April 12, 2004
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE: 'THE DREAM' ENCHANTS ON THIRTEEN/WNET NEW YORK'S DANCE IN AMERICA ON PBS
The magic of Shakespeare, the music of Mendelssohn, the choreographic genius of Frederick Ashton – The Dream remains among dance’s most inspired odes to love. Based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the comical tale of fairies, mismatched lovers and a mischievous sprite reveals the choreographer as the master of poetic metaphor, particularly as danced by American Ballet Theatre’s Ethan Stiefel (Oberon), Alessandra Ferri (Titania) and Herman Cornejo (Puck).
The trio returns to Dance in America to command the enchanted woods of ABT’s acclaimed production Wednesday, April 21 at 8 p.m. (ET) on Thirteen/WNET New York’s GREAT PERFORMANCES on PBS (check local listings).
“Ashton’s imagination knows no bounds,” wrote The New York Times of the ABT premiere: “Shakespeare is in Ashton’s bones, and this Englishness happily seeps through Ballet Theatre’s production.” Added The New York Observer, “so fluent, so charged, so natural‚Ä¶you know you’re in the hands of a master.”
Produced by five-time Emmy Award winner Judy Kinberg and directed by Matthew Diamond, who recently took a Directors Guild of America Best Director Award for Dance in America‘s From Broadway: Fosse, ‚ÄòThe Dream’ with American Ballet Theatre also stars Carlos Molina and Stella Abrera as the lovers Lysander and Hermia, and Marian Butler and Ethan Brown as their unhappy friends Helena and Demetrius. Julio Bragado-Young is the rustic-turned-donkey, Bottom. Ormsby Wilkins conducts.
The one-act work, recorded live at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, California, was staged by Anthony Dowell, who danced the original Oberon at the ballet’s premiere in 1964, and Christopher Carr. Dowell worked closely with the Dance in America team to translate the ballet for television. Reset by Ashton in Victorian England, the production is danced to Mendelssohn’s famous overture and incidental music, as arranged by John Lanchbery, and evokes the great era of Romantic ballet through the gossamer fairy costumes and misty woodland settings of designer David Walker.
Widely considered one of the last century’s most prolific and important choreographers, Frederick Ashton brought an unmistakably lyric style to British ballet, particularly in such works as Ondine and Marguerite and Armand. Of his nearly 100 ballets, many have been landmarks, including Cinderella, Daphnis and Chloe, Romeo and Juliet, La Fille Mal Gardée, The Two Pigeons, and The Dream, which premiered at The Royal Opera House, April 2, 1964. That famous production – in addition to Dowell’s Oberon – featured Antoinette Sibley as Titania and Keith Martin as Puck.
“When you pass the role on, you teach exactly what you did,” says ballet-legend Dowell, to whom Ashton left the rights to the ballet. “But I also feel it’s very important that the dancers must find their own way, too,” he told The Orange County Register. “Roles live on. You can’t do carbon copies. Every principal dancer has a different personality, that’s why they’ve gotten to the top.”
The Dream was Ashton’s contribution towards Britain’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. In it, he condenses the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the forest scenes only, focusing on the fairy kingdom of Oberon and Titania and the lovers and rustics who stumble into it one moonlit, magical night.
The squabbling of the fairy monarchs over possession of a changeling boy leads to the confusion created by the blundering sprite Puck. Oberon puts magical drops in Titania’s eyes, causing her to fall in love with the doltish Bottom, who has been turned into a donkey. Puck, for all his cleverness, uses the same drops to mismatch two pairs of lovers, before Oberon commands him to create a fog through which all is finally set right. A miracle of Ashton’s choreography is that Shakespeare’s convoluted plot is rendered with sparkling clarity.
Ethan Stiefel, star of Columbia Pictures’ Center Stage, was last featured on Dance in America in the 2003 performance-documentary, Born to Be Wild: The Leading Men of American Ballet Theatre. Earlier performances included Le Corsaire With American Ballet Theatre (1999) and Variety and Virtuosity: American Ballet Theatre Now (1998). A popular international favorite, he returns to the Kirov Ballet in June to guest in the St. Petersburg company’s Balanchine Festival.
Alessandra Ferri debuted on Dance in America as the Sleepwalker in La Sonnambula in Balanchine and Cunningham: An Evening at American Ballet Theatre (1988), and last appeared on the series as Juliet in the Balcony Pas de Deux from Romeo and Juliet in Variety and Virtuosity. The Dream marks Herman Cornejo’s first appearance as a principal on Dance in America.
‚ÄòThe Dream’ with American Ballet Theatre is a production of Thirteen/WNET New York and NHK. Its producer, Judy Kinberg, most recently produced and directed Born to Be Wild: The Leading Men of American Ballet Theatre, an official selection at nine film festivals, winning awards at four. She also has produced and/or directed nearly 50 programs for the GREAT PERFORMANCES/Dance in America series, as well as many theater and musical theater projects.
GREAT PERFORMANCES is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, public television viewers, and PBS. Major corporate support is provided by Ernst & Young LLP, a global leader in professional services. Additional funding for this telecast was provided by Lewis Ranieri, the Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Victor and Sono Elmaleh, William J. Gillespie, and the Morris S. and Florence H. Bender Foundation. Additional corporate support for the program was provided by Movado.
Visit GREAT PERFORMANCES ONLINE at thirteen.org and pbs.org for additional information about this and other GREAT PERFORMANCES programs.
Jac Venza is executive producer for GREAT PERFORMANCES.
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