By Kelly Carmichael
Royal New Zealand Ballet - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Date / Venue: Wednesday September 3rd, 2015 - ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland
Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is a great romp - love triangles, magical beings and a touch of evil balanced by lots of comedy and happy endings. It offers great raw material to work with, but what English choreographer Liam Scarlett, designer Tracy Grant Lord, lighting designer Kendall Smith and the talented cast of the RNZB have brought to the production is something else.
The curtain opens on to Tracy Grant Lord's jaw dropping creation, a magical woven labyrinth of vines that form bridges, staircases and secretive retreats. Glowing fungi-like spores mark the sides of the stage and the edges of a few receding paths, but the clever set offers an unfathomable sense of depth, only adding to the imaginative and enchanted qualities of the set. As fairies sparkle across the stage, flitting through the enchanted wood in divinely frothy and iridescent tutus, we see the first of the sumptuous costumes and echoing hues that she has sprinkled through the production. They are followed by the King and Queen of the Fairies who discover a sleeping child and quarrel over who will take him, setting a course of spell casting, jealous love and trickery that defines the story.
MacLean Hopper's King of the Fairies is seriously dashing, debonair in a 1950s way with a lick of silver at his temples and a touch of evil about him. Accompanied by a Matrix-meets-King-of-the-Fairies and slashed to the waist cloak that moves and swirls about the dastardly hero, Hopper invests Oberon with strength, glamour and wit. He and the luminous Tatiana, danced beautifully by Tonia Looker, will offer the audience one of the most sensual and sublime pas de deux I've ever seen late in Act II.
The 'mechanicals' of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream have evolved into a troupe of campers with a somewhat Famous Five vibe, kitted out in woolly hats, khaki shorts and butterfly nets. It's here we find the cast for love's misadventures and some sparkling and comedic choreography by hot ticket choreographer, Liam Scarlett. Lovers Hermia (Lori Gilchrist) and Lysander (Joseph Skelton) pull out a romantic and scene stealing pas de deux, while a nerdy and bespectacled Abigail Boyle was fabulous as an astonished femme fatale. Although disappointed that the injured Kohei Iwamoto wouldn't be dancing the mischievous sprite Puck,Shaun James Kelly made the role his own. An expressive and energetic performer, Kelly wove Puck's misdirected magic spells, turned lovers' fortunes upside down, appeared from all corners of the clever structure and even flew across the stage on a swinging vine.
In a diaphanous cream tulle gown and sparkling with crystals, Tonia Looker's exceptional Tatiana was an elegant and sylph-like addition to the sensual forest. Thanks to Puck's miscast spell she falls madly in love with Bottom, a camper turned into a donkey by the same bumbling sprite. As the besotted Tatiana ruffles his ears, nuzzles into his fur and drops sweet little kisses on to the donkey's nose, Harry Skinner's Bottom quivers and twitches with unexpected delight, hardly believing his luck.
This is the best production yet from the Royal New Zealand Ballet - it is fresh and superbly performed and, I imagine, likely to be influential internationally. It is quite simply sublime.
After its New Zealand tour (which runs till 20 September), A Midsummer Night's Dream will be performed by the Queensland Ballet, with whom the RNZB co-produced, in 2016.