Fairies, elves and a live donkey: New ‘Dream’ ballet has something for everyone

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When you go to the ballet, you probably do not expect to see a petting zoo.

But that’s exactly what you’ll find at the opening night of American Repertory Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” (There’s even a donkey!)

And that kind of family-friendly offering is exactly what new ARB artistic director Ethan Stiefel is aiming for.

His new interpretation of the Shakespeare classic, which he conceived and choreographed, is about 70 minutes long, making it perfect for audiences of all ages, he said. It will have its world premiere from April 1 to 3 at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center.

“It’s an interactive experience, as well as a theatrical show,” he said.

The show is set to Felix Mendelssohn’s iconic score, with additional music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is Stiefel’s first full-length ballet for the company since he was named artistic director last summer. It will be performed in collaboration with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Bean.

“The ballet is going to really follow and stay true to the essence of the Shakespeare story, but at the same time I’ve put a little bit of a twist into it,” he said.

Oberon will be played by a woman, and Stiefel has added elves to the story.

“There’s a team elf and a team fairy,” he said. “Oberon in many legends or lore means ruler or leader of the elves. And so Oberon will actually have elves and Titania will have her fairies, which is, I think, going to be a cool and fun source of amusing conflict.”

He said that conflict will draw audience participation, and there will be other ways to show team pride, including themed merchandise.

ARB artistic associate and American Ballet Theatre principal ballerina Gillian Murphy, Stiefel’s wife, will dance the role of Oberon. The rest of the cast includes the entire ARB company and trainees from the Princeton Ballet School.

Stiefel stressed the importance of making ballet, and this production specifically, appeal to all.

“Arts is the source of inspiration and an elevation of spirit,” he said.

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