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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Midsummer Night's Dream a hit

We went to the ballet today, and so were amongst the thousands of Wellingtonians to see the birth of a hit.

A worldwide hit in the making.

It was amazing.  The story was told simply and eloquently -- with spirit and humor.  The set, a fairyland of arches, with great toadstools, and a misty overbridge, told in shades of silver and blue, would have done credit to Lord of the Rings.  The costumes were stunning.  The dancing was superb, doing perfect justice to the brilliant choreography and the music -- by Mendelsohn of course, played by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra -- was scored with perfection.

The full house was ecstatic, as the deafening applause demonstrated.

The reviews, so far, have been breathless.

“The magic and delight never let up. This is an absolutely splendid production of which choreographer, Liam Scarlett and the Royal New Zealand Ballet can be justifiably proud.” says dance critic Ann Hunt from the Dominion Post. “One can see why he (Scarlett) is the current wunderkind of British ballet.”

“The dance rises to such heights,” says Jennifer Shennan in her review on Radio New Zealand today.

The RNZB’s largest-ever set and stunning costumes created by New Zealander Tracy Grant Lord and enchanting lighting design by American Kendall Smith wowed audiences.

“There is a charmed symbiotic relationship between all the elements of this ballet. Together they have made magic.” says Ann Hunt.

The production offers something for everyone. “An extraordinarily beautiful night at the ballet” that “will appeal across generations.” says Jennifer Shennan

I have to admit a personal interest in A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Not only is it a favorite play, but I incorporated it in a novel called Judas Island.   And, just for you, the relevant extract follows ...

But just to explain.  Harriet is an actress sailing on the pirate brig Gosling. At Valparaiso, the commander of HMS Nympha begs the favor of a short drama after a formal dinner.  The seamen from the Gosling find this extremely funny -- but not as amusing as the pirate himself, Captain Jake Dexter.


Harriet lay with her eyes shut, draped with her silken shawl. She heard a little bell, and the officers shushing the audience until Captain Mara could be heard. 

Then, through a speaking trumpet, the Irishman announced that they were about to be greatly favored with a dramatic recital by the Nympha’s Thespians. “A famous recital from the Immortal Bard’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which will be flattered with the unexpected presence of none other than Miss Harriet Gray, of the famous Gray family of the Royal Opera House, London!  She has graciously consented to play the part of the beautiful fairy queen, Titania.”

The ensuing silence was stunned, most of the astonishment, Harriet was certain, emanating from the Goslings.  Then there was a polite round of applause from Captain Mara’s officers and guests, after which she heard the actors make their entrance and gather about.

And then: “If I were fair, Thisby, if I were only thine!” the actor playing Bottom brayed. His tone was muffled, and when Harriet opened one eye it was to see he was wearing a most magnificent mask, a very hairy donkey face, made of rope ends fixed to wire and canvas.

“Help, we are haunted!” cried the other actor-yokels, reacting melodramatically to the sight of their comrade magicked into an ass. “O monstrous! O strange!” they cried.

And Harriet listened to the retreating thunder of their boots, as they yelled, “Pray masters, fly masters! Help—help—help!”

“Why do they run away?” asked Bottom plaintively. “Is this a knavery of them to make me afeared?”

“Bless thee, Bottom,” cried an actor-yokel, briefly reappearing. “Thou art translated!”—and away he went again.

“I see their knavery,” Bottom mumbled to himself. “They hope to make an ass of me—to fright me, if they could. But I will not stir from this place, do what they can: I will walk up and down here, and will sing, that they shall hear I am not afraid—

The ousel cock, so black of hue
With orange-tawny bill
The throstle, with his note so true
The wren, with little quill—

His singing was more loud than tuneful, but not as loud as the tramp of his navy boots. Then the stamping came to an abrupt halt by Titania’s couch, which was Harriet’s cue.  She sighed and stretched, and inquired in ringing tones, “What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?”

And when she opened her eyes she looked straight into Jahaziel Dexter’s face. He had apparently declined to sit on a chair, for he was leaning on the side of a deckhouse, most disconcertingly near. If she was about to fumble her lines he was not going to miss a word of it, she deduced—and never had she seen his eloquent face so wickedly amused.

She delivered him a black scowl, and then looked away, to smile ravishingly at Bottom. “On first view, I say,” she exclaimed, “I swear I love thee.”

“Methinks, mistress, you should have little reason for that,” Bottom objected, and all the Gosling men came out of their daze to hoot in agreement. “And yet, to say the truth,” the actor philosophized, “reason and love keep little company together nowadays.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” said Valentine Fish—a feeble joke, Harriet thought, but one that was greeted with roars of laughter from all about the rigging.

Harriet waited out the ruckus. Then: “Thou art as wise as thou art beautiful,” she breathed. Her fingers brushed the air, hovering over the donkey mask, dared then to caress the hairy hide, while the Gosling men whistled and cheered.

“Not so neither,” objected Bottom to shouts of agreement, then went on to convey that if he did have wits, he would be well out of this wood.

“Out of this wood do not desire to go,” Harriet commanded—

Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no,
I am a spirit of no common rate
The summer still doth tend upon my state
And I do love thee, therefore go with me
I’ll give thee fairies to tend thee—

—and four fairies arrived, right on cue, clumping out of the darkness with a dutiful clicking of boot heels.  She cried out their names—“Pease-blossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed!” and, “Ready!—And aye, aye, aye!” four heavily bearded and tattooed fairies chorused.

“Where shall we go?” they asked.

“To have my love to bed!” cried Harriet, and waited out the whistles and bawdy comments until she could make herself heard again.

And pluck the wings from painted butterflies
To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes,
Nod to him, elves, and do him courtesies!

“Hail, mortal!” cried the fairies, each in turn, and, “Lead him to my bower!” commanded Harriet, rising from her couch. “Tie up my lover’s tongue, bring him silently.”

And off the extempore stage she wafted, while the audience stamped with delirious approval.

 Well, the memory added a little extra touch to a wonderful performance that needed no extra touches at all.  Brava and bravo, Royal New Zealand Ballet.  Everything -- dancing, costume, music, set, acting, humor -- was absolutely perfect, in every sparkling detail.

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