High drama and light comedy alternate compatibly in a season-closing program that does both Ballet West and the Bard of Avon proud. Indeed, had ballet been on the scene during his time, Shakespeare might well have cast some of his plays choreographically, so effectively does dance tell the story while sensitively elucidating emotional nuances.
"Ophelia" returns on this program seasoned and refreshed and even more apparently a triumph for choreographer Val Caniparoli.Name it as you will, the character of Hamlet dominates any telling of this play; hence, even though the 40-minute ballet's scenario revolves around events that involve Ophelia, Hamlet is still the protagonist. And a powerful work it is, with little respite from suspense and violence, heightened by the Martinu score, powerfully and cohesively interpreted by the orchestra.
Raymond Van Mason has grown even more dramatically into Hamlet's skin since he danced the premiere here. His interpretation is strong and headstrong and desperate for vengeance; his physicality is more menacing, his facial expressions more telling than ever.
Jane Wood dances a piteous Ophelia, who was never a match for Hamlet's overpowering drive. Wood is gentle and feminine, bewildered by the larger-than-life events happening around her. She projects a vulnerable, wraithlike quality, dancing with wiry strength while conveying the heartbreak and eventual breakdown of this character driven to madness.
Wood and Van Mason make the most of two inventive and original pas de deux - the first basically loving, the second a tour de force dominated by the unpredictable whiplash of Hamlet's vascillations between tender feelings and cosmic anger, with Ophelia his helpless ploy, eventually engulfed by waters of despair.
Lisa Lockerd maintains elegant dignity as the guilt-ridden Gertrude, showing herself a dramatic dancer to be reckoned with. Bruce Caldwell makes a hot-blooded Claudius, and Peter Christie an acceptable Polonius, who perhaps needs a touch more comic pomposity in his character.
All technical aspects of this ballet add to its brilliant construction: inspired settings by John Woodall, whose metal tubes and angular stairways reflect the sparse antiquity of fabled Elsinore. Platforms that are whirled about as they enter and exit underline the confusion and violence surrounding the characters. Sandra Woodall's costumes make dramatic statements in stark black, white and red, and Dennis Hudson's lighting is superb, highlighting darkly, creating an eery ghostly presence for Hamlet's father, or the red overcast of bloody death.
Turning to what is becoming a company classic and signature piece, Ballet West does equally well by "The Dream," a prettily turned out piece whose power to enchant increases with each production. You do hate to leave the fairy kingdom when the curtain falls.
If any company ballerina has made Titania her own it is Wendee Fiedeldey, the quintessential faery queen of your dreams. She dances the role wittily with every physical grace, well-complemented by Robert Arbogast's strong and crafty Oberon. Their slow pas de deux with its ravishing melody unfolds horizontally with gentle elegance - a kind of balletic walk through the Paradise Garden. One does still wish that a little more fireworks were built in between these two, traditionally famous for their spats.
Plenty else is built in by choreographer Frederick Ashton, with staging by John Hart, sets and costumes by David Walker. Mendelssohn's enchanting score motivates numerous pretty dances of the fairies. Jiang Qi makes the fleetest and most acrobatic of Pucks (with a faintly Oriental accent), and Peter Christie is a lovable, bemused Bottom. Among the funny mortal lovers, Lisa LaMann shows unsuspected comedic talent in creating a michievous minxlike Helena.
The score is beautifully performed by Utah Symphony and conductor Kern. And thank you for real human voices on the vocal passages - synthesizers don't really cut it.