A Midsummer Night's Dream - The Royal New Zealand Ballet
22 August 2015, St James Theatre - Wellington
Reviewed by Jan Bolwell
It is serendipity in a production when all the elements come together in one harmonious and glorious whole, but it cannot always be guaranteed no matter the individual talents of those involved. With the RNZB’s sparkling new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream the company has hit the jackpot.
From the opening moments when the superb lighting design by Kendall Smith seeps its way onto Tracy Grant Lord’s blissfully magical set we know we are in for something special. This is no ordinary forest she has created. With its ringed moon high upstage right it seems to hang from there, suspended and luminous against a starry sky, and despite its size, cleverly allowing plenty of stage space for the dancers. This is the world of fairies, not humans and the use of large pods and fibre-optic flowers or buds are just some of the surprises that delight in this world. Lord’s costumes are in harmony with this vision with a rich and wondrous colour palette that distinguishes the human and fairy worlds. Oberon’s full-skirted frock coat in the first half is sensational as it swirls to catch the light. The fairies too are delightful with their perky wings and in their flounced up tutus giving them a slightly dishevelled look. The only question mark I have about costuming is that of the changeling who is the catalyst for the quarrel between Titania and Oberon who in his rage summons Puck to do his mischief. The changeling’s onesie outfit lacks the exoticism of the others and seems out of kilter with the fairy world that has been created.
George Balanchine, when creating his 1962 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Mendelssohn’s music, always maintained that you should not need to know the Shakespearean story in order to appreciate and understand the ballet. Certainly that is the case with talented young Englishman Liam Scarlett’s witty and refreshing choreography. In the programme notes he states: ‘My aim was always to remain faithful and true to what I believe Shakespeare had intended with this work, but to be able to show it in a fresh and vibrant re-working, bubbling with all the delight and humour that the wonderful array of characters conjure up through their own intertwining stories.’ This he has achieved in spades.
All the dancers, rustics and fairies included, rise to the challenge Scarlett sets them, totally inhabiting their roles.
Lucy Green and Shane Urton are stylish, expressing a full range of emotion as Titania and Oberon, and in their final superbly choreographed duet in Act 11 their dancing is full of feeling. Clytie Campbell (Hermia), Loughlan Prior (Lysander), Laura Saxon Jones (Helena) and William Fitzgerald (Demetrious) romp their way gleefully through the ballet, maximising all their many comic moments. Paul Matthews is a natural comic and his portrayal of Bottom fully satisfies.
RNZB Music Director Nigel Gaynor has done an excellent job of melding Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s music, insufficient for a full-length work, with other of the composer’s music. The use of the well-known ‘Hebrides’ Overture Opus 26 was an inspired choice to represent Oberon. It all coheres into a seamless whole under the baton of Gaynor and played beautifully by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
Without question this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a triumph for the RNZB and for all the many skilled people who were part of its realisation.