As I sat at the semi-permanent roadworks at Maybury after a full-on, non-stop day of work, my only thought of the ballet I was to see that night was, “I’m going to be late”. My mind was full of the day’s trivialities, annoyances and grievances against the world, and in particular, ill-timed traffic lights. Less than half an hour later, I was transported from the day’s nightmares to a night of glorious and enchanting dreams.
Entering the theatre with 10 minutes to spare, I was surprised to see the curtain already up and the dancers lazily warming up on a fully lit set. It didn’t take long to understand that this is part of artistic director David Nixon’s design to draw the audience in to his imaginative and delightful adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As Shakespeare’s play was a play within a play, Nixon chose to do a ballet within a ballet.
Set in the 1940s, Nixon and set designer Duncan Hayler capitalise on artistic style by creating a stunning set and gorgeously appropriate costumes to support the plot. The set is artfully crafted to produce seamless and spectacular scene changes by using optical illusions, playful perspectives and colour contrasts. The two worlds are created by contrasting black and white for the everyday, real world with bright, luxurious colours for the dream world. The effect is mesmerising and delightful. Knowing the original play very well, I was a little concerned how this complex and humorous tale would translate into music and dance.
After a slightly overwhelming opening scene all became clear very quickly through the intricate balance of constantly changing dance, music, costume, set and lighting. No one component overshadowed another, the story flowed easily and gracefully; each transformation brought gasps from the audience as the dancers and music, conducted by John Price Jones, brought Shakespeare’s most humorous play to life.
I broke into a smile at the beginning of Act 2, and the smile remained for the rest of the performance, interrupted only by frequent laugh out loud moments. Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania, the prima ballerina, take centre stage with regal elegance and grace. The lovers’ energetic rompings and hilarious frolics keep you smiling throughout, along with the scene-stealing Wardrobe Master. However, it is Puck, danced by Kevin Poeung, who dominates. Playing the role of Ballet Master, he is just that: dancing with a force and poise that enchants, delights and captivates. He brings the performance to its conclusion by reciting Shakespeare’s epilogue: “If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended …”, aptly reminding me that indeed the performance had done just that; it had transported me from the everyday black and white, uplifted me and restored my joy in life.