|PNB principal dancers Carla Körbes and Lucien Postlewaite in George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo © Angela Sterling.|
Balanchine performed as an eight-year-old bug in a St. Petersburg production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His choreography for children, seen in all five of his full-length ballets—The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Harlequinade, and Coppélia—and in the one-acts—Union Jack, Mozartiana, and the “Garland Dance” from The Sleeping Beauty—is always adult-like in sophistication, never playing to cuteness and yet all the more winning as tiny practitioners of technique and musicality execute choreography with sophistication beyond their years. Balanchine gives the full responsibilities of a corps de ballet to the tweens. Our School students, under the benevolent guidance of Otto Neubert, do us proud.
PNB’s production, staged with care and texture by Francia Russell, is unique. Other productions use Balanchine’s choreography and the enchanting score by Felix Mendelssohn, but only PNB’s production boasts the whimsy and spectacle of set and costume designs by Martin Pakledinaz. A fantastic frog and looming spider balance bulbous mushrooms and august roses. The senses are satiated with scale and color.
Balanchine’s production is on the eve of a fiftieth birthday, having premiered on January 17, 1962. Many members of the original cast are still active in ballet. Jacques d’Amboise, a dancer of great charm and a partner of true elegance and generosity, is one of them. In the 1967 film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Jacques partnered Allegra Kent in the sublime Divertissement pas de deux in the second act. Here Balanchine offers reserve when other might have offered more steps. A diagonal of bourrées with delicate rising arms floats like soft wind. How wise to know that we would want to see it twice! A final endless arc arrests time with beauty. We watch a master extol a lesson in essence over excess. Jacques has just published a book on his incredible story. I’ll have the honor of interviewing him about his career on Tuesday, April 12 at Town Hall. I promise to ask him about the Divertissement pas de deux. I might even ask about the fireflies. Join us if you can. No doubt, you will hear a great deal about the brilliance of George Balanchine. — Peter Boal