• Queensland Ballet in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photography David Kelly.
    Queensland Ballet in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photography David Kelly.

Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Reviewed April 12

Originally a co-production between Queensland Ballet (QB) and Royal New Zealand Ballet, Liam Scarlett’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream had its Australian premiere in 2016. Seeing the ballet again after an eight-year hiatus, I am reminded of the enormous loss to the dance world, too soon, of a prodigious creative talent. It is timely that works by Scarlett are being performed again for us all to enjoy.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is, by any measure, a carefully crafted gem – innovative, witty, but also gloriously poetic. Treading his own path in interpreting Shakespeare’s classic, Scarlett condensed this romantic comedy of mischief to its essence. The back-story of Theseus and Hippolyta, and their wedding, is missing, resulting in a simplified focus on the mercurial world of the fairies, ruled over by Titania and Oberon, into which stumble the four lovers as modern-day explorers, accompanied by the band of Mechanicals (called Rustics here), including the hapless Bottom.

The curtain rises after the familiar Mendelssohn overture, on a dark and glittering fairy woodland – the setting for both acts. Banks of fibre-optic fingers, sprouting polyp-like ‘flowers’ glow incandescently in this starlit darkness – a whimsical forest with multiple hiding places for fairies, at different levels. Beautifully lit by Kendall Smith to evoke magic and mystery, Tracy Grant Lord’s enchanting set (and costume) design, almost steals the show.

Rian Thompson and Lucy Green in Qb's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photography David Kelly.

However, the plaudits go to Scarlett’s choreography. Anchored in the classical canon and always musically astute, the movement segues from the intricate to a breadth of spiralling off-balance turns and leaps. There is a clear delineation between the movement construct of the different characters, where the fairies for instance, move with a mercurial lightness. In frothy tutus of lapis lazuli blue, their very fast, tightly executed footwork and soft floating arms, are often punctuated by the sudden ‘hovering’ of a tightly drawn up 5th position en pointe.

Principal Artist Lucy Green was superb as Titania, with a boneless, languid fluidity, while perfectly capturing the character’s stubborn capriciousness. Her ‘love duet’ with Bottom’s (Rian Thompson) donkey was also deliciously amusing, and the luscious pas de deux with Principal Artist Joel Woellner as Oberon, a poetic embodiment of the play’s final moments.

Woellner captured Oberon’s strong-willed, and imperious character well – his sweeping solo at the top of Act 2 was an especially glorious visual realisation of the majestic Hebrides Overture – one of a selection of orchestral works by Mendelssohn selected by QB Music Director Nigel Gaynor to supplement the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream overture and incidental music.

Kohei Iwamoto as Puck in QB's A Midsummer Nights Dream. Photograhy David Kelly.

The mercurial impishness of Puck was well captured by Kohei Iwamoto, who delivered a technically immaculate performance of the tricky turn and jump combinations. Thompson, undoubtedly the company’s comedy king, reprised the role of Bottom - his dance as the donkey a comedic assembly of hitch kicks, hip swivels and pawing pas de chats. His seven fellow Rustics were also a delight, their impeccable technique never compromised by the shenanigans afoot.

However, it was a bespectacled Georgia Swan (Helena), Vito Bernasconi (Demetrius), Chiara Gonzalez (Hermia), and Alexander Idaszak (Lysander) who collectively provided most of the merriment as their characters fell in and out of love. The mayhem of mismatched lovers was cleverly told by both the movement and music, most notably in a manic pas de trois, in which Demetrius and Lysander battle for Helena’s affections. The comic timing shown here, and in the earlier duet between Helena and Demetrius, was masterful.

The idiosyncratic lead fairies, Mustard Seed (Laura Tosar), Moth (Isabella Swietlicki), Peaseblossom (Sophie Zoricic), and Cobweb (Paige Rochester), each had their own quirky personality, but, together with the six fairies of the corps, and moving like quicksilver, were all beautifully together en masse.

This season is the first for newly appointed QB Artistic Director, Leanne Benjamin, and a terrific start. The company of dancers appeared fresh and energised in a performance by all that was flawless. If you’re in Brisbane, ballet lover or otherwise, the show’s not to be missed!


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