Mother Nature was on the side of the Ajkun Ballet Theatre on Friday night. She held off a downpour until the final bow of the company’s outdoor performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
But that was about the only thing the company had going for it. This condensed version of the Shakespearean comedy, choreographed by Co-artistic Director Chiara Ajkun, was so diluted that it was confusing. Actually, no one in the seats, set up underneath the dome of The Egg, could have possibly understood what was going on unless they already knew the story. Worse off, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is supposed to be funny. But with the exception of a few smiles that the wonderful Momoko Sasada, as a female Puck, inspired, there was nothing funny about this rendering.
This is not a criticism of the dancers. The ensemble, all ages and all levels, played their parts with joy. This was especially true of Sasada who flitted through the action. Also lovely to see was the bevy of butterflies that darted and banked along the rim of the small open-air stage. These dancers, with colorful wings and headpieces piled high with flowers, were a delight to watch.
Rather, this is a criticism of the choreography that failed to serve the story and the artistry of the principal dancers.
Here are a few examples. Puck bowed to both Tatiana and Oberon. No one would know that Puck was a servant to Oberon. And then there is the tale of the lovers. It was unclear who loved who and what sparked a sword fight between Lysander and Demetrius. When they are first introduced, the two sets of lovers perform identical, side-by-side duets. With the exception of Demetrius pushing Helena away at first, the relationships were fuzzy. There was no indication that Demetrius loved Hermia nor that he couldn’t stand Helena who was madly in love with him.
Well, if you saw this version, certainly, none of this makes any sense to you. Characterization was mute.
Then there were the actual duets — some of which were painful to watch. Pas de deux for Tatiana and Oberon, the two sets of lovers and Theseus and Hippolyta were awkward. Ajkun often had the men hoisting up the women in ways that looked strained. They would spread their legs, in a deep second position plié, and lift their partner like heaving heavy barbells. The women, poised in these positions, cringed.
At other points, the ballerina lifted one leg, with an ankle pressed to her ear. Then the partner, coming from behind, hugged her. With a leg between them, any sense of affection was blocked. Wouldn’t it be better to simply hug. That would look and feel authentic.
None of this added to the romance, the whimsy or the fun of the ballet.
That said, it was nice that Ajkun could present “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” outside. Though the company had no set or designs, the sky that shifted moment by moment between cloudy and shades of azure, was a lovely backdrop. At one point, with the sun low, the dancers appeared completely in silhouette — like moving sculpture.
While Shakespeare and his tale were not honored, nature was. No wonder she waited to rain.