The cast simply never appeared to be in sync with the choreography and each other. Hervé Courtain, as Puck, did an admirable job of portraying the whimsical role, which requires heavy amounts of acting and comic timing for a dancer. His rather feminine body (very apparent in the lack of a costume that Puck is required to wear) did not quite fit, however, with the particularly athletic style of Puck’s choreography. Courtain did pull off some amusing facial expressions and pantomime that attempted to fill in for Shakespeare’s words, but he always seemed about a half-beat off in terms of the character.
Tara Hench, who danced so well in Suite Saint-Saëns, does not carry her success over into her portrayal of Helena. Her acting was expressive, and she did capture the frustration and despair of the character, but her awkward arms distracted from her dancing and acting, contributing heavily to the downfall of her performance.
There were bright spots in the production worth mentioning, however. Newly-promoted soloist Sarah Lamb was a beautiful Hermia. Her acting skills met the requirements of the role, and her dancing showed great technique and artistry.
Her partner, Lysander (principal Simon Ball), got the most laughs with his facial expressions and shrugs. Ball’s interaction with Courtain’s Puck came closest to capturing the spirit and fun toward which the show aspires.
At its core, Midsummer is a good show; it sports beautiful choreography and stunning, complex stage scenery.
I happened to attend a dress rehearsal of this production with all the major principals dancing the lead roles, and the difference was astonishing. Paul Thrussell’s Puck was leaps and bounds above Courtain’s, and Pollyana Ribeiro’s Helena more than made up for the deficiencies of Tara Hench’s performance. During the dress rehearsal, I never felt that the ballet was too long or slow, as I felt during the Sept. 25 performance.
Midsummer remains a worthwhile ballet. With a cast up to the responsibilities of a large theatrical production, the entire night could deliver.
When I saw it, though, it didn’t.