Ballet Repertory Theatre of New Mexico is once again staging the full-length classical ballet A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the KiMo Theatre, and you gotta see it. The ballet was choreographed by Albuquerque’s Celia Dale for BRT in 1995, and this newest cast of dancers is breathing inspired new life into it.
The comedic ballet’s narrative is based upon the play of the same name, written by William Shakespeare around the year 1590 in London. It is set to the classic symphony, also of the same name, that the Shakespeare play inspired a 17-year-old Felix Mendelssohn to compose in Berlin, circa 1826.
The basic story is of unrequited love among and between four lovers: Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, and romantic meddling by Oberon, King of the Fairies. Oberon commands Puck, a fairy jester, to sprinkle cupidean flower-potion on the lovers, and also on Oberon’s own queen, Titania, with whom he is fighting over an orphan (he wants the kid to be a slave, she wants to care for him). Oberon spitefully makes Titania fall in love with a working class man Puck has turned into a donkey. It is important to note that while in our time the notion of marrying for love is a given, in Shakespearean England and Victorian Prussia, this was a revolutionary concept.
Dale captures the comedy of the play and symphony with her choreography. Nowhere is that more evident than in the fifth piece, “I love thee not; therefore pursue me not,” in which a lovesick Helena, portrayed by Ashley Torrez, relentlessly chases an uninterested Demetrius, danced by Edward Montoya. Torrez’s psycho-girlfriend emotionality is exquisite to watch, as she leaps upon him and stalks him. Montoya’s patient but disgusted body language—as when he reluctantly catches her at the last moment possible when she delusionally leaps into his personal space uninvited—is so spot-on that even the small children around me were giggling along.
Gonzalo Chalo Monge gives the ballet’s most athletic performance, as Puck. He toys with the audience from the opening overture, as the house lights stay on and the curtains remain closed just long enough to make everyone really uncomfortable. As audience members start looking at each other like “WTF is going on?” they notice Puck, sitting on the railing in the orchestra section, watching the discomfort with glee. Normally I’m not a huge fan of stage performances breaking the fourth wall (probably because I’m an introvert and just don’t want to get involved, thanks), but in this instance it works.
Lead ballerina Katherine Liljestrand, who has danced with BRT since she was 3 and was back in Albuquerque on loan from her studies at Georgetown Law School, gives a breathtaking performance, exhibiting a mastery that makes it easy to see why she is also finding success as a dancer in Washington, D.C., where she has performed at the Kennedy Center with Moveius Contemporary Ballet. It is a treat to have her back in town; she is a dancer who makes even the most difficult choreography seem easy.
There is not much wrong with this ballet, but if pressed to find something I would say that the portrayal of the working class “Rude Mechanicals,” one of whom is turned into a donkey, made me cringe. Shakespeare was a champion of the working class; he poked fun not at them, but at those who oppressed them. Though Shakespeare has become elitist now, he would be shocked that anyone saw his work this way. Dale’s choreography presents the Rudes as idiots, and when Bottom becomes the donkey, he shows how inappropriate he is as a lover for the queen by … breakdancing. Say what? This reeks of a dangerous contemporary American ethnocentrism that needs to disappear, especially in a city like Albuquerque.
That said, however, I deeply admire the hard work that has gone into this ballet, and as I watched it I felt proud that Albuquerque, a little city by many standards, is home to such a vibrant and excellent community of dancers.