Ballet fans love to debate which adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream is superior – George Balanchine’s 1962 two-act ballet or Sir Frederick Ashton’s 1964 one-acter? New Yorkers are perhaps predisposed towards the Balanchine version, as NYCB presents it almost every year as the closer for the spring season. But this season, New Yorkers get a treat in that we can also see Ashton’s The Dream, presented by American Ballet Theatre in their fall season. The performances were so delightful I’m sure I’ll be debating Balanchine vs Ashton again in my head.

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Cassandra Trenary and Daniel Camargo in The Dream
© Rosalie O’Connor

What stands out about Ashton’s version is its heart. Titania and Oberon may be fairies, but they have such a human marriage – they quarrel heatedly and reconcile just as passionately. In their first interaction they play tug-of-war with a changeling. The ballet ends with them retreating eagerly to Titania’s cave for makeup sex. Fairies, they’re just like us!

Ashton’s love for his characters shines through in other ways. There’s no one more fun to watch than Puck scampering about the forest. Ashton’s choreography practically twinkles – big jumps, little jumps, the handstand, the dainty run-walk. Ashton also makes Bottom a real donkey with real feelings – his pointe work dance resembles the actual walk of a donkey’s hoof. When he is abandoned by Titania and the spell is broken, he dances a sad recollection of their brief moment of passion. It’s elegiac and melancholy. But don’t despair. In the finale, Bottom has regained his spirit – he comes back onstage with his Athenian buddies, the “donkey” motif blares.

This performance featured some prominent debuts – Cassandra Trenary as Titania, Elwince Magbitang as Puck. Daniel Camargo (Oberon) was scheduled to make a debut as well, but his debut actually came a few days earlier as he subbed for an injured Cory Stearns. A lot of new blood in this ballet.

Trenary was a sweet, flirtatious Titania. One small quibble: she didn't make the little shimmies and fairy-like arm waves look natural. It was a promising debut, but there’s still work to be done. Camargo was more the finished product, exuding haughty imperiousness. The role has Anthony Dowell’s DNA all over it – those extended, held arabesques and tricky chainé turns were a Dowell specialty – and Camargo acquitted himself well. The pas between Trenary and Camargo was blissful, and the tricky partnering (at several points, Oberon has to rotate Titania while she is in arabesque penchée) looked seamless.

Magbitang may be the first time I’ve seen Puck at ABT danced by anyone other than the incomparable Herman Cornejo. Magbitang looks the part – he’s tiny and elfin. His dancing doesn’t have the sheer force of Cornejo, but he’s making the role his own already with his dainty jumps and mischievous manner. Blaine Hoven was wonderful as Bottom, and his pointe work would be the envy of many ballerinas.

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Hee Seo and Joo Won Ahn in The Seasons
© Rosalie O’Connor

The second piece on the program was Alexei Ratmansky’s The Seasons. I’ve seen it four times now, and each time so much is happening that it’s hard to take it all in. There are moments of impressive classical dancing. Glazunov's score is amazing – symphonic and melodic. The pas de trois between the Zephyr, the Rose and the Swallow in Spring might be my favorite – as gentle and lilting as a spring breeze. There is a sweet, touching segment where the adult Cornflowers corps members partner the Poppies (JKO students), experienced ballerinas dancing with future ballerinas. The pas de deux between Zephyr and Corn near the end is gorgeous – I love Corn’s fish dives into Zephyr’s arms and the floating, traveling jetés that end the pas.

But the Bacchanale dancers of Fall are barely onstage before they’re rushed off; the return of all four season’s soloists is kind of chaotic, and the whole ballet needs a new look. The costumes by Robert Pierdziola range from lovely (winter icicle tutus), to the frankly hideous (the red dresses and thick black tights for the children’s corps in Summer look like a cheap dance recital, the tutus for the corps in Spring look like Pepto-Bismol in a dress). The lack of a consistent look makes the whole ballet seem messier than it probably is.

The second cast of The Seasons was mostly very fine, although there were several stumbles and one fall in the Autumn Bacchanale. Joo Woo Ahn partnered ably as Zephyr, and Hee Seo showed off her beautiful feet and lovely extension as Corn. Jarod Curley truly impressed in the Winter pas de cinq with his clean lines and powerful jump.

The fact that these programs sold out demonstrates how much NY audiences love this sort of classical dancing. Despite the imperfections, I loved this program over any of the warhorses I saw in ABT's spring season.