Miami City Ballet’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” an undersea fantasy

Miami City Ballet dancer Nathalia Arja leads students from the company’s school in the troupe’s new production of George Balanchine’s "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which premiered Friday at the Adrienne Arsht Center
Miami City Ballet dancer Nathalia Arja leads students from the company’s school in the troupe’s new production of George Balanchine’s "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which premiered Friday at the Adrienne Arsht Center hgabino@elnuevoherald.com

Miami City Ballet’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a shimmery, shadowy, magical jewel box of a show. Artist Michele Oka Doner’s set and costumes, which transpose George Balanchine’s beloved rendition of the Shakespeare play from its traditional forest to the depths of a fantasy ocean, are not just visually enchanting. They add a layer of ominous mystery (and some charming whimsy) that suit this tale of magically tangled lovers and fairy royalty, and strikingly affect the ballet’s atmosphere.

Add Balanchine’s brilliant choreography, vivid performances by MCB’s dancers, a flock of eager children, delicious Mendelsohn music in a bright performance from the Opus One Orchestra, and together they make MCB’s Dream, which premiered Friday night at the Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Center, a captivating package.

Doner sets shifting images (Wendall Harrington is credited with projection design) on the back wall and a transparent scrim in the front of the stage, layering enormous, ethereal sea plants and creatures, which change with each scene and even undulate slightly, creating a shifting, cinematic atmosphere. John Hall’s shadowy lighting adds to the surreal mood. The intricate costumes combine silvery, shimmery unitards, feathery seaweed skirts, swooping coral headdresses; they make the dancers seem like darting fish in the dark depths.

Balanchine is known for his abstract ballets, but the speed and assurance with which he relates Dream’s complicated plot, and meshes storytelling and character with musical inspiration and compositional coherence, is astonishing. He packs the first four acts of the play into just one. An early scene where the lovers make their case before Theseus (Carlos Guerra), transposes a verbose exposition into four quick gestures: Helena (Emily Bromberg) loves Demetrius (Renan Cerdeiro), who rejects her for Hermia (Jennifer Lauren), who’s happily united with Lysander (Chase Swatosh.) Segments like the one where Titania (Simone Messmer, with a newly luxuriant, precipitous grace) dances with a regal Cavalier (Reyneris Reyes), while her flock of fairies repel Puck (Shimon Ito), as he tries to steal her tiny Page (Olivia Quintane, daughter of ballet master and mistress Arnold Quintane and Joan Latham), are contained compositional jewels. Puck and the bewildered lovers chase each other at a breakneck pace that wonderfully expresses their delirious predicament, simultaneously funny and frightening.

As the fairy king Oberon, Kleber Rebello added new authority to his familiar technical facility; simultaneously capricious and regal, skimming through beats and leaps at dragonfly speed. Nathalia Arja was a sparkling, quicksilver delight as the lead butterfly. Ito also emerged in a new way, giving a vivid, adroitly comic and graceful portrayal of the mischievous Puck. Didier Bramaz was effectively funny as the bumbling Bottom, and the idea of turning him into a manatee (instead of a donkey), swaying his head in search of seagrass while Messmer cavorts adoringly around him, works. (Although the scene was marred by a manatee mask which looks like a cheap plush toy.) Cerdeiro and Bromberg gave a compelling portrayal of the emotionally agonized undertones that darken their comically fraught conflict, a sign of director Tarell Alvin McCraney’s efforts as Shakespeare coach and dramaturge.

Gary Sheldon led the orchestra in a rippling, crisply nuanced performance of Mendelsohn’s music, with the added pleasure of six singers in a crystalline rendition of two Shakespearean songs.

The second act is primarily a grand, formal divertissement, with ranks of dancers in gorgeously elaborate, glittering costumes of pale lavender, seafoam and gold. It’s centered around an exquisitely lyrical pas de deux, danced Friday by Tricia Albertson and Rainer Krenstetter. Their performance was beautifully shaped and finished, but cool, restrained – a sense of emotional release would have given it more depth. Jordan Elizabeth Long was uncomfortably tense in what should be the powerful role of Hippolyta.

Yet these weaker elements did not ultimately take away from the climax of Dream, as the fairies, glimmering in white, silver and gold, gather – in farewell, but also to remind us of the magical, disturbing possibilities that lie beneath the surface.

If you go

What: Miami City Ballet in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream"

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

Info: $20 to $204 at miamicityballet.org or 305-929-7010

Program repeats April 1 to 3 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach and April 9 to 10 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale