Royal Swedish Ballet
'En Midsommarnattsdröm' ('A Midsummer's Night Dream')
by Kate Snedeker
March 17-18, 2004 -- Kungliga Operan, Stockholm
are very few ballet companies comfortable with a wide range of choreographic
styles, and even fewer that can seamlessly blend classical and modern
ballet, comedy, drama and folk dance into one stunning performance. However,
to find this kind of high-quality ballet, one need look no further than
the Royal Swedish Ballet’s performances of John Neumeier’s “A Midsummer
It seems as if the entire fairy world exists only in Hippolyta’s restless pre-wedding dreams, but Theseus’ court master of ceremonies, Philostrat, who appears in the dream as Puck, crosses the line between dream and reality. Left on the bare stage after all the wedding guests have departed, his proper expression dissolves into a gleeful smile as he pulls out Puck’s red flower from his pocket, and in a cloud of fog, we are transported back to the world of Oberon and Titania.
This production is stunning simply for the sheer amount of action onstage. From the antics of Bottom’s friends to the deliberate, coolly smooth gyrations of the dream-beings, to the frenetic fights of the human lovers, the choreography teems with details in both technique and characterization. With this much choreographic detail, the performance could easily be sloppy, but the impressive attention to detail and naturalness of the dancing were indicative of the obvious time and care that went into the coaching by Johanna Björnson, Pär Isberg, Roy Sandgren and Ivalyo Valev. While the timing in the corps was not always perfect, the detail given to each and every role could only have come from ample coaching and rehearsal.
On Wednesday, the performance was led by Anna Valev as Hippolyta/Titania and Olaf Westring as Theseus/Oberon, both elegant in the more traditional prologue and 2nd Act pas de deuxs, and mysteriously sinuous in Neumeier’s eerie fairy world. They were impressive in the tricky lifts, especially the signature pose with Titania on Oberon’s shoulder, which must be done slowly and deliberately, but completely smoothly. Westring was notable for his very finished technique, with fluid connections, clear positions and high, fast double tours.
following night, Marie Lindquist and Dragos Mihalcea struggled with some
of the lifts, but were touching in the pre-wedding pas deux. In most productions,
the relationship between Theseus and Hippolyta is only roughly sketched
out, but here the pas de deux illustrated a youthful, deep and passionate
love. Mihalcea’s long lines enhanced Lindqvist’s elegance, and his solo
during the wedding was powerful.
Through all of the frenetic, humorous chases and “wrestling matches” of the mismatched lovers, all were outstanding. The divertissements in the wedding scene were also notable for the controlled, elegant, but energetic dancing.
only disappointment in these scenes was the weak transformation of Bottom
into his donkey form, the ears more feline than equine. Thus, the transformation
relied more on acting than appearance, but thankfully Hans Nilsson was
more than up to the challenge of the dual role! Nilsson also was notable
for his display of strength and control in the scene where, on hands and
knees, he must sway slowly forward and back as the entranced Titania stands
upon his back.
György Ligeti’s deep, sonorous and often-disharmonious organ music providing
the musical setting, the dream-beings move in a deliberate, cool way.
In their plain, androgynous white unitards, wreathed in fog, the dream-beings
capture the essence of dreams. Dreams occupy a vague part of our consciousness,
and are essentially colorless and amorphous, for once awake we remember
dreaming, but only rarely, any details of the dreams themselves. Neumeier’s
choreography here is often fascinating, with Titania’s male retinue lying
down, providing a living bed, that then roles as one, sliding Titania
down the row of bodies.
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