Ballet de Santiago – 2001

April 9, 2001

Ballet de Santiago recreates the fairy land of Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Photo courtesy Ballet de Santiago

Ballet de Santiago
Teatro Municipal
Santiago, Chile

April 9?12, 2001

Reviewed by Lester Tome

It was a great effort for Ricardo Bustamante, artistic director of Ballet de Santiago, to persuade The Balanchine Trust to bring A Midsummer Night?s Dream to Chile. Having other Balanchine works in the repertoire?Serenade, The Four Temperaments and Theme and Variations?was a key reason the company received permission to stage the piece outside the U.S. for the first time. As the staging progressed, hesitation became enthusiasm for Sally Leland of the New York City Ballet, and Sandy Jennings of the Pennsylvania Ballet, who taught the choreography to the Chilean, Brazilian, Cuban, Colombian, and Argentinean dancers of the Ballet de Santiago.

Midsummer Night?s Dream
served as the brilliant opening of Ballet de Santiago?s 2001 season. One would believe that this “dream team” of Shakespeare, Mendelssohn, and Balanchine would yield a great masterpiece, but structural and dramatic imperfections make Midsummer less than an extraordinary work.

Balanchine?s placement of the plot in the first act and the abstract divertissement in the second breaks the work?s unity, to the point of each act looking like the creation of a different choreographer. This stylistic divorce disorients the audience and produces the suspicion that Mr. B, who preferred dance to be abstract, offers the first act?s story as a bait to make us swallow his pure-dance pill after the intermission. But the divertissement is a masterful display of classical dance, while the thematic scenes, though beautiful, have different faults.

One problem is the loss of the Shakespearean wit. There isn?t a single moment in the ballet that prompts outright laughter. At the most, we smile at the pranks of Puck or at the ridiculous affair between Titania and the ass, Bottom. Not surprisingly, the strong comedic accent of the Elizabethan work is distorted, since Balanchine once said that his inspiration came more from Mendelssohn than Shakespeare. Additionally, in trying to join musical fragments, the choreographer made some scenes too long, like the sequence in which Titania and her retinue dance while Puck attempts to abduct the pageboy. Finally, Midsummer doesn?t compare well to John Cranko?s The Taming of the Shrew, a milestone in the company?s repertoire, and one of the better translations of Shakespeare?s works to dance.

Despite its weaknesses, Balanchine?s beautiful world of fairies, nymphs, and butterflies is hardly a fiasco. The strength of his work is, of course, dance. Puck?s movements are ornamented with poses from Romantic art. In plié, he evokes lithographs picturing malicious and naughty fauns. Oberon?s technically complex solo variations debunk the myth of Balanchine creating interesting choreography for women only. Titania embodies grace?what a lovely creature she is! The loving couple dances a delicately filigreed pas de deux, while the corps de ballets enjoys geometric and contrapuntal games in the celebratory scenes, making the dance a symbiosis of music and architecture.

Argentinean dancers Marcela Goicoechea and Luis Ortigoza led the cast on opening night. As Titania, Goicoechea traveled fluidly through steps and poses, a romantic Fairy Queen given to gentle smiles and refined gestures. Ortigoza?s Oberon was a pyrotechnic showstopper, bringing a Bournonville air to several solos in the Scherzo. His feet dazzled in the complicated batterie, a highlight of the choreography. The company?s new Colombian dancer, José Manuel Ghiso, made his impressive debut as a naughty and restless Puck.

The three couples of human lovers were Andreza Randisek and Miguel Angel Serrano, María Dolores Salazar and Johan Ortiz, and Ludmila Pagliero and Alfredo Ligabue. Their performances lacked warmth, which is often true of Ballet de Santiago?s soloists, although the soloists and the corps have improved since Ricardo Bustamante became artistic director last season.

The company?s most talented Chilean dancers, Natalia Berríos and César Morales, danced the difficult second act. Berríos, as Tatania, didn?t meet all the technical demands of the duet, but conveyed a certain elegance and easiness. As Oberon, Morales demonstrated a noble, virtuoso dance style, highlighted by ballon, control, and beautiful line.

The captivating scenery and costumes, designed by Pablo Núñez, combined elements of fairyland and ancient Greece, although the second-act set depicted autumnal trees despite the story?s summer setting. The Santiago Philharmonic was conducted by Rodolfo Fischer.