Thursday, April 21, 2011

Not My Cup Of Tea

On Saturday night, Joshua and I went downtown to see Boston Ballet’s presentation of George Balanchine’s full-length “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

Balanchine’s ballet was first performed in 1962. Balanchine always insisted that “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” had had a twenty-year gestation period—it had taken him that long, he said, to find the right music by Mendelssohn to match the composer’s incidental music for Shakespeare’s play (Mendelssohn’s incidental music for the play is not long enough to sustain an evening-length ballet).

For the ballet score, Balanchine used all of Mendelssohn’s incidental music, to which he added “Athalie” Overture, the first three movements of the youthful String Symphony No. 9, a couple of brief extracts from other compositions, and Overture: The Fair Melusina. The concocted score works; in performance, it seems of a piece.

The ballet lasts 100 minutes. In Act I, Balanchine tells the story presented in Shakespeare’s play, albeit in pared-down terms. In Act II, Balanchine offers a divertissement celebrating the happy resolution of Act I.

Before Saturday, I had seen “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” twice. Both times it had been danced by New York City Ballet.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” does not appeal to me. The ballet leaves me cold. I was totally unmoved by the ballet on two occasions in New York, and I was totally unmoved by the ballet Saturday night in Boston.

I have tried to analyze my indifference to the ballet. It is possible that my indifference to the ballet is rooted in my indifference to the Shakespeare play.

It is also possible that “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is simply one of those Balanchine ballets I have not yet grown to like, and may never grow to like. There are many works by Balanchine I dislike, including major works, and I am under no obligation to like everything from the master’s hand.

The décor of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is problematic. New York City Ballet continues to use the original designs: stage designs by David Hays and costume designs by Karinska. The original designs need to be retired—they are unattractive and dated.

The Balanchine Trust must have approved new designs for new productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, because Boston Ballet used designs by Luisa Spinatelli created for Teatro Alla Scala. Spinatelli’s designs were even less attractive than the 1962 designs created by Hays and Karinska, if such may be imagined. They were awesome in their hideousness.

I believe Balanchine made a misjudgment in creating so many dances for children in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Dancing children quickly grow tiresome; seeing thirty of them prance around the stage of the Boston Opera House for prolonged periods tried my patience.

Josh hated the thing—and it was primarily because Josh had not seen “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that we bothered to go in the first place.

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