This video review is as such because I’m not able to go view any of the performances of John Neumeier’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Houston Ballet, my hometown company. I’m still trapped in the hill country, yearning for the Wortham.
This ballet is not only important for it’s connection to historic literature, but the historic complexities of John Neumeier’s choreographic wonder. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the exact contemporary response that Houston Ballet is capable of being a part of.
In this lengthy review I won’t be looking into the entire ballet with the Rustics or Aristocratic realms. My main focus and passion derives from fantasy and myths, so naturally I am draw to the fae realm that Neumeier creates in his version.
With this short clip, along with others I have tracked down on Youtube (Bless the Youtube gods!), I can hold a firm idea of what these faesections are trying to convey, create, and explore. And that type of addition in classical ballet makes me very excited, to say the least.
Created in 1977, Neumeier was not afraid to flex his creative bursts and bravado with this ballet. Shakespeare of course wrote this comedic play during 1590 and 1596. The characters of Oberon, Titania, Puck, Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed have always been fond friends to my memories of reading this play in 9th grade. It was forced reading, of course, but welcomed by myself and a few others. I was attracted to their alien faery language and earthy moods. They seemed the direct result of daydreams and scientific discoveries.
The late Elizabethan Era was the perfect breeding ground for this play since during the late 1500s many creative innovations were alive and paving the way for the future discoveries. Support for the arts was encouraged by a wise Elizabeth I; audience enjoyment was expected at the theaters. This is why I found Neumeier to be the perfect contemporary to reconstruct the play into a ballet.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream was created for Neumeier’s pride and joy company, The Hamburg Ballet, that has since performed this ballet 299 times, with joint performances at San Francisco Ballet. Later the Bolshoi Ballet performed it in 2005. Neumeier is not afraid to stage his “classics” on international companies, and I am so glad that he was approached and agreed to stage this ballet on Houston Ballet, the first American company to do so.
He appears to be a modern-day Shakespeare in wit and creativity. His Little Mermaid (a personal favorite of mine) is also one example of many of his ballets that washed the dancers and public with a new wave of understanding of the source material. It is important to recognize this spreading of versions in the dance world, in order to collect the vast representation each company, each dancer, brings to the ballet.
Before his version we had Balanchine’s 1962 full-length version and Fredrick Ashton’s The Dream in 1964. Those two versions are amiable in their own ways. Costumes to movements to scenery, they stand the test of time and are adopted into many companies with applause. But here we have Neumeier with his bold use of music and his costuming that might be stuck in the 70s to some. The detailed simplicity in scenery and costuming- yes, both were achieved here- was created by designer Jürgen Rose. I’m a sucker for extrodinary costuming; the cosmic fae court does not disappoint. It is all very uniquely derivative of 1970s dance.
György Ligeti’s music follows the fairy realm with unprecedented mysticism. To compare, the fairies of Balanchine and Ashton are willowy, wonky women who giggle and squirm with classical movements and limiting flittering to Mendelssohn. Neumeier’s faeries are detached but inviting, strange but earthen. The pass on as keepers of time, space, and shape with serious methods and mannerisms. A change in composer was definitely a breath of fresh air for the ballet; I love my classical fae in long wings and floaty dresses, but to see a faery realm in scaled unitards and bent feet exploring different levels on stage makes me excited, too.
I wouldn’t go to say that the faery realm of Neumeier’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is surreal or abstract, but instead I feel that it is luminous real world of science and art. I am a believer of fairies and atoms, and this ballet explores the possibilities of both realms and the meeting ground which humans exist in between. Geometry in the groupings of fae and electric patterns in the bourrées across stage take a leap out at audience members. And I’m sure the dancers, the stunning Karina Gonzalez as Hippolyta especially, felt a tremor of terror and joy from these fae beings.
The ever evolving brains of man, from late 1500 to early 2000, never ceases to amazing everyone. That’s why we bend our backs to study Shakespeare in 9th grade! And I believe that is the appeal of creators of the arts such as Shakespeare and Neumeier. That wonder keeps art alive in the fantastical realms of science and art.
Merde to Houston Ballet on the upcoming performances of John Neumeier’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream!
For more to read on Houston Ballet’s performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: