New York City Ballet is ending its spring season with its traditional run of George Balanchine's A Midsummer’s Night Dream. The production is a bit like the spring-season Nutcracker: performances sell out quickly, regardless of cast, the audience is filled with parents taking their children to the ballet (maybe for the first time?) and the stage is filled with cute SAB students who play the insects and butterflies.

Unity Phelan (Titania)
© Paul Kolnik

Most of all, this is a ballet that brings joy to audiences year in, year out. The adaptation of Shakespeare’s play is one of the funniest, merriest ballets in the canon and it is cast-proof – this year, casting for Midsummer has been reshuffled numerous times due to Covid and injuries.

The performance I attended was lovely in every way. This ballet simply works. Unity Phelan had just made her debut yesterday, but was already dancing her third Titania of the weekend due to Covid cancellations and injuries. If she was tired, she didn’t show it – she’s a natural Titania in that she’s tall, majestic, with plenty of hauteur. What she doesn’t have as yet is the goofy, eccentric humor that some Titanias inject into the role. Her duet with Bottom (Gilbert Bolden) remained on the serious side.

Unity Phelan (Titania) and Gilbert Bolden (Bottom)
© Paul Kolnik

Daniel Ulbricht reprised his classic portrayal of Oberon. His Scherzo was impressive for its fast batterie and soaring jumps. He’s been doing this for so long, with such high standards, that one must applaud his consistency. Taylor Stanley (Puck) scampered about the stage and caused trouble with infectious glee. We’re so used to Stanley playing more regal, serious roles that seeing his comic chops was wonderful. I do wish Stanley had slightly more elevation in his jumps – some Pucks really fly around the stage – as he remained more earth-bound.

Daniel Ulbricht (Oberon) and Taylor Stanley (Puck)
© Paul Kolnik

The quartet of Athenian lovers were delightful. Mira Nadon (Helena) has astonishing amplitude and extension in her legs – all those dramatic penchées just exploded with angst. Emilie Gerrity (Hermia) was sweeter, more contained, not as “little but fierce” as some Hermias of the past. Harrison Coll (Lysander) and Alec Knight (Demetrius) were very funny, although the choreography for them is not as memorable.

Emily Kikta was truly Amazonian as Hippolyta. Her brief storm solo with the grand jetés and multiple fouettés always gets the biggest applause of the evening, and so it was here.

Emily Kikta (Hippolyta)
© Paul Kolnik

Real connoisseurs of this ballet go for the divine wedding divertissement pas de deux. This six-minute pas might be the most blissful, romantic duet Balanchine ever choreographed. If the antics of the fairies and Athenians in Act 1 is chaotic and immature, the wedding pas exudes peace, harmony and love – the ingredients for a long, happy marriage.

The pas was danced by Indiana Woodward and Andrew Veyette. Woodward is a beautiful, warm dancer and I have no doubt she will grow into this role. She was so fast and fleet in the opening section of the divertissement, yet sweet and surprisingly skilled at all those slow, dreamy développés in the main pas. Veyette partnered Woodward expertly and was decent in the short solo work.

Daniel Ulbricht (Oberon)
© Paul Kolnik

Midsummer ends back in the forest. Titania and Oberon have reconciled, the bugs and butterflies are off and running and Puck is creating mischief again. It’s as if nothing has changed and that’s exactly what audiences want – a knowledge that despite the Covid cancellations, injuries, retirements (seven principals retired this season), ballet is as resilient as ever. It’s a wonderful way for NYCB to end its return season.

*****