After a long, snowy winter, spring is right around the corner and the State Ballet of Rhode Island looks to heat things up by presenting their annual spring performance nearly two months earlier than usual. In years past, it would fall on or close to Mother’s Day, giving many a wonderful opportunity to treat mom to some ballet, but scheduling conflicts have pushed SBRI’s spring fling to late March.
While having significantly less time to prepare for this production presents some challenges, based on what I viewed at a recent rehearsal (the company’s first full run through), the dancers have responded wonderfully. And what better place than the company’s wooded enclave in Lincoln to rehearse one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
Set in the forest, all the action occurs in one night under a full-moon when the human world collides with the fairies who inhabit the woods. With Duke Theseus of Athens and the Amazon queen Hippolyta set to wed, mischief and mayhem ensue when Oberon, the king of fairies, orders his jester Puck, to cast a series of spells. But things go terribly awry. Highlighted by mistaken identities and mismatched lovers, Shakespeare tangles a web as only he can, yet all does end well with wedding bells.
In keeping with SBRI’s mantra of “community,” this production truly represents a collaborative effort with the company’s five resident choreographers — Shana Fox Marceau, Mia Godbout, Lori Broess, Mark Marsden and Ana Marsden Fox — combining their talents to create an original ballet. But, notes executive director Ms. Marsden Fox, “Ms. Marsden [the artistic director] still needs to approve of all the choreography.”
Ms. Marsden Fox explains that “each choreographer really focused on areas that they felt passionate about. Mia focused a lot on Titania’s variations. I did a lot of the corps work and Mark worked a lot with the three boys [the Actors].” But it was “very easy,” she says, working with Mendelssohn’s score. “We did have to cut some out, but his music works so well with the choreography.”
She also talks with some noticeable excitement about the scenery they rented from Indiana. “It is a forest scene that makes it look like the dancers are really in the forest. They can run in and out of the trees.” She does say, with some trepidation, that the scenery will not arrive until the week of the show, “so hopefully there will be no more snow storms!”
Like most SBRI performances, Midsummer’s Night will feature dozens of area young children. During rehearsal, about a dozen or so of the youngest dancers sat along the floor watching the ballet for the first time. They watched with rapt attention, transfixed by the dancers. Some even had their hair tied up in tight little ballerina buns. “Look how adorable they are,” whispers Ms. Marsden as each nervously tries to avoid making eye contact with her.
Throughout rehearsal, Emily O’Heir looks especially impressive. After several years of captivating audiences, her big break came last season when she was cast in the lead role in “Giselle.” And while she is a remarkable dancer, her presence and ability to mime are simply mesmerizing; she lights up the stage. Unfortunately, this will be her final performance with SBRI.
As Tatania, Ms. O’Heir seems perfectly cast. She has an ethereal, fairy-like grace as her long blond hair gently falls over her shoulders. She beautifully completes a series of Italian fouette turns, kicking one leg high above her head and turning on pointe with the kicking leg finishing behind her bent in attitude; she repeats this combination countless times. She also holds herself nicely during the grand pas de deux despite some jarring partnering.
Then there is Matthew Annunziata as the foolhardy protagonist Puck. What great fun to watch as he playfully circles the studio with a series of big jumps. Always smiling, he truly looks like he is having a blast, often eliciting laughter from his fellow dancers; he too seems perfectly cast. In addition to gravity defying leaps, Annunziata turns at a dizzying clip and displays incredible extension and flexibility with his legs often reaching high above his short frame.
SBRI’s production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream runs March 27 and 28 at Robert’s Hall on the Rhode Island College campus. For tickets or more information visit: stateballet.com.