We'll never know what William Shakespeare was thinking when he wrote "A Midsummer Night's Dream" but perhaps he intended a performance on a hot and steamy day. If so, Eclectic Edge Ensemble's fresh take on the classic, "Foot Flight by Night," seen Thursday night at the Southern Theater, not only got the weather right but also the lively tone of the Bard's comic creation.
The project's beginnings date to when artistic director and jazz choreographer Karis Sloss studied at the University of Minnesota in 2000-01. This weekend she previews a re-imagined version of the first two acts, with the promise of a full production next year.
"Foot Flight" shines in its lighthearted approach and Sloss' willingness to take artistic license while honoring the source material's spirit. Her adaptation echoes Shakespeare's themes about human folly and uses airy dancing to set the fun-loving tone. Several performances stand out, including Crystal Secor's mischievous Puck and Allison Doughty Marquesen's regal Hippolyta/Titania. Star-crossed lovers Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena (Heather Annis, Tim Herian, Jeremy Bensussan and Mallory Dykema) are a joyful crew.
Two members of The Players, a theatrical troupe lost in the enchanted forest, outright steal the show — Kayla Schiltgen as The Director and Brian Evans as Tad Croaker. Schiltgen's management of the ebullient Evans while directing the other hapless actors through a rehearsal of "Romeo and Juliet" is a bright moment of complete performance commitment. You'll never look at the balcony scene the same way again.
The program also features four Eclectic Edge Ensemble repertory selections, among them choreographer Jeffrey Mildenstein's stirring "Natural Woman" from the 2015 Sage Award-winning show "Lost Voices in Jazz." "The Trio" from 2013 took a while to achieve visceral impact but offered striking imagery, such as Schiltgen tethered to another dancer via long corset strings.
The 2014 piece "Waiting for Love — From Dream Scape" explores the dynamics of coupledom and singlehood but its subtle energy faded a bit, especially when compared with the premiere of "In Rhythm." This rollicking sextet demonstrates the essential vibe of jazz dancing, with loose yet oh-so-controlled limbs responding to the subtle beats in Reese Kling's smooth composition. Sloss is certainly evolving into a leading local jazz dance advocate.
Caroline Palmer is a Twin Cities dance critic.