Rare Film of Balanchine’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

May 29, 2009

Ever wonder what Suzanne Farrell looked like as a 20-year old? Balanchine’s
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
was filmed in 1966, with Farrell as Tatania. Last Tuesday, BAC Flicks and La Cinémathèque de la Danse (based in Paris), showed the film at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Farrell was a delectable child-woman, beautiful even when she is asleep on the half shell with tons of shiny blue eye shadow. Her duet with Bottom was so tender and sweet, cuddling up to the donkey’s head and pulling grass along for him, that her love for the animal was completely believable.

Afterwards, the current-day Farrell told us that Mr. B wanted her to really show affection for the donkey, so he asked if she had a pet at home. She didn’t, so she went out and bought a kitten for herself. 

The print of the film was dark and sometimes the speed was out of whack. Arthur Mitchell first appearance as Puck streaking through the forest was so fast you couldn’t see him. But later, in his close-ups, with his large bright eyes, he was a vibrant presence on screen. I especially liked when Puck realizes he has sprinkled love dust on the wrong people. Mitchell pressed both hands to his head and then snuck off like a cartoon character, knees lifting up high.

Edward Villella was an elegant Oberon, and Suki Schorer made a sprightly lead butterfly.

Interestingly Villella, Schorer, Mitchell, and Patricia McBride as Hermia, were all in the original cast in 1962, whereas the original Tatania had been Melissa Hayden. Hard to imagine, as she was such an authoritative performer, and Farrell at that age was mostly just lovely and sweet.

Also not original but fabulous in the film were Allegra Kent and Jacques d’Amboise dancing a divertissement that was made for Violette Verdy and Conrad Ludlow. Kent projected not only a natural elegance but also a sense of curiosity. None of the choreography had the kind of hyperkinetics that we see so much of now, but it was all quite affecting. At the end, Kent is arching all the way back, draped over d’Amboise’s arm, and he gently shifts her from one arm to the other. What’s thrilling is the trust she has in him as her body wafts through the air from side to side like a slow breeze.