Thursday, 8 June 2017

"A Most Rare Vision ...... A Dream"

Ballet Cymru A Midsummer Night's Dream 7 June 2017  19:30

Yesterday I had to make a tough choice between two ballet's derived from A Midsummer Night's Dream. In my local cinema was The Dream by Sir Frederick Ashton, one of my favourite ballets because I shall always associate it with Dame Antoinette Sibley and Sir Anthony Dowell, streamed live from Covent Garden. At the Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre was a live performance by Ballet Cymru of Darius James's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

What made the choice particularly hard was that The Dream was to be performed as part of a triple bill with Symphonic Variations and Marguerite and Armand.  Just as I associate The Dream with Sibley and Dowell I shall always associate Marguerite and Armand with Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn and Symphonic Variations. Making the choice even harder was the knowledge that Zenaida Yanowsky was due to make her last appearance yesterday.

Much as I love the Royal Ballet and Yanowsky I chose Ballet Cymru without hesitation. In my book, living breathing human beings on stage will always trump images flashed onto a screen. Also, there is a chance of seeing a recording of last night's transmission though, sadly, there are not many cinemas advertising the encore. I think I made the right call because last night's performance was outstanding.

Darius James first created the ballet for the company in 1997. It was an immediate success. The Sunday Telegraph described the dancers as "impressively able" and commended James for making use of "every gift they have." The Theatre Critics of Wales nominated it for the best dance production of 2013. It is not hard to see why for James is a skilled narrator with an exceptionally keen eye for detail and a superb gift for transposing Shakespeare's words into movement.

James understands Shakespeare better than most.  In A Romeo and Juliet for our Times 7 Nov 2016 I described his Romeo a Juliet as James and Doughty's best work yet which shows how a small company of young dancers with modest resources can stage a full-length ballet brilliantly. Other plays that have inspired James are The Tempest, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet which I should very much like to see.

Unlike Ashton, who focuses on the quarrel between Titania and Oberon and their reconciliation, James follows the play faithfully. That could not have been easy because the plot is complex. In addition to the quarrel there is the love affair between Hermia and Lysander and Helena's pursuit of Demetrius, Puck's mischief making, Titania's infatuation with Bottom, the mechanicals' performance of Pyramus and Thisbe and the nuptials of Theseus and Hippolyta. James's solution is to divide the ballet into three parts. The first part embraces everything except the merchanicals' play and Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding. The second part is that play.  The third is a Petipa style pas de deux with Hippolyta in a classical tutu. It may sound bitty when described in words on a page but, in fact, it works very well indeed.

One day Ballet Cymru may have principals, soloists, coryphées and a corps but at present it has twelve young, very able and very ambitious young dancers. All of them had important roles in the ballet that reflected their personalities as well as their respective technical skills. Each and every one of them performed his or her role brilliantly.

Oberon and Titania were performed by Adreamaria Battagia and Gwenllian Davies who had impressed me so much in Romeo a Juliet.  They do comedy as well as they do tragedy. They also doubled as Theseus and Hippolyta. For me, the pas de deux at the end was the high point of the show. Casting Miguel Fernandes was inspired. He is a talented character dancer as well as a splendid virtuoso. Anna Pujol was a delightful Hermia and Robbie Moorcroft a gallant Lysander but it was as Bottom where Moorcroft's brilliance shone through. The company's latest recruits, Miles Carrott and Beth Meadway, were each given two demanding roles which they performed magnificently. Medway touched our hearts as poor spurned Helena and our funny bones as Snug. Carrott excelled as Demetrius and Quince. Natalie Debono was a spirited Peasebottom. Ann Wall, who doubled as fairy and mechanical, was a hilarious man in the moon complete with lamp and dog.

The music for most of the ballet was Mendelssohn which James tells us in the programme is a delight to dance.  No wonder as the score has so many familiar tunes. For Pyramus and Thisbe, however, the dancers provided their own music on tin whistles and kazoo which virtually spoke the words of the play. I was amused by Pyramus's death throes and the Death March that the motley band managed to conjure from their assorted instruments.

As a small touring company Ballet Cymru has to travel light so it relies on projections to create scenery and atmosphere. Chris Illingworth's designs were inspired.  So, too, were Yvonne Greenleaf's costumes. The simple body hugging costumes for the fairies with their fluffy, white wigs worked well. So, too, did the mechanicals' working clothes and, of course, Bottom's ears.

The company will perform A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Waterside Arts Centre in Sale on Saturday. A tip to all my classmates at KNT - if you are free on Saturday afternoon or evening. try to get down there.  After Sale the show moves on to Bangor on the 15 June followed by Tewkesbury, Poole, Taunton, Stvenage, Hereford, Basingstoke, Ayr, Porthcawl, Newbury and Lichfield.

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