Thursday, July 3, 2014

Road Trip: At the Ballet

Last night I headed into New York City with my mom for an evening of fun. We headed out in the early afternoon, after working from home for a little while (one of the benefits of being a PR and Social Media intern is that pretty much all of my work can be done from anywhere).

We arrived a little earlier than we'd planned, so while waiting for our dinner reservation to roll around we walked around inside one of the shops. Unfortunately when we decided to head over to the restaurant, still a half an hour early, it was pouring outside. We bought an umbrella and headed over, by which time we were no longer early for our reservation at the Atlantic Grill across from Lincoln Center.

The restaurant was absolutely wonderful, I enjoyed a particularly good Gazpacho and Red Miso Atlantic Cod. We planned to have dessert, but luck was not on our side. The restaurant somehow got the impression that our show began at 8, rather than 7:30; so when, at 7:25, we still didn't have our dessert or our bill, I started to get a little nervous. I headed across the street to the Metropolitan Opera while Mom waited behind to pay.

Crossing the street was a somewhat terrifying experience however. When we'd been finishing our main courses I had heard the flood alert for the city, and though little of it, but when I walked outside I saw that it had been very much justified. The rain was torrential, and the streets were a bit like rivers. I ended up wet up to my knees (which is a more significant measurement than usual, as my heels added at least four inches to my height) before I had gotten even halfway across.

A misleading picture from before the rain
I made it into the show by the barest measure, the ushers were hurrying me along as I practically ran up the stairs and I made it to my seat just as the lights went out and the orchestra began to play. Mom didn't quite make the first act, and ended up having to watch on a closed-circuit screen in a room outside the theater itself and then joined me after intermission.

The show I was frantically trying to make was the American Ballet Theatre's Shakespeare Celebration, the first act of which was a performance of Frederick Ashton's The Dreama ballet interpretation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dreamand the second was Alexei Ratmansky's The Tempest. The double bill was perfectly timed in several ways, echoing both the recent occurence of Midsummer itself and a celebration of Shakespeare's 450th birthday, but more coincidentally appropriate was the performance of a ballet dealing with a storm during an actual storm.

Both ballet's were spectacular.

I particularly enjoyed The Dream, not because it was superior, but because it is based on a play with which I am more familiar. The costuming was beautiful, with the fairies clothed in glittering tulle and flowers and the more staid costuming for the mortals who become tangled in their affairs, and so was the dancing. I had never imagined that a ballet could make me laugh, but because they didn't speak all their emotions were exaggerated, sometimes to the point that even somewhat serious moments struck me as a little silly. The funniest scenes were those involving Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius, whose love lives are mucked up by the mischevious Puck. Watching Helena dance/chase Demetrius around the stage, and then having that chase mirrored later on when Lysander and Demetrius end up fighting each other for her attention, was surprisingly hilarious. Honestly any scene involving Puck was enjoyable, whenever he appeared he would seem to leap effortlessly in and out of other dancer's paths, and wherever he went chaos was sure to follow. Craig Salstein's performance as the sprite was full of merriment and a restless energy which was incredible to watch.

However, my favorite scene was the Pas de Deux between Oberon and Titania to Mendelssohn's Nocturne. Not only was the dancing beautiful, but it featured one of my very favorite pieces of classical music. Oberon, danced by James Whiteside, was particularly enjoyable to watch, and gave a clear impression of regality and strength. Xiomara Reyes as Titania was also a wonderful character, flirtatious and defiant, but most particularly in her interactions with Oberon.

The Tempest was beautiful as well, but the feelings it evoked were very different, darker and more dramatic. The sense of importance was helped along by the music, which contrasted dissonance and harmony, while combining the harp and harmonium with the occasional sounds of a choir or the flute and muted strings. Unfortunately, The Tempest is a play that I do not know particularly well, and I did not follow the plot as well as I might have. So while it was a wonderful ballet, and I was often awestruck by the abilities of the dancers, the story was not nearly as clear as in The Dream. However, the choreography between the lovestruck Miranda and Ferdinand was particularly lovely, Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews respectively, and Cory Stearns as Prospero was a powerful presence.

While I was greatly anticipating this performance, I found myself enjoying it so much more than I expected. Watching a ballet in person is so inspiring and absolutely breathtaking, and I found myself swept up in the story and the music.

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