A week of George Balanchine's evergreen classic A Midsummer's Night Dream ended New York City Ballet's spring season. The week-long performances of Dream are almost as much of a tradition as the month-long Nutcrackers in December. And why not? This ballet, created in 1962, is as fresh and funny as ever. It offers many opportunities for both the company and SAB students to shine. Audiences love it – it usually sells out at NYCB, and the Mariinsky, Paris Opera Ballet and La Scala have all acquired it in recent years.

Teresa Reichlen (Titania) © Paul Kolnik
Teresa Reichlen (Titania)
© Paul Kolnik

I attended the 31st May performance which had a nice mix of veterans with debuts. The veterans: Teresa Reichlen and Anthony Huxley reprised their well-known and well-loved performances of Titania and Oberon. Reichlen's Titania is regal and a bit reserved; she isn't as feisty and funny as other Titanias I've seen but the beauty of her dancing more than compensates. Huxley's Oberon is a miracle. In the famous Scherzo, he flew across the stage in a dizzying series of brisés, entrechats, split leaps, direction-changing grande jetés, and whatever other gravity-defying jumps Balanchine choreographed. Huxley not only has elevation, he has ballon, so each time he went up in the air he could pause for that split second so the audience could savor the moment.

The debuts: Roman Mejia as Puck circled the stage in a powerful series of jumps and provided much of the comedy as Puck became ever-more-confused by the antics of the silly Athenian lovers. Mejia is a phenomenal talent: his jump is enormous, his energy is boundless, and he has a natural vivacity that lights up the stage. At this point his portrayal is rather broad with a lot of audience-facing mugging but with time he will no doubt improve. He already has the technique down pat.

Roman Mejia (Puck) © Erin Baiano
Roman Mejia (Puck)
© Erin Baiano

The other debuts were not as successful. The brand new set of Athenian lovers (Unity Phelan as Helena, Emilie Gerrity as Hermia, Alec Knight as Demetrius and Andrew Scordato as Lysander) didn't provide as much comedy as the quartet usually does. When done right the four lovers become a hilarious hot mess. Phelan and Gerrity are both very ladylike, stately dancers and didn't get the comic timing of Balanchine's choreography. Their hair-pulling fight seemed forced; they looked at each other, paused a little too long, and then started fighting. Knight projected too much but Scordato projected too little and thus the Demetrius/Lysander altercations didn't provide the usual laughs. Puck's observation of "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" didn't hold much weight as these mortals were more glum than foolish.

Another debut was Lars Nelson as Bottom. Bottom's duet with Titania is one of Balanchine's most masterful scenes; the donkey Bottom usually starts off as shy and unsure, but gradually gains confidence and also learns how to dance. That moment when Bottom has Titania draped over his thigh and he looks up at the audience, his body language usually changes from diffidence to swagger as he realizes he has a beautiful fairy in his arms. Nelson's body language didn't change and he was overall too low-impact in a role that requires a large dose of hamminess.

Despite these imperfections the first act was generally well-danced. The SAB students who populate the stage as bugs and butterflies were wonderful – so precise! so fast! so Balanchine! Emily Kikta was a powerhouse in the brief but audience-pleasing role of Hippolyta. Her fouettés traveled a bit more than usual but she has a real warrior authority onstage.

Anthony Huxley (Oberon) © Paul Kolnik
Anthony Huxley (Oberon)
© Paul Kolnik

It was the second act that was the let-down. The heart of the second act is a sublime divertissement between two anonymous dancers at the wedding festivities. Who are they? Balanchine doesn't say, but their pas de deux conveys love, respect and harmony. In the middle of a story ballet Balanchine has inserted one of his abstract musings about men, women and relationships. At its best this duet is a heart-stoppingly beautiful six minutes of adagio dancing. Alas, Lauren Lovette was miscast in this role. Lovette is a charming dancer with lovely tapered legs and feet. But she is not a strong adagio dancer and could not hold those repeated developpés for maximum effect. Nor could she really articulate the movement of the leg as it went up or down. Andrew Veyette was a great partner but this pas is all about the female and Lovette gave the impression of rushing through the pas when ideally time should stand still.

Yet the audience loved it, just as they love every performance of A Midsummer's Night Dream I've ever attended. This ballet is a tribute to Shakespeare, a tribute to love, a tribute to dance. One walks out feeling as if one's "soul is in the sky."

****1