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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 8, 2000. All rights
A New `Dream’ for Dancers
Going home is the sense shared by Mary Barton and
Martin as they prepare to dance the warring fairy monarchs in the
world premiere of Graham Lustig’s ballet, "A Midsummer Night’s
Dream." Midway through their first season under American Repertory
Ballet’s new artistic director, the principal dancers and married
couple are enjoying the comforts of a shared background.
"Graham [Lustig] and Mary and I have a very similar classical
backgrounds," says Martin, during a rehearsal break at the studios
of the Princeton Ballet School. "It’s really comfortable for us.
Our styles mix perfectly, and in a funny way, it’s been like going
home." Choreographer and principals not only share similar
training, but all three have danced in an earlier, highly regarded
interpretation of Shakespeare’s comedy, choreographed by Britain’s
American Repertory Ballet presents the world premiere of artistic
director Lustig’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," set to the
well-known incidental music composed by Felix Mendelssohn, at New
Brunswick’s State Theater, Saturday and Sunday, March 11 and 12. The
Saturday evening performance, pairs "A Midsummer Night’s
with a new "Rite of Spring," choreographed by Salvatore
to the revolutionary 1913 score by Igor Stravinsky. Because of the
strong content of "Rite," its scenario based on Russian pagan
fertility rites, commissioned for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes,
the Saturday program is recommended for mature audiences only.
"Midsummer Night’s Dream" will be accompanied by a live
of Mendelssohn’s score by the Princeton University Orchestra and
under the direction of Michael Pratt. "Rite of Spring" is
performed to taped music.
On Sunday, March 12, at 2 p.m., a family matinee pairs the new
Night’s Dream" with George Balanchine’s groundbreaking and
abstract ballet, "Concerto Barocco," choreographed for an
ensemble of 10 women and 1 man in 1941 to J.S. Bach’s "Concerto
in D minor for Two Violins." Because the Sunday performance
with Princeton’s spring break, this performance of Lustig’s
Night’s Dream" will be accompanied by taped music.
As a member of the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet in the 1980s, Graham
Lustig danced the role of Puck for many years in the Ashton version
of Shakespeare’s fairy fantasy. Titled "The Dream," Ashton
made the work in 1964 for company stars Antoinette Sibley and Anthony
Dowell. In a touch of symmetry, earlier in their careers, both Barton
and Martin also performed in the Joffrey Ballet production of Ashton’s
"The Dream". In the 1980s, Martin danced the role of
one of the story’s confused lovers; later Barton, in her first role
as a full Joffrey company member, danced one of the fairies.
It was at the Joffrey that Mary Barton and Douglas
met and married, later performing together with Cleveland Ballet
joining ARB in 1993. As principal dancers, often cast as a romantic
duo, they have impressed critics with the matched virtuosity of their
performance. Their ballets include Septime Webre’s "Swan Lake"
and "Carmina Burana," and Philip Jerry’s "Our Town."
In May, the couple will reprise their leading roles in Webre’s
and Juliet" for ARB’s season closer.
"We’re enjoying the comforts of our shared background," says
Martin. "Graham [Lustig] wants contemporary, but with a hard
edge; whereas Septime [Webre] leans toward contemporary with a more
modern edge. So while performing with Septime was a challenge and
a pleasure for Mary and I, at this point it’s very comfortable to
slip back to what you know. It just gets better and better. We danced
for Septime for six years, but that’s not an eternity over a 20-year
Shakespeare’s ever-popular "Midsummer Night’s Dream," first
printed in 1600, has been described as having "the lilt and spirit
of youth," and romantic poetry that captures "the freshness
and fragrance of spring flowers." The appeal of its quarrelsome
yet love-besotted couples of all social stations, both mortal and
immortal, includes the antics of Bottom the Weaver who, with his magic
ass’s head and ears, is adored by the deluded fairy queen. In adapting
Shakespeare’s tale to the ballet stage, Lustig joins a long line of
20th-century choreographers that includes Ashton and George
who choreographed a stage version in 1962, later made into a film.
Undeterred by the accomplishments of his choreographic predecessors,
Lustig says he has adapted Shakespeare’s mischievous tale of
lovers for the modern audience by introducing a contemporary twist.
He reshapes the classic story as seen through the eyes of a modern
young boy caught in the middle of a family argument.
"The most important choice I made was to ask whose dream it
says Lustig. "It’s the changeling boy’s dream. He’s the
of the story."
