Caragh Medlicott reviews Ballet Cymru’s Dream, a multimedia adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, made in collaboration with award-winning instrumentalist and composer Frank Moon.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play apt for reinvention. Shakespeare’s beloved comic-fantasy brims with oneiric transgression, and its concerns of love and fate, excess and androgyny, certainly lend it to Ballet Cymru’s LGBTQ+ interpretation. The challenge of such a reimagining – especially in balletic form – lies in the retention of its storytelling smarts. Much like its source material, Dream is a carnival of chaos; a realm where identity becomes unstable and magic is employed to both instigate and resolve turmoil. Maintaining its comic heart, while keeping all these plates spinning – or pirouetting – is no mean feat, and its ambition is certainly an admirable one.
The LGBTQ+ relationship promised in promotional materials appears here with Lysander becoming Lysandia, the lover who tempts Hermia away from her family’s preferred suiter. The trope of disapproving parents works well, and the chemistry between the lovers is palpable as they rapturously spin, freewheel, and dodge the clutching hands of bigoted elders. This modern reimagining extends, too, to the Athenian labourers and amateur actors who become high-vis-clad construction workers and mop-wielding cleaners whose boisterous antics are slapstick enough to elicit at least a few nervous laughs from the audience.
Modernisations of Shakespeare, in drama and dance, rarely move beyond anachronistic costume and gestural tweaks in the plot – true, the addition of a festival backdrop is a fitting one – yet, it’s hard not to feel that it’s only in the ethereal (and liminal) space of the forest that Dream really finds its stride. While the costumes in the establishing scenes can feel a little like they’ve been scrambled from the dressing up box, in the dream sequences the dancers become a glistening patchwork of earthy tones and rainbow hair. It is clear from the outset, too, that Frank Moon’s score will be Dream’s lifeline in moments which flounder, and its jet engine in ones which soar. Its delicate electronica sometimes cascades in silvery understatement, and other times rushes and struts with the same pomp as the fairy Puck’s mischief-making.
Choreography from Ballet Cymru artistic directors Darius James OBE and Amy Doughty is a veritable feast of enchantment. The power dynamics of Dream, especially, are brought to the fore in the clashing of bodies and grappling for control. Inevitable mishaps unravel in mismatched lovers and unrequited obsessions with puppy-like begging and angsty rebuffs. Still, the humour for the most part is swallowed up by grandiosity and drama. This is with the exception of the play put on by the tradesmen near the ballet’s end which is laugh-out-loud and filled with energetic performance – featuring galloping knights and slapstick star-crossed lovers – so it’s a shame the stop-start pacing left the audience, at times, confused.
The projections which have given this ballet its multimedia tagline feel a little flat throughout. The static suburban backdrop, presumably a modern answer to all that is banal and everyday, may work on a symbolic level but fail to convince as a genuine setting. The rolling clouds later used to convey a motorway feel closer to conjuring the dynamism of place and atmosphere necessary to a piece of this kind (even if a subsequent moment with a cartoon fly feels just a little too cheesy to achieve the irreverence it is presumably striving for). It’s hard to see what these projections really do to deepen the immersion of the story – the digital element is surely meant to compliment the modern twist in this retelling, but something bolder and stranger might have achieved that more effectively and without being quite so on the nose. Dream’s LGBT+ aspirations are admirable, but the execution sometimes gets muddled in a magic which is undeniably beautiful and unfortunately disjointed.
You can find out more about Dream from Ballet Cymru here.