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Music and Dance Review

Bard and Ballet in Duet at the Bowl

The program included Michael York's deft spoken performance and a misfired Balanchine experiment.

September 09, 2002|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not every actor can be equally credible as Romeo and Mistress Quickly, but Michael York performed more than half a dozen roles--well spoken with good accent and good discretion--during the first half of a multidisciplinary program titled "Much Ado About Something: Shakespeare at the Bowl" on Friday and Saturday.

With John Mauceri leading the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, passages from film scores by Nino Rota ("Romeo and Juliet") and Miklos Rozsa ("Julius Caesar") accompanied speeches from the plays that inspired them.

In addition, Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on "Greensleeves" launched odes to Sir John Falstaff, and an excerpt from Mendelssohn's incidental music to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" found York deftly switching from Oberon to Puck to bid us goodnight.

But the evening had more Mendelssohn, and more "Dream" in store: the authoritative Pacific Northwest Ballet dancing most of Act 1 and the finale of Act 2 from George Balanchine's 1962 Shakespeare ballet.

Unfortunately, the experiment misfired. Deleting Balanchine's magnificent Act 2 divertissement and reducing his discursive full-evening work to a plot-driven one act only highlighted its inferiority as a story-ballet to Frederick Ashton's one-act "Dream" from 1964.

Not only did Balanchine lack Ashton's sense of comedy (a real loss in the scenes involving the young lovers), but he inserted bombastic Mendelssohn scores ("The First Walpurgis Night," for instance) that didn't always suit his expressive purposes.

His biggest lapse may have been his use of the majestic "Dream" Nocturne for an extended comic flirtation between Bottom and Titania--nice, if you can accept sight gags to this music, but no match for the passionate Oberon-Titania reconciliation duet that Ashton created to the same accompaniment.

Balanchine's greatest strength here involved the interplay of soloists and corps--always breathtaking, whether two dozen local children impersonated various insects or the Pacific Northwest Ballet ensemble flew across the narrow forestage dressed as butterflies and hounds.

Two sets of principals danced at the Bowl, none more impressively than Patricia Barker as a superbly regal, delicate and dynamic Titania on Saturday. Her diligent Friday counterpart, Louise Nadeau, looked more brittle in the role and tended to get lost in the busy landscape.

Saturday's charismatic Ober- on, Astrit Zejnati, made more of the fiendishly exposed beaten steps, turning more combinations in his solos than the comparatively easygoing but elegant Paul Gibson on Friday. But Jonathan Porretta made Puck surprisingly volatile and sexy Friday, in contrast to the cooler, nastier Timothy Lynch the following night. Nicholas Ade (Bottom) and Ariana Lallone (Hippolyta) lent skill and flair to both performances.

It made no appreciable difference, however, who danced which young lovers on which night--the roles proved interchangeable, defined more by Martin Pakledinaz's costume colors than Balanchine's choreography or the energetic, well-coached portrayals by Melanie Skinner, Carrie Imler, Kaori Nakamura, Olivier Wevers, Christophe Maraval and Jeffrey Stanton.

The evening held more than a few fanfares, and the brass section of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra did itself proud. As usual, Mauceri left some of the music sounding directionless (on Rota and Vaughan Williams, especially), but he capably attended to the unusual challenges of underscoring dramatic recitations and accompanying dancers with his back turned to them.

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