When art transcends one medium into another, it’s always a wonder to behold. Tonight, one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was reinvented as a contemporary ballet choreographed by the incomparable Olivier Wevers on the Grand Rapids Ballet Company, and it truly was a vision to behold.
The Bard’s complex comedy has been done in dance form before, but never like this. Never with the wit and whimsy that Mr. Wevers brought to this story, taking, as he said in the post-show talk-back panel, a very personal approach to the concept. As a boy, Mr. Wevers was a dreamer, a lover of books, and would escape into his imagination. He parlayed that youth, that innocence, into this story through the eyes of the little changeling boy who the Fairy King and Queen fight over in the story.
“Olivier is classically trained, but he has his eye on the future of dance.”
~Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, Grand Rapids Ballet
As I stated in my promotional piece on Grand Rapids Ballet’s arrival in Seattle under the direction of Artistic Director, Patricia Barker, this changeling boy is often lost in the stage productions of this show, as he has no lines and minimal presence, other than as a possession the King and Queen of the Fairies want for themselves. It would be very difficult to give him any more depth, let alone a voice, without rewriting the Bard, and who would dare to do such a thing? However, with dance, you could give him an identity, a name, and most importantly, a perspective on this lovable, fun-filled story, and it’s that creative vision that Mr. Wevers used to take the audience on a mischievous journey through a dream on a midsummer’s night told through the eyes of an eight year old boy.
These characters are all exquisitely brought to life by the amazing talent of the Grand Rapids Ballet dancers, all equally brilliant in the way they interpret Mr. Wevers’ choreography. In a style I’ve come to love from watching Mr. Wevers’ Seattle based dance company Whim W’Him perform his work, there is a lot of movement filling each count, combining to make dynamic and fluid phrases that are simply breathtaking in their complexity and beauty. These dancers made each movement from the flick of a wrist, to a complicated lift look effortless, and embraced the choreography as if they were born to dance it.
Mr. Wevers played with shapes, specifically lines and circles, both in his formations as well as specific movement with the fairies, and it was a whirling dervish regale that left my mind spun in the most delicious way. His partner work created on the four lovers was like watching a kaleidoscope of colors, weaving and twisting, challenging the dancers with a mosaic of direction changes, which all four danced with expert grace. The corps of fairies and the lovers were
absolutely stunning to watch, and did a beautiful job creating, shifting, and changing this dream land of the young boy. I was awed and impressed.
The lead roles of Fairy King Oberon and Fairy Queen Titania were danced beautifully by Nicholas Schultz and Yuka Oba, respectively. Not only are these two impeccably gorgeous dancers with a skill and precision that are the perfect canvas for Mr. Wevers’ choreography, but they are fantastic actors as well! Mr. Schultz, so laser focused on Oberon’s goal of getting what he wants, unwavering in his mission to take the boy from Titania, was a superb mix of control freak and master manipulator. He truly ruled the stage, and every time he hit, what I will forever call the Oberon Vogue Pose, I got goosebumps from the power he threw out over the footlights.
And for all of Oberon’s power, Titania’s fire and sass are the perfect match for him. Ms. Oba is one of the most beautiful dancers I’ve seen dance in years! She’s so committed to her character, so natural in her movement, and her ability to shift from doting mother to aroused lover was done seamlessly and yet with a quiet power all her own. She’s one fierce dancer who went step for step with Mr. Schultz, and I can’t imagine how wonderful it was for Mr. Wevers to have these two anchor his story in such a magnificent way!
“I love Nicholas and Yuka, I would choreograph them all the time if I could!”
~Olivier Wevers, Choreographer and Artistic Director, Whim W’Him Dance Company
These two phenomenal dancers do a pas de deux towards the end of the ballet, and people, it took my breath away, it was so stunning. The push and pull that Mr. Wevers created between these two was art in its purest form. There was grace, there was beauty, there was power, and there was discovery. It was as if this royal couple were dancing this dance for the first time, reminding each other what they loved about each other, even reminding each other what frustrates them about the other, and yet refusing to give up. They fight through the moments, that I’m guessing any set of soul mates face in a complicated relationship. All of that raw emotional discovery was rolled into this dance. Thank you, Mr. Wevers, for being brave enough to create this moment, and thank you Mr. Schultz and Ms. Oba for bringing this exquisitely real moment to life. It was absolutely beautiful.
Lastly, I must mention the mischief-making comic apex of this story that everyone knows: Puck. The curious, ornery fairy who rarely follows direction correctly, and whose playfulness drives the play along, was delightfully played by Matt Wenckowski. He fully committed to the character, jumped and hopped all over the set, slipping and sliding through the world leaving chaotic humor in his wake. Dancing along the veil between the fairy world and the human world, Mr. Wenckowski was a delightful sprite who had me giggling at his merriment throughout the show. And what this boy can do with a fog gun, I’m just saying, that alone should make you go see this! Hysterical!
Mr. Wevers’ full concept, including the design elements, created a beautiful white world for which the fairies and humans could play upon, giving me the feel of being inside the pages of one of the boy’s books. Ingenious set pieces that move and slide around the stage, morphing and changing like a live game of Tetris, stunning costumes designed by Patricia Barker, Artistic Director of Grand Rapids Ballet, and the brilliant lighting of Michael Mazzola (Seriously, his lighting is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and I hope he continues to light Mr. Wevers dances for years to come!) came together as the perfect trifecta of creative genius.
Although, my favorite design element was the variety of footwear on the entire company for this piece. The Fairies, all dancing in socks, the human lovers in ballet shoes (the girls in toe shoes), and the silly characters in street shoes (adult Nick Bottom and his political entourage in dress shoes and Puck in white Keds looking tennis shoes). This variety added a depth and complexity that heightened the hilarious pandemonium going on in this world, and I found the choices absolutely inspired.
Visually stunning, brilliantly choreographed, and beautifully danced, this Midsummer is a witty, whimsical, and wonderful contemporary twist on a beloved tale. Please give yourself the gift of seeing this show.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays for two more nights at the Cornish Playhouse in Seattle Center. Tickets and show information can be found here.
I give this a thunderous applause, and a resounding Bravo!
Congratulations to Mr. Wevers on his first full length, story-driven ballet created on Grand Rapids Ballet. I have a feeling we’ll see this pairing again in the future, and I for one, can’t wait to see what they do next!
Ciao for now,
Photos by Bamberg Fine Art Photography, Courtesy of Olivier Wevers