Dance me a story - PNB's 'Dream' is pure enchantment

I'm a self-admitted sucker for the story ballet. At the age of 9, I wept through the end of Act I of "Giselle" as the prima ballerina danced herself into madness and shuddered though Act II as the ghostly Willis attempted to kill Giselle's betrayer.

However, living in a city with a ballet company devoted to the works of George Balanchine means many, many evenings of dance without a plot. Balanchine wanted to liberate his artform from the ponderous conventions of the 19th-century story ballet as dictated by the traditions of imperial Russian and European ballet. So, for the most part, he created ballets without any storyline at all.

But even Balanchine couldn't resist a good fairy tale, especially the most charming one ever written for the English stage. In "A Midsummer Night's Dream" he was able to match his passion for swift, clean movement with the Shakespearean plot of lovers led astray in a summerwood.

Pacific Northwest Ballet's current production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" nicely rounds out the company's triumphant season in their new home, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Last June, during the opening ceremonies for the hall, the PNB dancers took to the stage as Oberon's butterflies and faeries. All those extremely cute children's costumes designed by Martin Paledinaz, complete with colored wigs and bobbling antenna, dominated the news coverage of the event.

The same darling characters opened the first evening of the "Dream" for a round of applause as the audience was led deep into Paklidinaz' enchanted woodland, where giant roses bloomed overhead and glittering spider webs created flower patterns.

While sharp and precise in their steps, the company also seemed happy to relax into the "oohs" and "aahs" of an audience charmed by the plot of mixed-up love in a lovely setting.

As the warring fairy couple, Le Yin was a majestic Oberon, while Patricia Barker danced elegant rings around him as Titania.

The hapless mortals lost in the wood were Olivier Wevers as Lysander and Kaori Nakamura as Hermia. Melanie Skinner showed great comic timing as the hapless Helena, hopelessly in love with Hermia's other suitor Demetrius (danced by Jeffrey Stanton).

Rounding out the couples were Stanko Milov as Theseus and Carrie Imler as Hippolyta.

But the evening, like Shakespeare's play, was dominated by the impish Puck, Oberon's servant who manages to befuddle everyone with his love potion as well as drop a donkey's head on the rustic Bottom (Nicholas Ade).

Jonathan Poretta as Puck teased, tricked and tiptoed through his appearances until the very sight of his head poking out from behind a tree caused giggles in the audience. But at the end, as the evening's revels faded into stars and twinkling fireflies (those very cute children again, powered with lights), Balanchine's Puck, like Shakespeare's original, makes amends and leaves the audience with a piece of sublime imagery.[[In-content Ad]]