You leave Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” haunted by four notes. They recur, quavering and shimmering, through Felix Mendelssohn’s glorious score, setting the tone for our entry into an enchanted realm. As played by the splendid Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, those four chords seem to grow like a magic flower, while the dancers, choreographed by the matchless George Balanchine, arrange themselves within the sound, arms wafting as if blown by the breeze from a fairy’s wings.
Balanchine’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” has been in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s repertoire for several decades; the current version, beautifully designed by Martin Pakledinaz, debuted in 1997. It’s unusual among story ballets in that all the plot is crammed into a rapid-fire first act, full of thwarted lovers and scheming fairies and frantic running, followed by a brief second act that features an entirely random and utterly enchanting moonlit pas de deux, performed by dancers who didn’t even appear in Act I. And it’s a joy on every level: the music, the depth and wit of the choreography (I particularly enjoy Hermia’s Bourree of Despair, danced with hilarious angst on opening night by Rachel Foster), the spring-hued richness of the sets and costumes, the “bug corps” of young students from PNB School, tossing off perfect grand jetés and complex formations with visible joy.
The opening-night cast was uniformly strong: Foster, Lindsi Dec, Benjamin Griffiths and William Lin-Yee as the (frequently mismatched) lovers; Laura Tisserand and Kyle Davis as the fairy queen and king, Titania and Oberon, and Joshua Grant as Titania’s cavalier; Ezra Thomson as the enchanted Bottom; Angelica Generosa as the world’s most charming (and fleet-footed) Butterfly; and Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand performing that gorgeous, delicate Act II pas de deux, ending with the softest of falls into waiting arms.
But the evening’s star was unquestionably principal Jonathan Porretta, a longtime audience favorite who’ll retire at the end of the current season. Though often absent from the stage in recent months, he made a triumphant return as impish fairy Puck, a signature role for him (though I also remember, in seasons past, his stately, soaring Oberon). Puck’s a scamp, and Balanchine gives him an assortment of raggedy jumps (a knee up here, a drop to the floor there, a perpetual-motion running leap) that Porretta manages to make look both effortless and impossible — for mere mortals, that is. He’s one of those performers that erases the space between audience and dancer; we’re flying with him, reveling in the journey. As his Puck bid us good night, rising from the stage on a sparkling cobweb as that final chord swells one last time, time — for a ballet, and a career — seemed to have gone by too quickly; in Shakespeare’s words, “swift as a shadow, short as any dream.”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” through April 21; Pacific Northwest Ballet at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $37-$189; 206-441-2424, pnb.org