Sir Frederick Ashton's "The Dream" represents an extraordinarily poignant, witty, sensitive distillation of Shakespearean complexity and balletic invention.
As such, it demands elegance, high energy and generally muted virtuosity, all of which the Joffrey Ballet offered in abundance Wednesday night at the sparsely attended Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
The ballet also happens to require subtle, carefully focused characterizations. These, alas, a conscientious and promising new cast was unable to provide.
Unlike the lush Royal Ballet model, the rather stark set designed by David Walker reduces the enchanted woodland glade to a Halloween postcard. By the same token, the latest Joffrey ensemble reduced the romantic narrative to a nearly abstract exercise.
Ashton always asked his protagonists to dance with their faces, not just their bodies. But these things take time.
Ashley Wheater stalked the boards with a noble, all-purpose scowl as Oberon, executed his bravura feats with reasonable suavity, partnered Titania sympathetically in the great Nocturne pas de deux. In the process, however, he forgot to tell us who the Fairy King is, what he wants, why he responds to provocation as he does. There is more at stake here than a grandiose gesture and a long, splendid line.
Leslie Carothers floated sweetly through the gossamer flourishes of Titania, meeting the most difficult challenges with laughing ease and exuding supremely dainty authority throughout. She also remained stubbornly vapid when one wanted--no, needed--signs of impetuosity, wild abandon, amorous ecstasy, heroic petulance and, ultimately, serene surrender.
As Bottom, Raymond Perrin bravely wore the huge, cartoonish ass head imposed by this production and hoofed sur les pointes with delicate precision. Restored to his more prosaic guise, he settled for bland cheer where such British paragons as Alexander Grant and Stanley Holden had endeared with quizzical, crusty whimsy.
Carole Valleskey, Jill Davidson and Peter Narbutas, who joined the familiar Douglas Martin in the stylized quartet of foolish mortals, dashed and flopped adroitly in the mix-and-match comic charades.
The most successful performance, however, came from a resident Ashton expert, Mark Goldweber. This adorable Alain and Patineur in excelsis spun and flew through the supersonic maneuvers of Puck with just the right combination of athletic magic, smirking ease and mercurial charm.
The wingletted corps executed Ashton's delirious fairy routines exquisitely, their wispy perks seconded sweetly in the pit by Barbara Hancock, Michelle Fournier and women from the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
Leading a fine orchestra, John Miner served Mendelssohn, and the dancers, with enlightened care.