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Thursday, July 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 58.0° F  Fair


Madison Ballet's A Midsummer Night's Dream is a pleasant spring diversion

Titania becomes smitten with the bumbling actor-turned-donkey Bottom.
Titania becomes smitten with the bumbling actor-turned-donkey Bottom.
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Madison Ballet's frothy and fun production of A Midsummer Night's Dream opened Saturday afternoon, a perfect complement to the balmy day. This production is choreographed by Peter Anastos and features supertitles that keep the audience apprised of Shakespeare's complex goings-on in the forest. I found the titles helpful at times, even though their timing was sometimes off the mark.

Prior to the royal wedding of Hippolyta and Theseus, magical shenanigans in the woods are presided over by Fairy King Oberon and his Queen Titania, and their respective squadrons of fairies. After squabbling over a changeling child, Oberon enlists the help of mischief-maker Puck, who wreaks havoc as he casts spells over two sets of mortal lovers roaming the woods: Helena and Demetrius and Hermia and Lysander. Lots of running around ensues before events culminate in the nuptials, which feature Felix Mendelssohn's very familiar wedding march.

Fairies, tiny and fully grown, dart about, flitting like fireflies against Steve Rubin's very pretty backdrop of dramatic trees and a glowing moon. As Oberon, Joseph Copley is suitably regal. One of my favorite moments comes when he is encircled by the child fairies, who rest their chins on their hands while lying on their tummies. They kick their legs as if they were at an enchanted slumber party while Copley completes a nice series of turns á la second. All of the darting around gets a little old, but when the fairies are in hot pursuit of the adorable changeling (Zoe Tedesco), I am all for it.

Marguerite Luksik plays Puck in a gender-bending role. With her short, curly wig and nude unitard strewn with leaves, she brings sass, wit and a playful physicality to the role. When Puck's spell causes Titania (Genevieve Custer Weeks -- haughty at first, then crazy in love) to become smitten with the bumbling actor-turned-donkey Bottom (Zachary Guthier), the laughs are genuine and the pas de deux is sweet. As the music swells, Weeks gently strokes Guthier's long ears and scratches his nose and head, while Guthier (sporting a very cute donkey head) eats up the attention from this beautiful woodland queen.

Rachelle Butler, Bryan Cunningham, Yu Suzuki and Phillip Olllenburg make up the two cavorting couples. They are all good in their roles, but it's Suzuki who is the real standout. Self-assured, working her sumptuous extensions to full effect, she is pursued by both men as they literally pull her in two directions.

When all is made right in the woods with the lovers, both mortal and supernatural, the wedding begins, with plenty of white ruffles and glimmering gold. Jennifer Tierney, as the bride Hippolyta, and her betrothed Theseus (Gabriel Williams, dashing and solid), first dance with members of the royal court, including the lovers from the woods.

Then the couple dances a really lovely and challenging pas de deux. Tierney sparkles in a white tutu with the perfect amount of glitz, and she is a delight to behold. She really engages Williams, the other dancers, and the audience with her eyes, and she has such a genuine smile. Often with dancers (of any discipline, not just ballet), smiles can seem like an afterthought, plastered on intermittently and reading as disingenuous, frozen or stilted. Tierney, who is a very capable dancer with especially pretty arms and hands, conveys sincere happiness while dancing. When you see this, you realize what a rare and wonderful talent it is.

Some of Claudia Lynch's costumes are perfect -- the changeling child, the fairies (particularly the little ones with the Norma Desmond turbans) and the royal couple's are exactly what I hoped for. But the costume for Titania isn't doing Custer Weeks any favors. While the teal unitard is a dramatic contrast to her auburn hair, the layers of iridescent petals protruding from her hips make her look thick, which she isn't. I was also a little put off by Oberon's stiff ruffle, which is a bit distracting when not accompanied by his swirly cape.

The ballet is performed in Overture Center's cozier Capitol Theater. While it's not as lush as the other full-length ballets I've seen from the company recently, is nicely done and a pleasant spring diversion.

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