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Columbia City Ballet charms with whimsical performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Last Saturday, the Columbia City Ballet delighted audiences at the Koger Center with two charming performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” accompanied by the full South Carolina Philharmonic.

The ballet, staged by Columbia City Ballet’s artistic and executive director William Starrett, offered a more musical and certainly a more choreographed interpretation of William Shakespeare’s play by the same name. In addition, it offered something that is not always easy to come by in the world of local ballet: a live orchestra.

According to Starrett, it’s all part of a five-year plan to bring more live music to the ballet. “[It’s] how the art form is supposed to be celebrated,” he said.

Starrett said it all took a year to plan. Felix Mendelssohn, a widely famed composer from the Romantic Period, composed the orchestration just for the ballet, which Starrett says presented unique challenges. “Mendelssohn didn’t write a lot of music and so choreographers and directors have had to finagle the music to be a little bit longer and kind of double some things … and there’s a choir involved, so it’s a big task.”

But the effort paid off in the end. The packed out orchestra pit under the baton of the South Carolina Philharmonic’s conductor Morihiko Nakahara brought a level of energy to the room from the moment the controlled cacophony of the tune-up began. And when the first notes of the performance soared, they brought special emphasis to every dancer’s step, from the light staccato of the woodland fairies to the triumphant theme of the fairy king.

Starrett explained just why an experience such as this is so moving. “The orchestra is a unit,” he said. “They’re working together. So that right there is this amazing bringing the human spirit together. And then the dancer is interpreting that music and bringing it to life right at that moment. And so, you see the movement, you see the music through the body, through the movement, through the human spirit and the physicality of a human being, the music comes to life.”

Underneath the music, it was an eye-catching performance from the moment the curtain rose to reveal a floral forest scene complete with dancing woodland fairies in shimmering tulle costumes.

And if sparkling fairies weren’t enough to wow the crowd, the ballet’s delightful humor certainly appealed to a wide demographic. In Act I we were introduced to The Fairy King Oberon and his mischievous and incorrigible servant Puck, a duo which Starrett likens to Batman and Robin.

And indeed Puck proves to be the perfect foil for Oberon’s dignified solemnity. Hilarious antics ensue as Puck further complicates the romantic entanglements of two young couples, turns an untalented performer by the name of Nick Bottom into a donkey and then makes Oberon’s wife Titania fall in love with him.

Dancer Colin Jacob played Puck this year. “It is a love story, but it is a romantic comedy,” Jacob said. “We try to make it as funny as possible.”

And without the use of words, the dancers had to bring humor to their performance in any way they could, relying on dramatic facial expressions and playful choreography. From Nick Bottom and his group of jaunty performers to the young couples and their bickering, each performer brought a clever comedy to the stage.

To Starrett, the choreography helped interpret Shakespeare’s play into a story that everyone could follow.

Starrett said, “What’s fun about bringing the Shakespearean play to life through dance is that sometimes when you’re hearing the Shakespearean English, you can’t quite understand what they’re saying … But what’s great about the dance is that you generally know the story, but you can take your own journey, you can take your own personal path of understanding it.”

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