Photo of dancer Madeline Gambino
Photo by Greg Burns

Celtic Nintendo Ballet

Dragon and the Night Queen takes flight despite injuries

Ballet Fantastique danced with multi-mythological ambitions on wounded wings in Dragon and the Night Queen, an original ballet that pairs nicely with a Guinness. With the company plagued by multiple injuries, according to Executive Director Hannah Bontrager, modifications to the show were made in the days leading up to its March 6-8 run at the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater.

The audience seemed none the wiser.

Celtic, Norse and even a bit of Nintendo legend make up the ballet, choreographed by Bontrager and her mother, Donna Marisa Bontrager. It’s held together by the neo-Celtic rock music of the Gerry Rempel Ensemble featuring Eliot Grasso on the uilleann pipes.

Act I opens with a little pre-bloody battle courting — Cian (Gustavo Ramirez) and Annora (Taylor Harrison) exchange lighthearted pleasantries, circling and clapping to traditional Irish folk music.

A thick forest replaces the wooden barrels conjured by ale-soaked memories of my days spent working in an Irish pub. Annora eventually gets bored with the scene; the first few numbers move a little slowly for everyone. She sends her new beau in search of Morgan le Fay’s (Sophia MacMillan) famed golden apples, but only after Cian frees the princess from the Dragon — a quest within a quest.

Saoirse (Madeline Gambino), a glittering, cerulean bluebird, guides Cian on his muddled journey.

Gambino is undeniably mesmerizing — floating and flittering en pointe through the misty forest, and a crowd favorite confirmed by the hooting male peacocks sitting behind me.

Ashley Bontrager is the wounded and shackled princess, a doppelgänger for Cian’s apple-thirsty love interest. She is helplessly carried on the shoulders of the fearsome Dragon, played by Gabriel Ritzmann, whose scaly and stone-like exterior affectionately resembles King Koopa of Super Mario Bros lore.

The second act packs a bigger punch with battles and a promised Night Queen. The formidable Morrigan (Brooke Bero), whom I initially mistook for the main monarch, explodes on stage, leaping in unison with a flock of blackbirds against Ritzman’s Bowser. Rhiannon, the Queen herself (Carolin Koepplin) draped in velvet and a thick, golden crown, feels more daytime regal than late-night badass.

The costumes (Donna Marisa Bontrager), lush and velvety, look like weighted down spring. Stunning blues and reds, ornate patterns of kelly green and coral, flowery headpieces and gold trimmings serve as a fairytale wardrobe. Cinematic and embroidered, the costumes for Dragon and the Night Queen are some of the most striking I’ve seen from BFan yet.

The musical pairing is the real sweet spot of this ballet. Rempel blends an ancient world with a modern ballet, threading a punchy bass line for the more spirited numbers. Vocalists Cindy Kenny and Emma Rose Lynn are the ethereal cherries on the sundae, alternating soft melodies with bold harmonies.

Layers upon layers dress up Dragon and the Night Queen — multilingual, symbolic, thematic, yet lacking in the dramatic. Despite some narrative confusion and static choreography, perhaps due to injuries, Dragon and the Night Queen exemplifies a daring initiative with stunning visual and audio elements.