★★★★½ A light and humorous adventure that leaves audiences transfixed.

Playhouse Theatre, QPAC
April 13, 2016

Queensland Ballet has opened their 2016 mainstage season with a stunning rendition of Shakespeare’s classic comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a co-production between the Queensland company and Royal New Zealand Ballet.

The story itself is over 400 years old, but Liam Scarlett’s choreography is anything but stale. With ambitious choreography that often borders on acrobatics, Scarlett has created a vibrant work every bit as witty and genuinely funny as Shakespeare’s original script.

The ballet follows two simultaneous, intersecting plot lines. First, there is the story of Titania, Queen of the Fairies, as she fights over a Changeling child against Oberon, the King of the Fairies, and his apprentice, the sprite Puck. Secondly, the ballet follows the antics of a band of explorers, led by the lovers Hermia and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius. As Puck uses a magic flower to interfere with the feelings of the four explorers, a complicated love triangle and comedy of errors ensues.

Victor Estevez and Laura Hidalgo

The dark, multi-layered sets were a performance in themselves, bringing the audience deep into the magical woods. Designed, along with the exquisite costumes, by Tracy Grant Lord and complemented by Kendall Smith’s lighting design, the set interacts seamlessly with the dancers, whether through props or proximity, and adds that extra something to the audiences’ experience. A particular highlight were the incandescent mushrooms which glow around the border of the stage, changing subtly throughout the performance to reflect the sequence of events.

The music for Liam Scarlett’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream comes from multiple sources. The glittering overture and incidental music were composed by Felix Mendelssohn in the 19th century, commissioned by King Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia to accompany Shakespeare’s famous text. The rest of the score used in the full-length ballet has been created by Queensland Ballet’s own Music Director, Nigel Gaynor.

An interesting choice was the inclusion of lyrical music in the final Act, something rarely used in large-scale ballet performances. Soothing and operatic, the song was reminiscent of a lullaby and created a different atmosphere as Titania and Oberon agree to return the sleeping Changeling child to where they found him, leaving him to his own dreams. Although the use of lyrics was an unusual choice, it added an extra layer to the scene and certainly did not detract from the dancing or character work.

Queensland Ballet’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

Victor Estévez, who performed as an international guest artist in last year’s Sleeping Beauty, joins Queensland Ballet in 2016 as their newest principal dancer, and makes his mark on audiences with his standout performance as Oberon’s hapless apprentice, Puck. His characterisation of the mischievous sprite was excellent, and his technical execution of the character’s precise movements was impeccable.

Company dancer Mia Heathcote shone in the role of Titania, Queen of the Fairies. Her fluidity and seemingly effortless extensions are believably otherworldly. Her estranged king, Oberon, was danced brilliantly by Alexander Idaszak, who performed even the quickest and most complex series of movements with infallible control and strength. Rian Thompson, always a strong and expressive character, danced with great energy as Bottom the explorer-turned-donkey, with whom Titania falls in love. Thompson’s musical timing is rivalled only by his comedic timing, and his embodiment of the donkey character had the audience giggling out loud. Principal dancers Clare Morehen and Yanela Pinera also gave strong performances as Helena and Hermia, the young explorers who become entangled in the web of mistaken identities that Puck unwittingly creates. Vito Bernasconi and Shane Wuerthner danced animatedly as Demetrius and Lysander, notably performing a series of daring lifts and tosses with Morehen during a scene where the two men fight over Helena, all perfectly executed.

The Lovers

The corps dancers – divided into female fairies and male rustics – moved from strength to strength, with near-perfect synchronicity and excellent expression. The four lead fairies – Teri Crilly, Tara Schaufuss, Tamara Hanton and Lina Kim – all gave impressive technical performances while also embodying the distinct individual personality of their character.

Queensland Ballet continues to establish itself as a versatile company, equally adept in technical execution and expressive characterisation. Whimsical and fantastic, A Midsummer Night’s Dream revives a timeless story into a light and humorous adventure that will leave audiences transfixed.

The Queensland Ballet performs A Midsummer Night’s Dream at QPAC until April 16