" A Midsummer Night's Dream"
The Royal Danish Ballet
February 26 - 28
The Royal Danish Ballet is unpredictable. After struggling with "La Sylphide" and "Symphony i C" , a few days later the company presents a strong and well danced " A Midsummer Night's Dream" with no less than three strong casts in the leading roles. Alina Cojocaru was brought in as a guest, but as the performances showed, the local casts could match her step for step
John Neumeier's popularity in Denmark rests mainly on two ballets: "Romeo and Juliet" and "A Midsummer Nights Dream" which was originally presented at The Royal Theater in 1980. It remained part of the repertoire up till 1995, so it was interesting to see whether it still could capture an audience.
Compared to most of Neumeier's other works " A Midsummer Night's Dream" is light entertainment. There are no philosophical or heavy messages, but there is a lot of heavy lifting. Almost to the point where you fear for the dancers health. Neumeier is borrowing from almost anyone. His work mirrors the famous Peter Brook production, which was the first to cast the actors as double characters Theseus/Oberon, Hippolyta/Titania and Philostrat/Puck. This goes for the choreography as well. In the middle of the otherwise Pilobolos-inspired elfin section, you suddenly discover a signature movement from "Sererade", and so on. Compared to Balanchine and Ashton's treatment of the material, Neumeier is getting a lot more out of the four young Athenians, Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius. And Neumeier's talent as a dramaturgist also works in his favor. He can get the story running and constantly bring out new elements of the characters.
Almost any ballet focused on characters is a good match for RDB, and Neumeier creates great roles for a modern/classical star couple, an ingenue couple, a character couple. Two meaty roles for two characters actors and a great clowns ensemble. With two and even three alternative casts, a great number of dancers gets the chance in significant roles.
One of the problems with most full lenght ballets is the tendency to focus on a staring couple. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is much more pedagogical than most with its junior ballerina and partner (Hermia & Lysander) and character counterparts (Helena and Demetrius). The two quartets so far Amy Watson, Gregory Dean, Jodie Thomas and Ulrik Birkkjær may have the technical edge, whereas Femke Slot, Marcin Kupinski, Diana Cuni and especially Nikolaj Hansen shows the more inventive character building.
With the parts of Puck and the band of rustics keen to produce "Pyramus and Thisbe" the ballet also gives amble opportunities for the RDBs trademark mines and character dancers. Surprisingly Neimeier and his ten persons strong team of co-directors and assistants (that must be a record!) have chosen not to cast either Thomas Lund or Morten Eggert (our two aces in this emploi) as Puck, but instead gives the part to Christopher Rickert and Tim Matiakis, who both follows the role as laid out by the original Puck, Kevin Haigen and neither do offer the more personal interpretations and innovation that is a trademark for Lund and Eggert. Rickert and Matiakis presents good standard Pucks but I believe that the genius of Lund and Eggert would have given us something we have not seen before.
Instead of Puck, the two dancers are handed the role of Flute, the rustic having to accept the female lead in "Pyramus and Thisbe". Of course they are hilarious, but the role is small, and I for one feels that I have seen Lund twice this season in drag and little else. There is no doubt that Lund and Eggert are destined to run the character mime wing of RDB and we therefore will be able to enjoy their talents for maybe as long as we have enjoyed Flemming Rybergs, but please let them use their exceptional skills as dancers for the coming seasons as well as both have significants talents in the dance department.
Speaking of Ryberg, he together with Mogens Boesen and Erling Eliasson are veterans from the first production of this ballet, where they danced the parts of Starveling/Moonshine, Lysander and Demetrius. This time around Mogens Boesen is Moonshine without creating the magic of Henning Kronstam and Flemming Ryberg or indeed any magic at all. But we are fully compensated by a star performance in the rustic group by Jean-Lucien Massot as Peter Quince.
Jean-Lucien Massot joined RDB as a young principal brought in by Peter Schaufuss. His technical powers has placed him in many danseur noble roles (including every Russian prince imaginable), but his real talent is as a macho character dancer and his funny, sexy and masculine take on Bottom is not only a highlight of this production but could arguable be considered as the best Bottom ever. Massot clearly enjoys this role and keeps inventing new element like as when he during curtain calls thanks his fellow band members like a Laurence Olivier would recognize his co-casts.
When Henning Kronstam 30 years ago chose this ballet for his company, he got a vehicle for his stars: Arne Villumsen as Theseus/Oberon who could bring his elegance, strenghs, sex appeal, classical technique, strong partnering skills and presence. Paired with Mette Hønningen, who also had the magical combination of beauty, sex appeal and as strong as a modern dancer as a classical ballerina, he hit the jackpot.
Compared to Kronstam's company, Hübbe has more alternatives to chose from for the leading couple, but neither of the three casts can bring as much to the roles (that would also have been a tall order). Mads Blangstrup, again back from injury, is first man out and overall the strongest choice, based mainly on his expressiveness, elegance and style. Nehemiah Kish is stronger technically, but looses in what in figure skating is known as the components. As third cast young Sebastian Kloborg once again raises his game, but his guts and determination is a very big part of his success.
Blangstrup is paired with guest star Alina Cojocaru, a paring with a significant hight difference (but that would have been the result anyway as all three leading men are tall). Cojocaru is a enjoyable dancer. Small but with a enormous reach and the ability to cover the stage, she nevertheless seems to me that instead of applying Cojocaru to the roles, she applies the roles to Cojocaru. But the magic which normally happens when Blangstrup is part of a pas de deux happens and they are the couple who get the romantic feeling in both second acts pas de deux'.
For the other two casts I think it would have worked better if the partners where switched. Nehemiah Kish and Susanne Grinder are safe dancers and certainly not forcing acting skills on the audience. Grinder has a tendency to blend in the corps. A switch would allow Kish and Gudrun Bojesen to develop their fine partnership from "Symphony in C" and where Bojesen could bring on the drama, Sebastian Kloborgs dramatic feel could likewise lift the presence of Grinder and they could also develop their partnership from the Romeo and Juliet pairing a few years back.
With the limited budget of the RDB a significant number of productions will have to be recruited from the back catalog. And this is an area which will put as much a demand on Hübbe's skills as chosing new productions.
By choosing to revive "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Hübbe has gained a productions which uses all skills areas of the company and which will appeal to the larger base of the audience. If Neumeier' s choreography does not kill them it will drill them and it will prepare them for other big scale productions either from the trunk or from bespoke productions.
Pictures from top
Alina Cojocaru and Mads Blangstrup as Titania and Oberon
Femke Slot, Nikolaj Hansen, Diana Cuni and Marcin Kupinski as Hermia, Demetrius, Helena and Lysander
Thomas Lund as Thisbe
Gudrun Bojesen and Jean-Lucien Massot as Titania and Quince
Nehemiah Kish and Tim Matiakis as Oberon and Puck
Alina Cojocaru and Mads Blangstrup as Hippolyta and Theseus
Gudrun Bojesen and Sebastian Kloborg as Hippolyta and Theseus
Photo: Costin Radu Copyright Royal Theatre (c)