Ballet titans George Balanchine and Sir Frederick Ashton both famously adapted Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream : Balanchine in 1962 for New York City Ballet (casting himself against his great unrequited love, Suzanne Farrell) and Ashton two years later for London's Royal Ballet (creating a prancing pointe solo for a donkey-headed Bottom). Forty-odd years later, Oregon Ballet Theatre artistic director Christopher Stowell has added a sparkling new version to the repertory; it matches the whimsy and bittersweetness of its predecessors, but its style is distinctly local.
Stowell, aided by scene and costume designer Sandra Woodall, sets most of this fairy yarn in the Oregon forest. From the opening scene—a wedding held under a billowing canopy draped with star lights—Woodall has crafted an enchanting landscape shadowed by oversized fern fronds and lit by an enormous moon that sinks in the sky as the ballet progresses. True to Shakespearean form, Stowell twines the romantic entanglements with mischief, misunderstandings and comedic interludes. The many funny bits include a bunny hop for wedding guests, a merry band of sloshed waiters whose bar becomes a barre, and thwarted lovers whose despair is signaled by a loose-limbed, puppetlike collapse. Stowell keeps the action moving briskly, and nicely balances the comedy with moments of palpable yearning from Gavin Larsen as a lovelorn Helena and a pas de deux for the fairy king and queen (expertly fleshed out by Ronnie Underwood and Alison Roper) that begins with bitter sparring and ends with tender reconciliation. There is plenty here to please the eye as well as engage the mind and heart: A flurry of children (OBT students, dressed as winged monarch butterflies and dragonflies) are cute without being cutesy, and the dances for the grownups evoke love's joys and uncertainties.
Dream caps OBT's 2007-08 opener, The Germanic Lands , and is paired with two modernist ballets: the debut of William Forsythe's tricky technical exercise The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and the welcome return of James Kudelka's Mostly Mozart , which boldly carves up the stage in silence. The combination of these divergent works, accompanied by live orchestral music, signals an exciting direction for the company.
Oregon Ballet Theatre at the Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 222-5538. 7:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Oct. 19-20. $16-$105.