The first thing that jumped out at us was how this production used what must have been every available student in the School of Cleveland Ballet to create a compelling stage picture and to populate Shakespeare’s woodland fairy kingdom. The oldest pre-professional students danced the role of Novice Fairies. The youngest students were Nightly Bugs, getting an appreciative chuckle from the audience – which surely included many parents and family members – as they skittered about on all fours.
For most of these students the choreography was simple: enter in unison, stand onstage in character, perhaps execute some unison choreography, and exit in unison; age-appropriate assignments that provided the student dancers with valuable experience in being on stage. And, the brightly costumed student dancers filled what would otherwise have been an empty stage, for this production included almost no set. Strangely – we didn’t miss one much – though we well remember the elaborately wrought, exquisite sets Dennis Nahat’s Cleveland Ballet created for MSND.
We were surprised at how much time the young dancers were on stage and we give them proper credit for keeping their attention on the dramatic action, thus directing the audience’s attention and giving focus to what otherwise could have degenerated into a cluttered and confusing stage picture.
Two young students who are particularly easy to talk about, Marla Minadeo and Lauren Davis as Oberon’s Fairies, danced their way through rather complex acting assignments, interacting with Rainer Diaz-Martinez as Puck and Alan Obuzor as Oberon.
And Oberon and Puck have a lot of scheming to do. How to get the Indian Changeling Boy away from Titania? How to help poor, sad Helena find love? A flower that acts as a love potion? Send one of my fairies!
For readers who need a plot summary, see (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRxlrpoJivI) Overly Sarcastic Productions version of MSND. But those who saw Cleveland Ballet’s MSND had no need of a program note, for the choreography by Ramon Oller and the costumes by Victoria Mearini (http://coolcleveland.com/2017/04/designing-costumes-midsummer-nights-dream-behind-line/) made everything instantly clear.
Needing more men to fill all the roles, CB struck casting gold in nearby Pittsburg with Nurlan Abougaliev and Obuzor as respective kings of the 2 parallel kingdoms, the kingdom of the mortals and the kingdom of the fairies. Both men are appropriately tall and kingly, and both project the necessary maturity and technical authority.
For the 2 queens CB cast two go-to company members, ethereal Luna Saya as Titania, Queen of the Fairies and Lauren Stenroos as Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Presenting an appropriate contrast to Saya, Stenroos drew on hitherto unsuspected technical strengths, stepping forcefully into rock solid arabesques panche and exploding into grand jetes that opened into full splits.
When we watched Rainer Diaz-Martinez dance in last October’s concert, he was a conventional male virtuoso, all hauteur and aplomb. But as Puck he assumed another persona, shrugging and cringing in character before and after tossing off technical feats. Double tour en l’air landing in a tight, tight fifth position. Fast and furious tours a la seconde. The audience went crazy and so did we.
No MSND would be complete without the Mechanicals, the bumbling amateur thespians. Oller gave himself the plum role of Bottom but self-effacingly let the other Mechanicals shine, particularly a surprising and delightful turn in which Nicholas Oita as Francis Flute sang a short passage. We appreciated how clearly his voice filled the hall, especially in light of (http://olgasmusic.com/ohio-theater-playhouse-square-nicholas-oita-with-me-and-his-parents-after-midsummer-night-dream/) this posting from his voice teacher, Olga Druzhinina, which asserts that Oita sang without amplification. We also appreciated the way the song was integrated into the action; instead of drawing back and isolating Oita, the other Mechanicals kept him part of the scene, pushing and shoving him while he sang.
So, that’s how to build a fairy kingdom. Instructions for How to Build a Ballet Company follow a parallel outline. First a school, and on that front, the School of Cleveland Ballet has produced a stage full of charming young performers. And Cleveland Ballet has found a popular choreographer in Ramon Oller and a succession of talented guest artists, many of whom have become company members. But the big news is that Cleveland Ballet has an audience. At MSND they were a varied bunch but they filled the seats, laughed at the jokes and applauded the technical feats, a wonderful audience that we’re happy to have been part of.
Cleveland Ballet performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream choreographed by Ramon Oller on Friday, April 7, 2017 at the Ohio Theatre.
Next for Cleveland Ballet, at 6 pm on Friday, May 26 the School of Cleveland Ballet will perform its year end recital at Andrew Osborne Academy. For tickets go to ClevelandBallet.org or call 216-320-9000.