The words “spectacle” and “spectacular” come from the same Latin root meaning “unusual, notable, entertaining, striking and sensational.” Both terms apply to The Sacramento Ballet’s current program, which opened Thursday and continues through Sunday at the Community Center Theater.
The program features an unlikely pairing of George Balanchine’s “Western Symphony,” a celebratory hoe down that fuses American folk dance with classical ballet, and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Sacramento Ballet co-artistic director Ron Cunningham’s take on Shakespeare’s comic fantasy. “Dream” is a spectacle, with its shimmering forest backdrop and colorful costumes, not to mention a stageful of children dressed as fairies and fireflies and the impish Puck (danced by Jackson Jirard) wreaking havoc with young lovers by enchanting them to fall in love with the first person they see upon awakening.
The plot basically follows that of Shakespeare’s play, with a dispute between the King and Queen of Fairies (Oberon, danced by Oliver-Paul Adams, and Titania, danced by Kaori Higashiyama) setting off a plot by Oberon to get revenge upon Titania. It is he who sends Puck upon his mischievous mission. Among his victims are Demetrius (Christopher Nachtrab) and Lysander (Stafan Calka), both of whom are suitors of Hermia (Amanda Peet). Trouble is, Hermia only has eyes for Lysander, while the lovely Helena (Alexandra Cunningham) has the hots for Demetrius, to no avail. And then, there’s the hapless weaver Bottom (Alexander Biber) who is turned into an ass and set up as the love object for Titania. Biber spends a lot of time dancing in a donkey head, flicking his ears and scratching his behind, all to great comic effect. Finally, when Oberon is satisfied that he’s had his fun, he instructs Puck to undo the spells so that the couples are rightly paired and discovered just in time to turn the already-planned wedding of Theseus, the Duke of Athens (Richard Porter), and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazones (Ava Chatterson), into a triple ceremony. And all’s well that ends well — except that’s a different Shakespeare play.
One suspects there’s a bit of the imp in Cunningham himself, for he enthusiastically embraces the fantastical nature of the play and piles on the fun. Lucky for him he has a strong ensemble (augmented by several extra dancers), because Adams, Higashiyama, Nachtrab, Calka, Peet, Cunningham and Biber are required to act as well as to dance as they create their likable characters. Particularly impressive is first-year apprentice Jirard, a dynamo who seems to almost fly with his leaps onto and across the stage.
Opening the program is Balanchine’s spectacular “Western Symphony,” a rousing show-closer on just about anybody else’s stage. Hershy Kay arranged the score, which features familiar folk and Western tunes (“Red River Valley,” “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers,” “The Girl I Left Behind” and “Good Night Ladies,” among them). Balanchine’s genius in this dance is the manner in which he interprets stereotypical “cowboy” gestures and attitudes with formal classical ballet vocabulary. He not only celebrates the American West, but he also adds a little subtle satire on, and references to, classical ballets (including “Swan Lake”). In a way, there is as much humor and mischief here as in Cunningham’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Especially impressive in “Western Symphony” is Stefan Calka and Alexandra Cunningham’s second movement Adagio. Calka dances the part of a lovelorn cowpoke, scorned by Cunningham in a series of attempts to infatuate her. Calka displays good comic timing in addition to the excellent dance timing that makes it possible for him to catch Cunningham in a couple of daring fish dives, in which she, outstretched, jumps blindly into his arms and is dipped low to the ground. His exit, with a bevy of saloon girls, is delightfully humorous. Oliver-Paul Adams, whose strength as a soloist is undeniable, shows great improvement in his partnering skills with Amanda Peet in the opening Allegro segment.
The Sacramento Ballet program “Western Symphony” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” continues at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $17-$70, available in person from the Community Center Box Office, 1301 L St., or by phone at (916) 808-5181.
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