It’s gutsy to strip the language from William Shakespeare’s humor and try to retain that essence with balletic slapstick. But if it’s funny enough, pretty enough and performed well, it works. Kansas City Ballet presented “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the Kauffman Theatre on Friday, choreographed by Bruce Wells.
Wells’ version is a concise, relatively clear-cut reading of the tangled plotlines, balancing the humor of the confused relationships with an adorable corps of fluttering fairies big and small (students from the Kansas City Ballet School), the tensions between the Fairy King and Queen, and the bumbling acrobatics of the rustics. He created this work for the Boston Ballet in 1986, where KCB’s artistic director Devon Carney originated the role of Oberon.
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The ballet is based on the music of Felix Mendelssohn. After reading the play in translation as a teenager, Mendelssohn was compelled to compose the overture. Years later he wrote incidental music for the play and incorporating chorus and soloists (here the women of the Kansas City Chorale featuring Sarah Anderson Tannehill and Jessica Salley). The Kansas City Symphony performed the score, conducted by Ramona Pansegrau.
First to enter was a grinning, athletic Puck, performed by Joshua Bodden, cheeky, mischievous, interacting with everyone and inciting chaos.
Tempe Ostergren, a regal, proud Titania, and Liang Fu, an abusive and petulant Oberon, are both talented actors of classically styled pantomime. In their power struggle, the long trains of their fairy wings dramatically enhanced those tensions (despite the technical awkwardness of the wings). Reconciled later, they performed best partnered, with a stunning catch that made the audience gasp and applaud.
Of course, the ass-headed Nick Bottom, played by Charles Martin, stole his scenes with kicks and exaggerated action, cuddled and amusingly scratched by the enchanted Titania.
But the strongest comic work and fluent movement came from the lovers, especially the women. Angelina Sansone was a charming and chaste (and chased) Hermia, while Danielle Bausinger, as Helena, was hilariously desperate, whether spurned or pursued by the ardent men, Thom Panto (Lysander) and Dillon Malinski (Demetrius).
The set, designed by Lewis Folden, was a lovely and mysterious forest of shadowed green and hidden depths, with ethereal lighting by Trad A. Burns. Glittery, embellished, Romantic-styled costumes from Edward Baker gave the work a timeless look, in gossamer pastels.
A stately “Wedding March” sequence (despite faux trumpet playing) and a final sweet tableau with the fairy children and Puck completed the show.