Roman Mejia is Puck in George Balanchine’s masterpiece "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." (Photo by Erin Baiano)
There is not a more suitable ballet for Saratoga Performing Arts Center than George Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
The 1962 ballet set in enchanted forest blossoms on this outdoor stage. It’s as if Balanchine foresaw his company’s arrival in Saratoga Springs just four years later when he and his company inaugurated the SPAC stage with that very ballet. And at the ballet’s 60th anniversary, none of the magic of that work, in that location, has waned.
That was evident again on Friday night when the ballet returned. It has everything – a fast-moving comedic tale with engaging characters like the impish Puck, a bevy of spritely child butterflies and fairies, glowing sets, sparkling costumes and dancing in the second act that takes one’s breath away.
Truly, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is among Balanchine’s most masterful works. And Friday night’s cast honored his vision and the beautifully lyrical Felix Mendelssohn score.
The first act flies through Shakespeare’s comedy of parallel storylines that center on feuding forest royalty – Titania as danced by Unity Phelan and Oberon as danced by Anthony Huxley — and mismatched lovers who desperately chase each other through the dark and foggy woods. Of course, also amusing is Puck, as danced by Roman Mejia, who hypnotizes them all – not just with his dancing aplomb – but with his mischief including bewitching Titania to fall in love with a donkey.
Puck, as directed by Oberon, and his antics are the heart of the first act. And each time he appears, the audience knows that the fun and laughter will begin. Mejia didn’t disappoint. His full-on attack of the jaunty creature lit up the stage every time he leaped to Oberon’s call.
I was most impressed, however, with Sterling Hyltin who is performing her last SPAC season with the company. In the second act, she and Andrew Veyette danced the central pas de deux and she was a paragon of light and gentility. She floated through every bouree, penchee and pirouette. And in the end, when she fell backwards into the arms of Veyette, one could only be amazed by her depth of emotion and understanding that I have never seen brought to the fore in this role.
Hyltin was the real magic of the night and she will be sorely missed.
Of course, that spell Hyltin cast is broken as the audience is returned to the forest where the fireflies and fairies frolic and Puck rises up into the sky.
It’s a perfect ending for a perfect ballet. I urge all to go at 2 p.m. Saturday, sadly, the last day of the company’s stay.