Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne
October 3, 2018

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s lightest comedies, full of mischief and mayhem, hijinks and good humour. The story has enchanted countless artists over the centuries, including several notable choreographers. Liam Scarlett’s version, which was first performed by the Queensland Ballet in 2016, is touring to Melbourne for the first time. It’s an immensely enjoyable production brimming with colourful characters, a progressively comedic plot and ample of opportunity for the company’s dancers to shine.

Victor Estévez, Laura Hidalgo and company members. Photograph © David Kelly

Many will be familiar with the Bard’s story. After a quarrel between the Fairy King Oberon and Queen Titania (played by principals Victor Estévez and Laura Hidalgo), the King sends his apprentice Puck (senior soloist Kohei Iwamoto) to find a magical flower that can cause a person who is sleeping to fall in love with whomever they first see upon awakening. Into the forest come four explorers who, already tangled in a complicated love triangle, soon find themselves subject to even greater mayhem when Puck (with the magical flower) unleashes his mischief.

In transforming the play into a ballet, Scarlett has chosen to focus on the vibrant characters and almost-farcical comedy that Shakespeare created – elements that translate well into dance. Recurring motifs in the choreography (and the score), help develop each of the main characters and their motives. Oberon commands his authority in fourth positions and with long raised arm lines. Puck’s mischief manifests itself in brisk passages of petit allegro and pirouettes. Titania, danced beautifully by Hidalgo, gives us soft Romantic-inspired arms and luscious pas de bourrées.

The company as a whole impressed with their acting skills; most dancers delivering enthusiastic and earnest portrayals of their characters. Bottom (Rian Thompson) and Helena (Georgia Swan) both found great comedy in their roles, often stealing the scenes in which they featured. On a technical level, special mention must go to principal Yanela Piñera, who gave a sublime performance as Hermia, one of the explorers caught in the love triangle. The ballerina showed exquisite control and command of almost every position and seemed to master every passage of choreography given to her.

Rian Thompson, Laura Hidalgo and company members. Photograph © David Kelly

Scarlett’s Midsummer is a full-length ballet, despite Felix Mendelssohn’s original score being significantly shorter. Queensland Ballet’s Musical Director and Principal Conductor, Nigel Gaynor, created a new arrangement for the production in 2016, by adding several of Mendelssohn’s other works and even some specially composed linking passages and sympathetic orchestration. Despite this ‘compilation’ approach, the score sounds seamlessly whole.

The result is truly delightful, full of flurried strings (evoking imagery of scurrying fairies) and tuneful melodies. Motifs help shape the characters on stage and progress the narrative. Orchestra Victoria – familiar to the ears of Melbourne ballet audiences – accompanied the interstate dancers under Gaynor’s hand. The orchestra offered a beautifully rich and colourful interpretation of Mendelssohn’s music, in what was arguably one of the finer elements of the evening’s performance.

Shakespeare’s fairy fantasy plays out in a moonlit forest, which is brought to life by Tracy Grant Lord’s shimmering set design. Giant mushroom-like pods fill the stage, illuminated by hundreds of glowing lights that float amidst foggy green and purple hues. The dancers glide in and out of the scene, ducking and weaving between the trunks. Although the stage felt busy and cramped at times, even for a small company like Queensland Ballet, the depth of the set and its elevated platforms allowed for interesting entrances and exits.

There is a lot for Melbourne audiences to enjoy in Queensland Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The work is full of likeable and whimsical characters that are vividly rendered by the talented dancers of the company. The young corps de ballet is in good form, and their enthusiasm is aptly suited to the high energy the production demands. And, of course, the sumptuous sounds of Orchestra Victoria playing Mendelssohn’s famous score make this production truly worthwhile.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays at Her Majesty’s Theatre until October 7

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Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine