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‘Fairy Queen Fantasy’ Lifts Midsummer Eve Hearts

Jun. 23, 2015
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Beckoned by fairies, many hundreds of humans traveled around the small lake at the heart of the Lynden Sculpture Garden on the eve of midsummer, some clockwise, some counterclockwise, stopping in groves and meadows near imposing modern metal sculptures to delight in a dozen episodes of Henry Purcell’s ravishing baroque opera The Fairy Queen. The perfectly executed performance by Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Danceworks Performance Company, with its cast of 70 dancers, singers, musicians and actors, was a great achievement; and though the air grew chilly on opening night as the sun lowered, the lighting cast by that sun on the life in the garden was beautiful beyond words.

I saw only fairies wander off the main routes, though anyone could do that; each episode of this Fairy Queen Fantasy was too appealing to risk missing any of it. The framework was simple: There was a spat between Titania and Oberon, the fairy king and queen. They parted ways. Her followers around the lake witnessed mediations on women’s sorrows, mothers and children, the ages of man and the cycles of nature; his saw comic courtship, then increasingly dark reflections on love, loneliness and thwarted desire.

Halfway round the lake, all the performers and audience members met. Titania called for a musical respite and a fairy folk dance materialized to Purcell’s “May the God of Wit Inspire.” The next song, “Echo,” involved a neat echo between two distant groups of musicians. “Sing While We Trip It” inspired a laugh-filled dance-game by the younger fairies. Then the audiences crossed paths and viewed in reverse order the episodes the other group had seen. Back at the top of the lake, everyone reunited with the now-reconciled royal couple to enjoy “They Shall Be As Happy.” Choreographer Dani Kuepper turned the fairies into beaming sculptural artworks, somehow warmly unifying everything.

Without amplification or conducting, the singers and musicians assembled by Jill Anna Ponasik projected the sweetly melancholic, lilting music over arena-sized meadows clearly and coherently. Every dancer, ranging in age from 7 to 77, contributed valuable images. Each of the Danceworks company members created and performed a major dance, all pleasurable. Loose-limbed physical comedy, sensual yearning, masochism, strength, tenderness, innocence and sparkling wisdom were represented in original ways. Art and nature united across centuries to lift hearts and give hope.

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