Dance review: A sweet pairing of summer contrasts

REVIEW: "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Rodeo" are exquisitely performed by the Metropolitan Ballet. By Camille Lefevre, Special to the Star Tribune Last update: June 22, 2007 � 7:55 PM

METROPOLITAN BALLET "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Rodeo" Two iconic, lighthearted love stories -- one about mischievous fairies in a mythical woodland, the other featuring cowboys on a dusty American plain -- make up the Metropolitan Ballet's program this weekend. It's the perfect summer divertissement for audiences of all ages: enlightening, entertaining and exquisitely performed. The program pairs Minneapolis choreographer Jennifer Hart's beautifully rendered "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (set to music by Mendelssohn) with the late Agnes DeMille's groundbreaking 1942 "Rodeo" (with score by Aaron Copland). Both are story ballets told through a choreographic blend of pantomime, facial expression and dance. And the two choreographers' stylizations -- vibrant, joyous and eminently accessible but profoundly different -- provide a wonderful contrast.

In telling Shakespeare's tale of feuding fairy royalty and the mortals discombobulated by misplaced pixie dust, Hart has drawn clear characterizations through her choreography. Oberon (Ramon Theilen) is all muscular dominance. But he softens beside the gossamer presence of Titania (Mifa Ko), whose arm flicks and slight hip juts flash the steel will beneath her ethereal swirl. The gymnastic Puck (Keith Glenn) cavorts with devil-may-care exuberance. Bottom (Sam Feipel) canters and kicks with the confusion of a simple man suddenly finding himself an ass and the object of a queen's affections. The pouting, clingy, disabused Helena (Leah Gallas) seesaws midair between her two suitors. A statuesque Hermia (Laura Goodman) moves effortlessly next to her courtly Lysander (Andrew Lester), as a bothered Demetrius (Nicholas Lincoln) is transformed by love. Frosting this delightful confection are the numerous fairies -- girls and young women on point, and even a charismatic Changeling (Adam Wilhelmy) -- who mitigate cuteness with professionalism.

In contrast, DeMille's innovatively stylized bronco-busting, lasso-twirling and fence-sitting infuse the choreography of "Rodeo" with its rugged western spirit. And no one embodies it better than Michelle Mahowald, who owns her tomboy role as the Cowgirl (originally danced by DeMille). She stalks angrily through a crowd of pinafore-wearing ladies. She jerks her body like an unbroken horse and rider. She collapses in a sulk beside the chiseled Wrangler (Andrei Jouravlev), who spurns her. And when she hoofs in a loud red dress in the arms of the tap-dancing Champion Roper (David Tamaki), her delight is infectious. Never has an evening of ballet been so much fun. Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities dance critic.

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My dear friends, dancers and families, For three months I've been waking in the middle of the night as visions come in my mind and heart born of each moment I share with all of you as we journey in this fine art of classical ballet. Each of you has been an inspiration to me in forming this ballet, each personality has effected my vision and dream about this experience and has hence woven ideas into this new version of Nutcracker of OURS that I believe will live in our memories forever. I have now seen the many pieces of hard work, magic and inspiration come to reality before my eyes on our stage. I woke on this day drenched in my own tears overcome with joy over all that we have experienced in our process of arriving at this point. The new friendships that have formed, the transformation of each dancer's ability, the new choreography, sets, costumes, the laughter, sweat, tears, surprises, joy and love that is surrounding all of us as we offer this new production to the community. There are no words I can find to express my gratitude to each and every one of you for believing in this vision, our school and for believing in me and this memory I aim to create for all of us and our community. Without all of your compassion, hard work support and generous donation of time and talent there would be nothing, absolutely nothing. What a joy that we are all a family connected by this golden thread, our appreciation for the fine art of ballet. Know that whilst my attention may seem spread thin over the many elements of this giant vessel with my mind, eyes and hands managing it's myriad of pieces, my heart is busy embracing all of you with pure joy and happiness. I am proud to be your director. I am honored to be your friend. Toi Toi Metroballet! Nutcracker is SOLD OUT! With love and admiration, Erik PS. Here is what Rob Hubbard of the St. Paul Pioneer Press had to say about our ballet ... TWIN CITIES BEST BETS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON DANCE: Metropolitan Ballet's Nutcracker Saturday: Yes, several local ballet companies present "The Nutcracker," but how many of them can say they have a full symphony orchestra and "Billy Elliot," too? Giuseppe Bausilio has portrayed Billy Elliot in that musical on Broadway, and he will come to Hopkins to dance the part of the Nutcracker Prince in this production. Yuri Ivan conducts the Kenwood Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky's lovely score. It's part of a season full of Tchaikovsky classics from Metropolitan Ballet, with "Swan Lake" in February and "Sleeping Beauty" in April. 1 and 7:30 p.m.; Hopkins High School Auditorium, 2400 Lindbergh Drive, Minnetonka; $59-$14.50; 866-811-4111 or -- Rob Hubbard