With this new blu-ray release, ballet fans have another option to view what the overwhelming majority of reviewers think is one of the best ballet productions ever filmed.
Though now directed by former NY City ballet dancer/choreographer Peter Boal, this Seattle based company went from a "second city"/provincial, little dance group with a small budget (and not much dance history) to a major player on the international scene when they had the good fortune to have former Balanchine dancers Francia Russell & Kent Stowell take the helm in 1977. They taught their dancers the Balanchine style, and this comes through in spades with this production of one of Balanchine's rare evening-length ballets.
Patricia Barker (Titania) grew up with Russell & Stowell, coming up through the school that was established when the former NY City Ballet duo left Germany for Seattle. She was deservedly well-known and respected all over the world (she retired recently), and her dancing by itself would be more than enough reason to get this DVD. But this group is so talented that the dancer who rivaled Barker for many of the lead roles through the '90s, Louise Nadeau, could have danced Titania to critical acclaim of Balanchine himself. Nadeau makes the second act pas de deux as much of a highlight as the one between Titania and Bottom (to the accompaniment of that beautiful nocturne with arguably the greatest French horn solo in all of classical music history). Nadeau is a fantastic dancer, and Seattle audiences were lucky to have her AND Barker together for so many years.
As other reviews have mentioned, most of the plot resolves itself in the first act (almost an hour), and the second act (only half an hour) includes a beautiful divertissement set to Mendelssohn's 9th String Symphony (the slow middle movement is the previously mentioned pas de deux that Nadeau shines in); a wedding scene for the two reunited couples (as well as Hippolyta & Theseus) to Mendelssohn's infamous wedding march; and a tail end selection of the Midsummer Night's score for the butterflies, bumble bees & fairies to sum everything up with Puck.
Fortunately, the feet of the dancers aren't cut out of the frames as in so many ballet productions, the beautiful costumes of Martin Pakledinez must have been wonderful confirmation for the Balanchine Trust to allow Russell & Stowell to commission the redesign of the original production, and every dancer in the corps gives you the impression that they are future Barkers and Nadeaus. This isn't too far fetched, since the retirement of Barker, Julie Tobiason, Lisa Apple, Paul Gibson and others from this live 1999 London performance has led the way for Mara Vinson, Noelani Pantastico, Carrie Imler, Kaori Nakamura, Maria Chapman, Jodie Thomas and Lesley Rausch to fill in for those lead roles. Nadeau will dance Titania for the first time on April 4th, 2008, and Chapman, Pantastico, Nakamura and former NYCB dancer Miranda Weese will each take turns performing the act 2 pas de deux.
Highly recommended, this production ranks up there with the SLEEPING BEAUTYs, SWAN LAKEs, SYLVIAs and GISELLEs. Whether Blu-ray, HD-DVD or the old VHS, treat yourself to this flawless production.