Sarah Harkness has a knack for retelling classic stories in movement and for putting an original spin on their characters. More than that, she can get the best from performers of widely contrasting skills and levels of experience, which makes her new two-act "A Midsummer Night's Dream" pleasurable in many ways.
At its premiere Saturday at the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood, this Meh-Tropolis Dance Theatre production united dancers in toe shoes, soft slippers, bare feet and heels -- all giving Harkness' treatment of Shakespeare (and Mendelssohn) an endearing crazy-quilt charm.
Her audacious L.A. goth "Giselle," at the same venue a year ago, arguably suited her contemporary ballet style more than the conventional period approach on view here. And at times she threw knockabout farce against the most sublime Mendelssohnian lyricism. Moreover, she made some very unlikely choices for additional accompaniment ("Cavalleria Rusticana"?).
But her cast almost always triumphed -- even if some of them looked as if they'd never seen a ballet, much less danced one. The most memorable moments involved Atticus Batacan's inspired transformation solo as Bottom and Erin Riley's attempts as Titania to teach this donkey-lover the rudiments of classical partnering.
However, Nick Thompson's comic consternation as Lysander, Brenda Stevens' classical finesse as Hermia, Joe Hedderich's effortless versatility as Demetrius and Erin Walsh's indomitable energy as Helena made all the romantic mix-ups unusually compelling. If the Oberon (Anthony Eisenhower) and Puck (Kristi Kraemer) looked a little rough on opening night, these roles were also among Harkness' least ingenious conceptions.
Even their costumes looked improvised compared with the ritzy glam-wear for the pointe-fairies (including Harkness as Peaseblossom). Otherwise, this "Dream" remained marginal in production values (not much more than a platform, a couple of folding screens, a back curtain and rudimentary lighting) but boasted enough real talent -- acting talent, dancing talent, choreographic talent -- and belief in movement expression to give the new dance year plenty of high expectations.
`A Midsummer Night's Dream'
Where: Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Jan. 26 through 28;
2 p.m. Sunday and Jan. 29
Contact: (310) 838-2236