This young protagonist is seven-year-old Sam Boyles, a Princeton
School student who has also portrayed Tiny Tim in McCarter’s "A
Christmas Carol." Scheming to calm his parents’ quarrel, Boyles
is the real dreamer of this "midsummer night’s dream." Sent
to bed by his parents, the boy dreams himself into the enchanted world
of the play’s changeling boy. The magical kingdom of his dream is
ruled by the stern fairy Oberon and his queen, the beautiful Titania,
waited upon by her fairy handmaidens.
"He’s delightful," says Lustig. "On the first day, when
I was explaining the story to master Sam and the other eight students
who play hobgoblins and fairies, I asked him if he knew what a
was. `Oh yes,’ he said right away, `my best friend’s sister is a
He’s a very bright spark."
Through his fanciful dream, the boy resolves his parents’ disagreement
and rights the wrongs of the real world by teaming up with Puck in
the colorful realm of his imagination.
Barton describes her role as the fairy queen with enthusiasm.
is very fiery," she says, her eyes flaring. "She’s not a real
willowy kind of fairy — in fact she has a little bit of a witch
feeling to her." Titania’s costume is embellished with a
while Oberon’s is half-covered with peacock feathers.
"Oberon makes his first entrance with his arms thrust back and
his chest puffed out," she says, "so he’s obviously very
And the moment he sees the changeling boy, he points, `I want
Thus Shakespeare’s orphaned changeling boy whom Titania plans to rear
as her own, becomes, in Lustig’s "Dream," a modern-day boy
who dreams himself into their realm and emerges victorious to quell
his family’s conflicts.
"In the end the little boy takes charge of his dream," Lustig
explains. "There’s a procession in which he rides the donkey and
he tells Titania and Oberon to make up their argument. And he’s
it well, because when he wakes up, his mum and dad have made up their
The parallel realms of aristocrat and workers and the fairy world
provide the choreographer with very different movement styles.
fairy world is a more classic world of ballet," he says. The
or workers — Peter Quince the carpenter, Nick Bottom the weaver,
and their cohorts — share the movement language of the street,
with hip-hop movement. "And for the mixed up lovers, I’ve given
more of a cartoon-style of movement — their characters are pretty
overdrawn anyway," says Lustig.
And reflecting his performing flair, he jumps up from
his seat to provide a sampling of the steps he has made for his
of dynamic dancers. "Because I’ve chosen to view the story through
the eyes of a seven-year-old boy today, it frees me from all those
other preconceived ideas," he says. "I’ve been very inspired
Barton readily concurs. "Graham’s an excellent storyteller,"
she tells me later. "Because of his background, and all the roles
he has danced, he is able to show the dancers exactly what he wants.
He can transform himself in a moment. It’s very inspiring for the
dancers who may not have played many character roles before."
"My favorite style of dancing, what I enjoy most, are pieces are
where you are not only required to be technically proficient, but
there’s a lot of mood and acting. I like to portray a character, and
all the pieces of Graham’s that I’ve dance thus far require that.
There’s never a deadpan look on your face. There’s always emotion
to delve into."
"He especially has a good comedic flair which is perfect for
Night’s Dream,’" she adds.
"I feel that for me here I don’t have to live up to a museum
says Lustig. "This company can set itself apart as a modern
that can do a story ballet.
"Storytelling is vital in all the art forms. It’s part of an oral
tradition that has been handed down for all time. Story ballets are
a great key to allow for different types of dance for all types of
audiences to appreciate," he says.
"I’ve got lots of other ideas for handling of stories," says
Lustig, with enthusiasm. "I’ve got ideas for telling stories be
they dramatic stories, comical stories, loving, moving, tragic
Everybody has a hunger for escapism when they go to the theater."
— Nicole Plett
State Theater, Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 877-782-8311. Paired
with "Rite of Spring," for mature audiences. $14 to $32.
March 11, 8 p.m.
Balanchine’s "Concerto Barocco." $14 to $32. Sunday, March
12, 2 p.m.
Theater, 91 University Place, 609-258-2787. Company premieres of
Lustig’s "The Shrew," based on Shakespeare’s "Taming of
the Shrew," his new duet "Cadenza," danced to music of
Gorecki. Also featured, Jacqueline Buglisi’s "Sospiri," Elaine
Kudo’s "Children of the Drum," and Kirk Peterson’s "The
Eyes That Gently Touch" to a piano score by Philip Glass. $21,
$26, & $33. Thursday, March 16, 8 p.m.
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