Artistic Director’s Notebook: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

There’s something about George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With fairies, fireflies, Bottom, and Puck, playwright William Shakespeare and choreographer George Balanchine offer us a winning combination of joy, laughter, and ebullience. Not only is there magic in the air, there are also alumni in the house. PNB presents this endearing production every few years, and each time familiar faces fill the house and appear backstage for hellos and hugs. On Saturday night, April 15, in connection with PNB’s 50th anniversary season, we are hosting an alumni night with well over 100 former members of the PNB family attending a reception and evening performance. I suspect you’ll see former company dancers, students, and staff in the audience throughout the run. A perfect opportunity to thank them for being such an important part of our history.

Company dancers are a more select group than you might think. Tenures at PNB are far longer than with other companies. Since 2005, we have hired only about 75 dancers starting with Benjamin Griffiths, Carla Körbes, and Anton Pankevich. Only one dancer will retire this year. Watch for a very special evening on June 11 honoring the one and only Lesley Rausch. These multi-year relationships can be found throughout the organization. Several founding members of the PNB orchestra continue to play every show and will bring Felix Mendelssohn’s enchanting score to life in these performances. Check out the staff listing in the program or on our website, and look for an asterisk next to a name. This denotes 25 years or more with PNB. Rehearsal Director, Otto Neubert*, has lovingly
taught dozens of bugs every time we’ve performed this ballet. He even traveled to Hawaii, Vancouver, Washington D.C., London, Edinburgh, Hong Kong, Istanbul, and the Hollywood Bowl to rehearse students for PNB tours. These individuals and their years of devotion to this company and school define us. I like to think this speaks to a healthy and inclusive culture in our workplace. Like any environment, we are not without challenges, bad days, and bad moods, but we also listen, learn, resolve, and evolve. Ultimately, we love what we do and what we offer our audiences and the community at large.

Shakespeare’s tale has been the inspiration for many choreographers and designers. In addition to Balanchine’s iconic telling, there are notable versions by Sir Frederick Ashton, Christopher Wheeldon, Alexander Ekman, and many others. There are also different stagings of Balanchine’s version. In 2016, Lourdes Lopez adapted Balanchine’s choreography for an undersea version designed by Michele Oka Donner for Miami City Ballet. Bottom is transformed into a manatee instead of a donkey! I’m biased, but I love PNB’s version. It starts with Francia Russell’s staging – crystalline, impeccably-timed, and steeped in the humanity and humor Balanchine intended. Francia also worked closely with scenic and costume designer Martin Pakledinaz, and lighting designer Randall Chiarelli, to create a unique environment of Northwest-inspired flora, fauna, and sky that feels both mystical and familiar. And from design to debut, dozens of artisans put care and craftsmanship into this production. They still do as this production enters its 27th year. With a cast of over 75, myriad scenic elements and props, and a full orchestra, imagine how many individuals have worked to present these performances. And I assure you, it is a labor of love. The magic happens from the first notes and continues as the last enchanted child takes a final twirl before dropping off to dream at night. Let the magic begin.