A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Qld Ballet) – dance review

Queensland Ballet’s 2024 season has kicked off with Shakespeare’s whimsical masterpiece A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an enchanting tale of love, magic, mischief and mayhem. A co-production with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was first performed in 2015 in Wellington and has since toured China and Australia. The late Liam Scarlett’s choreography blends classical ballet with touches of modern dance, with music (and occasional vocals) performed by Camerata, Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra.

Photos: David Kelly

The Playhouse stage was gorgeously transformed into a moonlit forest, with magic touches by Set Designer Tracy Grant Lord and Lighting Designer Kendall Smith. The stunning set was multilevel, with a treetop bridge, fairy boudoirs and stylised, illuminated flora. The backdrop contained twinkling stars and a giant ring doubling as the moon which changed colour as the night wore on.

Heading straight into the fairy world, the story starts with the King and Queen of the fairies, Titania and Oberon, who are quarrelling over a sleeping Changeling boy (played by Oscar Ziolek, one of three Queensland Ballet Academy Foundation Program students rotating in the role). A group of inquisitive ‘explorers’ soon enter the forest in search of exotic specimens, finding instead a dreamscape of colourful characters and mistaken identity. The Fairies, costumed by Tracy Grant Lord, wore shredded tulle tutus in neon shades of violet, with corset-style bodices and hair in wildly messy buns.

Act One highlights included a beautiful pas de deux by Chiara Gonzalez and Alexander Idaszak as Hermia and Lysander. Georgia Swain and Rian Thompson provided excellent comedic characterisation as Helena and Bottom respectively, supported by an energetic ensemble of male dancers known as the Rustics, dressed in Boy Scout-inspired attire.

Act Two’s dancing was impressive, with a fantastic solo from Puck, played by Kohei Iwamoto, who cheekily broke the fourth wall and invited the audience to cheer him on when he finally set things right between the lovers. The ensemble of Fairies provided some fabulous group dancing; their smooth-flowing arms resembled underwater coral. The pièce de résistance was the pas de deux between Lucy Green and Joel Woellner as Titania and Oberon. All the elements came together to provide a beautifully emotional finale moment. The characterisation and storytelling across the entire cast was outstanding, resulting in a highly entertaining ballet.

Mendelssohn’s 1842 score for A Midsummer Night’s Dream was rearranged by Music Director and Principal Conductor Nigel Gaynor, who included the Hebrides Overture as Oberon’s theme. This is the melody that haunted me the day after the show, as I fondly associate this piece with the enigmatic Minah Bird character from the Merry Melodies cartoons of the 1940s.

The opening night production ended on a sweet note when the three leading ladies were presented with bouquets. Lucy Green deftly snapped two single roses from her bouquet and presented one each to her leading men. Bottom even received a quick kiss on the cheek!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is on at the Playhouse, QPAC until 27 April 2024

Sarah Skubala

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