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'A Midsummer Night's Dream' amazes Houston ballet audiences

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

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Last night the Houston Ballet opened their 45th season with the company premiere of John Neumeier's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." This production is the first of three Shakespeare works the company will present in their season long celebration of the 450th anniversary of his birth. This Neumeier ballet is the first of his to be performed by the Houston ballet and they are the first American company to ever preform his work.

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This ballet is based on the Shakespeare romantic comedy of the same name that hilariously shows the outcomes of using a love position that doesn't go as planned. Drawing from the original text, this ballet centers around three intersecting plots: the pitfalls of two sets of loves in a magical forest, the Fairy King and Queen in their world and a group of working class (mechanics) men who are attempting to create a play titled "Pyramus and Thisby" for the wedding of the Duke of Athens.

The ballet uses movement for its telling. Audiences are taken on a mystical journey through love, magic, fairies, dreams, a wedding and the famous Shakespeare a play within a play. Every element of this ballet from the dancing, scenery and music, works to bring this story alive for the audience. The set and costume design by Jürgen Rose is particularly outstanding from the opening with the bright, beautiful bedroom, to the dark, magical forest. Each talented dancer will make you laugh, gaze in wonder and swoon at the stories of love, confusion and struggle.

(Possible spoilers: Discussion of plot below)

Audiences are first brought into Hippolyta's room (danced by Karina Gonzalez, opening night) as she prepares for her wedding to the Theseus, Duke of Athens (danced by Aaron Robinson). The love triangle or quadrangle between Hermia (danced by Sara Webb), her fathers choice for her hand Demetrius (danced by Linnar Looris), who Helena (danced by Melody Mennite) loves, and Hermia's true love, Lysander (danced by Ian Casady). The action truly begins when Hermia and Lysander escape into the woods and matchmaker (fairy) Puck (danced by Connor Walsh) attempts to play Cupid and unite the couples in eternal love.

Each dancer is strong and the movements of their characters play to their strengths. Mennite as the lovesick, pursuant Helena is charming and delightful. Her movements though graceful and beautiful often are comedic and fun. Webb is graceful and tender as she glides into the hearts of audiences. Looris is tall and powerful in his movements. He is clean and eloquent. Casady dances with grace as he gets torn between loves. Walsh as Puck is humorous, fun and a joy to watch. He steals more than a few moments with his stage presence.

The principal dancer Robinson and Gonzalez are golden. They, like the entire ensemble, have visual chemistry. They draw eyes to them when they are on stage and move gracefully from scene to scene. The crafts men offer both humorous and jovial moments. When on stage, their presence is used in preparation for their play and as in Shakespeare's time, men had to play women's parts, it offers cheap laughs though still laughs for the audience.

This ballet is told from the different points of view of the aristocracies, fairies and working class. Neumeier does an amazing job matching music with their sets of characters. Mendelssohn's music is used for the aristocracy which allows for both overly pompous and humorous movement. The working class use the barrel organ music which is fun and lighthearted. The fairies get organ music of György Ligeti to create their mystical world.

A special engagement on Friday, September 5th at 6 pm, the ballet will offer a dance talk called "Ballet and the Bard" at the Houston Ballet Center for Dance. This discussion will center on the dance interpretations of Shakespeare's work and preview the remaining ballets the company will perform of his work. The panelist include Dr. Elizabeth Klett, Associate Professor of Literature at the University of Houston at Clear Lake, Artistic Director Stanton Welch and members of the Houston Ballet artistic staff. In February of 2015, the company continues their Shakespeare works with the world premiere of Stanton Welch's "Romeo and Juliet." John Cranko's "The Taming of the Shrew" is the final of the selections which will run June 11-21, 2015.

The current production "A Midsummer Night's Dream" has seven performances at the Wortham Theater Center and closes on September 14. Tickets start as low as $20 and can be purchased by visiting their website www.houstonballet.org or calling 713-227-2787. Browse their website to see what else is in store for the 2014-2015 season.

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