Jessica harston is looking forward to Ballet West's upcoming performance of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." "It's a beautiful ballet," Harston said during a rehearsal break at the Ballet West studios. "The music and the choreography are just wonderful. I'm excited for it."
Harston performs as Titania, the wife of the forest king Oberon, whose lovers' quarrel begins a chain of events and mistaken identities that make up the beloved Shakespeare tale.
To prepare herself for the feisty character, Harston turned to the play itself. "I have read the play many times. So when I found out I had the role, I went back to review the play. And once we started working on the ballet, I found the choreography to be very self-explanatory."
George Balanchine choreographed the work in 1962. It was the first full-length ballet he choreographed in the United States. "The choreography is very fast-paced," said dancer Tong Wang, who will be taking on the role of Oberon. "And it's very difficult to keep in time with the music. But it's important to do that because everything flows together, and there's no room for mistakes."
Wang, who read the play with his wife, dancer Kristen Hakala, said he also did some research of his own. "I went to read what Balanchine had to say about the piece. I have an idea of what he wanted the role of Oberon to be."
First off, said Wang, Oberon is king of the forest. "He is powerful. He is elegant, and he's a little arrogant. I hope I can show that in my dancing. Although I know I'll be nervous when I go on stage and will be worrying about the dance steps, I hope I can put some personality in the role. But I don't want to put too much personality in the role. Then people will think, 'Well, it's all Tong and not Oberon.' "
Harston and Wang, who have danced together before as the Sylph and James in "La Sylphide" in 1999, have been rehearsing "Midsummer's Night Dream" on and off with Ballet West since last year
"We found out early last year that we were to dance the parts," said Harston. "And we have been working on the performance for quite a bit of time."
One of the challenges of getting into the roles is a technical one, at least for Wang. "The role and dancing is very fast," Wang said. "Balanchine choreographed it for a shorter, faster dancer than what I am used to doing. I'm more of a lyrical, adagio dancer. But in this role, even though the quick dancing is about only five minutes, I had to speed up and push myself."
As for Harston, she had to find a balance between the strong and soft characteristics of her role. "Titania is a powerful character," she explained. "She has strength, but she also possesses an elegance that is worthy of being a queen."
While Ballet West audiences have seen these two artists in various leading roles, Wang said a part like Oberon is a wonderful way to open doors to other roles.
"When I push myself, I'm learning how to dance different roles than those of a prince," he said. "The role of Oberon is new to me because it has different rules, and, to me, is a step over the other characters I have danced. I am very happy with the other roles I've danced, but I don't want people to see me on stage and say, 'Oh, it's him again.' I want them to see that I can do different things."
Harston agreed with Wang. "There are pressures that come from within," she said. "I have a characteristic that is ingrained in me to push myself more than what I did the time before. And as an artist, you do have an instinct to be better than the time the audience saw you last."
Harston and Wang, who joined Ballet West in 1994 and 1996, respectively, said they have seen themselves grow while in the dance company.
"My confidence is stronger now," said Harston. "I don't only feel good with my dancing, but other aspects in my personal life as well. The discipline of being in Ballet West and being able to take on roles such as Titania or Odette/Odile in 'Swan Lake' has built my self-confidence in a way that no other job could have."
"I take myself and my career more seriously," said Wang. "When I was younger, I had a younger body, and I didn't think I needed to work very hard. Now, I find myself wanting to work harder. I want to put all I can into dancing because you can't dance very long in reality. Dancing isn't just about pirouettes but about reaching a certain emotional level and giving it to the audience."
BALLET WEST will perform William Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream," choreographed by George Balanchine, in the Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, beginning March 30. The Felix Mendelssohn score will be performed by the Utah Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Terence Kern.
Evening performances are March 30-31 and April 4-7 and will begin at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on April 7. Tickets range from $17-$45 and are available through all ArtTix outlets or by calling 801-355-ARTS (2787), 1-888-451-2787 or online at www.arttix.org.