Springtime’s for Seattle. And Shakespeare.
Each year I spend a weekend in the spring with a group of scholars who spend most of their time with the inestimable works of William Shakespeare. Not bad work if you can get it.
This year’s conference brought us to Bellevue, the land that Expedia built. Ok, the corporate suburb Bellevue is definitely not Seattle even if it’s surrounded by the same piney glory and has some of the same breathtaking lake and mountain views. Strangely enough, Bellevue seems to be going for a “high-end-mall-folded-out-into-a-suburb-pretending-to-be-an-urban-city” kind of feel. Convenience is king there but Bellevue lacks character.
However, King County is happily provisioned with excellent public transport, which makes a trip to downtown Seattle quick, easy, and cheap. Take note, Houston. Maybe someday Bayou City will catch up, if yet another string of highly embarrassing disasters doesn’t overtake the light rail expansion. I’m crossing my fingers but not holding my breath.
I always try to turn any trip I make into arts tourism. Seattle was especially obliging in that the Pacific Northwest Ballet was just opening its production of George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. No, they weren’t doing it for the Shakespeareans, most of whom know little about the adaptation of Shakespeare for dance.
Houstonians will be able to get their own taste of the Bard this season with the closing performance of Houston Ballet’s season as they stage John Cranko’s masterful Taming of the Shrew, while next season promises a revival of Ben Stevenson’s Romeo and Juliet. What I’d really like to see, however, is Ben Stevenson’s Cleopatra, which I hear is a camp extravaganza suitable for the Egyptian icon.
Who knows what the future will bring, but this is my obviously biased plea for more Shakespeare in Houston: Opera, ballet, theatre. I’ll take whatever I can get.
In any case, once you hop from bus to monorail, you can find yourself in Kings County’s own arts haven, Seattle Center, which boasts a wide array of theater, dance, film, concerts, festivals, and museums. This is where you come for nearly everything in town, it seems. Seattle Shakespeare Company is performing the hilarious Merry Wives of Windsor there through May 15, but you might have had enough Bard-olatry.
Instead for a visit to the iconic Space Needle. Friends tell me that the cheapest way up for the stunning view is via the restaurant, but I didn’t have time to re-enact my Tom-Hanks-Meg-Ryan-Sleepless in Seattle fantasies. Oh! That’s because I don’t have any. Poor Seattle, saddled with that faux-romantic pabulum as their iconic film. Better luck next time.
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? OK, that’s from Romeo and Juliet, but the most gorgeous light broke through Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, which hosts many phenomenal events including ballet performances. PNB has been helmed by Peter Boal who, at the age of nine, saw the New York City Ballet perform Balanchine’s Coppélia. He was hooked and the rest is history, including a 22-year career with New York City Ballet, working closely with the great Balanchine.
Pacific Northwest’s Ballet is ideally poised for Balanchine, whose charming A Midsummer Night’s Dream, tests not only the range of a company but its capacity to work with children.
Sure, some prefer Frederick Ashton's Dream to Balanchine, which is fair enough. But as the athletic Oberon, the imperious Titania, the devilish Puck, and the confused lovers cavort, a large group of children must execute complex choreography often in unison as a series of butterflies, fairies, and other woodland creatures. These tykes had no trouble. Add to that stand-out performances by Lesley Rausch as Titania, Benjamin Griffiths as Oberon, and a notably athletic Hippolyta, beautifully executed by Carrie Imler, and you have the recipe for success.
Although Shakespeare’s Midsummer is steamy, erotic, and sometimes perverse, Balanchine’s Midsummer is a work that draws children in. I would be surprised if there weren’t a few budding ballerinas-to-be in the audience who will be converted, like Boal, by Balanchine to a life of dance.
I wish I could head back for their world premiere of Peter Boal’s brand-new Giselle on June 3, which he has assembled based on extensive historical research into the origins of this classic work. Happily, Houston Ballet will stage Giselle next season, but I confess that fresh Seattle air and the pleasures of the Pacific Northwest Ballet have me hooked.
After all, isn’t that the dream of art—to captivate?