To celebrate the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth, Columbia City Ballet is performing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Charleston Music Hall as a part of Piccolo Spoleto Festival. Columbia City Ballet first performed this classic ballet set to music by Felix Mendelssohn in 1977 and performed it last in 2008.
This show arrives at a time of uncertainty for dancers and dance patrons in Charleston. In early 2013, the Charleston Ballet Theatre ceased operations after board members resigned due to financial and management problems, though its related school continues to offer occasional performances. Annex Dance Company and the Charleston Dance Project are expanding their programs, and Columbia City Ballet has added Charleston to its tour circuit. Two local ballet startups, Charleston City Ballet and Ballet Evolution, are hoping to plant roots and grow.
"It seems like Charleston is a dance town, because last season everyone embraced us with open arms, flattery, compliments, and it was almost overwhelming with how gracious and welcoming everyone was," Columbia City Ballet Executive and Artistic Director William Starrett said.
The story of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" presents three worlds: romance featuring two pairs of lovers; comedy featuring six amateur actors and a play within the play; and the fantastic, with a mischievous fairy named Puck, and the king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania who instigate a case of mistaken identities thanks to the application of a love potion.
"It's very magical," Starrett said. "It's very beautiful and the music is extraordinary. My job is to clarify the story through that music and the dancers will bring that to life for the audience to escape to and enjoy."
The fantastical nature of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" can lend itself to some crazy costume and set designs. Starrett described this production as focused on the forest, with "beautiful greens and muted colors."
Principal Dancer Journy Wilkes-Davis plays Oberon and Principal Dancer Claire Kallimanis plays Titania.
"Oberon is very tall and very handsome and has a commanding presence," Starrett said. "He embodies the King of the Forest very, very well. He is technically proficient; there is a lot of turning and jumping. You have to have an overall regal approach, and he is very masterful about that."
Kallimanis spent a lot of time working on her role as Titania, which requires a departure from her typical dancing style.
"Titania seems like a fierce character and I'm a delicate dancer," she said. "It's been interesting to try to bring the delicacy I have and make it stronger because she's such a strong character."
Kallimanis said those not familiar with ballet likely will love "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
"It's a fun and vibrant production and yet still a very classical ballet," she said. "It's a great introductory ballet because it's not so stuffy and people already know the story."
Nicholas Schmiedicker is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.