SOMETHING ABOUT BAROQUE music seems to fascinate choreographers. It has a kind of motor, a propulsive quality that keeps dancers moving and keeps dance makers coming back to it. For Ronn Tice, artistic director of Ballet Bellevue, their production of Henry Purcell's The Fairy Queen began with his interest in the music. He'd been thinking about the work for several years, but he hadn't really considered mounting it with his own young company until everything came together last spring for a full production of the baroque masque.
THE FAIRY QUEEN
March 10-11 at Meybenbauer Center
The masque is an ancestor of opera, a combination of orchestral and choral music with spoken text and dance supported by whatever stage wizardry the theater can manage. It was just as expensive to produce as it sounds, and the original versions were often created for grand state occasions. Ballet Bellevue's more modest production last year featured live music by the Bellevue Chamber Chorus, masks by UMO's Bradley McDevitt, and costumes by Lisa Kipp, Tina Craven, and Mirella. Early dance scholar Anna Mansbridge reconstructed some period choreography and worked with the company on the style, but the majority of the dance was classical ballet by Tice, informed by the mannerly curves and deportment of the 18th century.
THIS YEAR'S PRODUCTION loses the live music but gains a stronger connection to period style with performances by Mansbridge and some of her colleagues. She will be dancing reconstructions of baroque material as well as supervising her earlier stagings. As she demonstrated in concert a few weeks ago, the richness in baroque dance is best seen in a close viewing, where the details of gesture and focus interact with the rhythm and phrasing of the music. This intense filigree makes for an interesting contrast with modern developments in ballet, where the movement is often designed to be read from the back of a large theater. The combination of the two should be a dense mixture.
Purcell based his Fairy Queen on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which has certainly been a very durable inspiration for artists. In Seattle we've seen Dream in straight theater productions, staged as a high-school sock-hop, and in movie versions from Mickey Rooney to Rupert Everett. When the Dance Critics Association met in Seattle in 1997 to discuss Pacific Northwest Ballet's new production of George Balanchine's choreography, they identified at least five full ballets and twice as many works based on some part of the play or its characters.
Although Ballet Bellevue is only using about half of Purcell's full score, they still incorporate many of the touchstone aspects of the play that make it such a popular source. The variety of characters, from the passionate lovers to the vaudeville quality of the "mechanicals," all unknowingly at the mercy of the spirit world, is a rich box of tricks from which to work. Between the period and contemporary movement, the stylized masks, and sundry dramatis personae—all riding on the back of Purcell's score—Ballet Bellevue's Fairy Queen is a hybrid that unites over 300 years of theater history.