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Liam Scarlett's Midsummer Night's Dream at Queensland Ballet


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As most of the readers of Balletcoforum are unlikely to have had the opportunity to see the Queensland Ballet’s  production of  Liam Scarlett’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, I thought people might be interested in a report, especially given the immanent premiere of his Frankenstein with the RB.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a project jointly sponsored by the Queensland Ballet and the Royal New Zealand Ballet, initiated while Ethan Steifel was artistic director of the RNB. For two small ballet companies to have secured  the services of one of the hottest names in choreography in recent years is testament to the foresight of Ethan Steifel, and continues the trajectory that Queensland Ballet has been on since Li Cunxin (Mao’s Last Dancer; that Li Cunxin) took on the role of Artistic Director in 2012.

I saw the ballet halfway through its run in Queensland. Magical is a word that gets thrown around a lot, especially with regard to Midsummer Night’s Dream, but this production really is magical. Set designer Tracy Grant Lord presents a forest of multiple levels, so Oberon surveys happenings in his domain from on high, and Puck is discovered an eyrie stage right. And this forest is no tame European knoll. Think Avatar’s Pandora, all phosphorescent purples, mauves and greens, with slender white blooms framing the action like candles.

While the story remains faithful to the broad trajectory of Shakespeare’s play, the scenario has been updated. The whole back-story – Athens, Theseus, tyrannical father, wedding festivities - has gone. In their place a group of explorers (lovers and mechanicals together), complete with tents and butterfly nets, blunder about in the forest.

The changeling boy is a young man (surely not more than three years old!) in a blue onesie clutching a stuffed horse and played with great aplomb by Fin McCarthy. Victor Estevez is  an imperious  Oberon, with Lauren Hildalgo his equally self-willed Queen, although their squabble over  the changeling boy brings them both momentarily down to the all too human level. Their fairy entourage is delightful, skimming  across the stage with rapid footwork, but with expressive use of upper body creating  an appealing vulnerability, more bumblebee than butterfly.

I found the lovers less appealing. Lots of slapstick, and, and this really is a gripe, I thought  we were beyond having a plain girl  in thick black-rimmed glasses (Clare Morehen’s Helena)  desperately pursuing a man who is not interested (Demetrius, danced by Vito Bernasconi). Bottom (Rian Thompson), on the other hand, was definitely cute, and his pas de deux with Titania was curiously innocent – a beautiful counterpoint to the deliciously sensuous closing pas de deux as Oberon and Titania are reconciled (and the changeling boy is lead off stage, to be, as we are informed in the program notes, returned from whence he came). Puck (Camillo Ramos) gets everything wrong with huge enthusiasm and equal  bemusement when mayhem ensues.

Overall, definitely an amusing plus (in spite of plain girls in black-rimmed glasses) and I look forward to QB’s next presentation.

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While the story remains faithful to the broad trajectory of Shakespeare’s play, the scenario has been updated. The whole back-story – Athens, Theseus, tyrannical father, wedding festivities - has gone. In their place a group of explorers (lovers and mechanicals together), complete with tents and butterfly nets, blunder about in the forest.

 

Hmm, sounds as though someone has been watching Filter's production ...

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