Ethan Stiefel and Gillian Murphy on a new Midsummer Night’s Dream at American Repertory BalletFjord Review
Ethan Stiefel thinks the world could use some laughter right now. “My mantra as of late has been that love and laughter can prevail,” says the former American Ballet Theatre star, who took the reins of the Princeton, New Jersey-based American Repertory Ballet last summer. “I felt that coming out of the pandemic it would be great to have a new ballet that really exudes laughter and joy.”
Enter Stiefel’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” his first full-length work for ARB, set to the rarely-heard Erich Wolfgang Korngold score. Stiefel’s reimagining, which premieres this weekend at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, doubles down on the whimsy of the Shakespearian comedy. (And not just in the ballet itself: Pre-show activities on opening night include a petting zoo and a fairy face painting station.)
Though the production is family-friendly, it’s too sophisticated to be just a kids show. The source of some of that sophistication: Luminous ABT principal Gillian Murphy, who is married to Stiefel, and who will dance the role of Oberon in several performances. Yes, Oberon, King of the Fairies, a role typically played by male virtuosos from Edward Villella to Stiefel himself. In Stiefel’s version, a more vulnerable but no less virtuosic Oberon is a woman, and is instead the leader of the elves. I spoke to Stiefel and Murphy about adapting the character to be a woman, the ballet’s unique score, and their vision for ARB.
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