Doner
- Dramatic direction by Tarell Alvin McCraney