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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 8, 2000. All rights

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A New `Dream’ for Dancers

Going home is the sense shared by Mary Barton and

Douglas

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

classical

training, but all three have danced in an earlier, highly regarded

interpretation of Shakespeare’s comedy, choreographed by Britain’s

Frederick Ashton.

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

Dream"

with a new "Rite of Spring," choreographed by Salvatore

Aiello,

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.

Saturday’s

"Midsummer Night’s Dream" will be accompanied by a live

performance

of Mendelssohn’s score by the Princeton University Orchestra and

Chorus,

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

"Midsummer

Night’s Dream" with George Balanchine’s groundbreaking and

glorious

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

coincides

with Princeton’s spring break, this performance of Lustig’s

"Midsummer

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

Demetrius,

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

Martin

met and married, later performing together with Cleveland Ballet

before

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

"Romeo

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

ballet

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

career."

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

Balanchine,

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

mismatched

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

was,"

says Lustig. "It’s the changeling boy’s dream. He’s the

protagonist

of the story."

This young protagonist is seven-year-old Sam Boyles, a Princeton

Ballet

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

hobgoblin

was. `Oh yes,’ he said right away, `my best friend’s sister is a

hobgoblin.’

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.

"Titania

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

butterfly,

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

proud.

And the moment he sees the changeling boy, he points, `I want

him.’"

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

dreamed

it well, because when he wakes up, his mum and dad have made up their

argument, too."

The parallel realms of aristocrat and workers and the fairy world

provide the choreographer with very different movement styles.

"The

fairy world is a more classic world of ballet," he says. The

mechanicals,

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

kingdoms

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

by it."

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

`Midsummer

Night’s Dream,’" she adds.

"I feel that for me here I don’t have to live up to a museum

tradition,"

says Lustig. "This company can set itself apart as a modern

company

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

stories.

Everybody has a hunger for escapism when they go to the theater."

— Nicole Plett

Midsummer Night’s Dream, American Repertory Ballet,

State Theater, Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 877-782-8311. Paired

with "Rite of Spring," for mature audiences. $14 to $32.

Saturday,

March 11, 8 p.m.

Midsummer Night’s Dream family matinee also features

George

Balanchine’s "Concerto Barocco." $14 to $32. Sunday, March

12, 2 p.m.

Premiere Evening, American Repertory Ballet,

McCarter

Theater, 91 University Place, 609-258-2787. Company premieres of

Graham

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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