A breathtaking 'Midsummer's Night Dream'

When it comes to top drawer dance that is competitive with many big city companies, you have only to drive up the road to the Richmond Ballet to enjoy just that. Officially designated the State Ballet of Virginia, this professional company offers a variety of highly polished dance that matches the output found in many major entities.

Richmond's sure footed, highly talented dancers, whether in classical or modern mode, consistently live out Balanchine's musing that music must be seen and dance heard. He also said he didn't want people who want to dance but who have to dance, and there is a difference. With the Richmond Ballet you find that visible sense of dedication, drive and desire that distinguishes the higher levels of professional dance.

The latest evidence of its excellence came with its "Midsummer Night's Dream." Saturday's matinee in the Carpenter Theatre was one of the most magical dance moments I've seen, one that fully embraced a full spectrum of imagination and design. It was a collaborative effort between the company, women from the Richmond Symphony Chorus and soloists, two onstage narrators who offered delightful readings of the Shakespearean text woven through the dance, and the Richmond Symphony.

Most importantly, it was shaped by the imaginative choreography of internationally acclaimed William Soleau, who set this work on the company in 2006 for its world premiere. His creativity brilliantly brought together all elements into a cohesive whole that was inspired by Mendelssohn's rich score and Shakespeare's lyrical text. Soleau's stated desire to craft dance that tells stories was seen here where his meticulously crafted choreography found every movement, both large and small, responding to the pulse and dynamics of the score and the subtleties of the text, merging all into a visually delightful telling of the tale.

It was a joy to see responsive choreography that reflected musical structure and text, whether in moments of graceful elegance, mime or outright whimsy. The result of this flawless effort fully embraced the "Midsummer Night's Dream" storyline of love, mixed messages and identities, and magic potions — a fanciful world where all ends well.

The casting was superb, each dancer embracing their characterizations through dance and well tuned and timed acting. With over 50 involved dancers, there were no weak links. Whether in the principle roles or those of royal attendants, fairies or elves, the dance was nearly flawless in execution and cohesion. Special mention is due Elena Bello's absolutely marvelous interpretation of the mischievous Puck, which was captivating as she employed dance, mime and a degree of athleticism to her spot-on delivery.

Musically, things were superbly done by the Richmond Symphony with Erin Freeman, director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus, at the baton. She fully matched movement with music, bringing added delight to the endeavor. A nice touch was having cameras in the pit that relayed images of the musicians and conductor to a screen on the scrim during the Overture and again before the start of Act II at which time they offered an energetic delivery of the first movement of Mendelssohn's "Italian Symphony." Very clever idea.

Add to this imaginative costumes, sets and lighting and you've got an absolutely first class, couldn't be any better dance event. As for the closing moment when the narrator via Puck bids us all good night against the fading, delicate lines of the score and is suddenly bathed in sparkling fairy dust as the curtain lowers, it was breathtaking, which sums up the impact of this moving and magical "Midsummer Night's Dream."

Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearnce in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."

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