Diablo Ballet Enchants with Julia Adam's A Midsummer Night's Dream
May 29, 2023—Diablo Ballet has closed their 29th season on Memorial Day weekend with a repertory performance of five works at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek. Headlining the program was the star attraction, the world premiere of choreographer Julia Adam's endearing A Midsummer Night's Dream. Setting a full story ballet on a small company of sixteen dancers in half an hour seems like a fool's errand. Yet Adam has distilled the essence of the classic comedy with Mendelssohn's score, added numerous children as adorable plants and animals, cast some dancers in multiple roles, added delightful costumes by Christopher Dunn and Amanda Farris, and woven them all into one endearing and charming experience.
Adam has the story of mixed up love and magic spells begin with Demetrius and the unrequited Helena, danced by Felipe Leon and Danielle Troyano, meeting in the forest. They dance a pas de deux until they are joined by Hermia and Lysander, danced by Amanda Farris and Luca Tischler, and Theseus and Hippolyta, performed by Leonardo Victorino and Nicole Ciapponi. Dressed all in white, the love-crossed couples erupt in fighting. Some exchange slaps, others congratulations. The fairy Puck, danced mischievously by Oliva Powell, casts spells on some of them to return the love of their unrequited admirers, making things very confused.
Five Fairies, Delia Molineaux, Natalie Hannah, Alina Gonzalez, Liv Cole, and Ella Lynn, shining in shimmering green dresses, pirouette and dance arm-in-arm in a pas de chat. These five dancers later double as the Rustics, roughly dressed but joyful peasants who dance en pointe and form a conga line.
To shake things up even more, Puck gives donkey's ears to the rustic Bottom, danced by Michael Wells. Under Puck's spell, Titania falls in love at first sight with the transformed Bottom. McConnell is wonderful as the smitten Titania, humorously dancing around Wells and clinging to his back, wrapping herself around this new object of affection.
Projected backdrops change to suit the scenes: a forest or a moonlit sky. Instead of twinkling fireflies as in major productions of this story, the background is filled with floating bubbles. At times, Mendelssohn's score is replaced by music that is not specified in the program, such as a girl's voice singing a cappella.
In the end, Puck has set things right among the lovers, leaving everything better than before. In addition to the cute characters, rabbits hopping about, mushroom umbrellas, trees waving in the wind, and the very touching ending, what makes this piece especially endearing is the joy among the characters. There was a point at which some in the audience later said they were almost moved to tears, yet couldn't explain why. That is art.
Other works in the program included two romantic pas de deux: Such Longing by Sir Richard Alston, and Encores by Sally Streets, Diablo Ballet's Artistic Advisor. The former was danced by Michael Wells and Jackie McConnell to Chopin's Mazurka Opus 17, no 7, and Nocturne Opus 27, no 2 played onstage by pianist Aileen Chanco. Danielle Troyano and Leonardo Victorino performed Encores. These two romantic pas de deux were a welcome change at a time when abstract works seem to be the fashion. The solo BMV 1007, choreographed by Olivier Wells and named for Bach's cello suite, was danced adeptly and precisely by Nicole Ciapponi.
Another hit was the beautiful piece Orange, part of choreographer Stanton Welch's color series. Against an orange backdrop dance three couples, Olivia Powell, Lucas Tischler, Jackie McConnell, Amanda Farris, Marco Clemente, and Jasper True Stanford, who has recently joined the San Francisco corps de ballet. Women in long, orange dresses open at the back and men in orange one-piece jumpsuits with shoulder straps partner in pas de deux to Vivaldi's score, which is at first serious, but becomes livelier as the piece becomes lighthearted.
This was the last performance by dancer and choreographer Michael Wells. A mainstay of the company since he joined in 2017, he will continue with Diablo as a choreographer and rehearsal assistant. His departure makes the moving ending all the more meaningful.
Diablo Ballet will open their 30th season in November with Julia Adam's Nutcracker Suite. The season will feature Gerald Arpino's pas de deux from Light Rain, a world premiere of The Firebird, a world premiere by Penny Saunders, and a company premiere by Val Caniparoli.