Ein Sommernachtstraum (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
John Neumeier (choreography, stage director, lighting designer), Felix Mendelssohn, György Ligeti and traditional music for organ grinder (music)
Anna Laudere (Hippolyta/Titania), Edvin Revazov (Theseus/Oberon), Alexandr Trusch (Philostrate/Puck), Hélène Bouchet (Helena), Madoka Sugai (Hermia), Karen Azatyan (Demetrius), Jacopo Bullussi (Lysander), Marc Jubete (Pyramus/Bottom), Borja Bermúdez (Flaut/Thisbe), Hamburg Corps de Ballet, Jürgen Rose (stage and costume designer), Myriam Hoyer (film director)
Recording: Hamburg State Opera, Hamburg, Germany (2021) – 149’ (including bonus)
C Major Entertainment 758208 (or Blu-ray758304) – Filmed in 4K Ultra HD – PCM Stereo – DTS 5.1 – Bonus: DD 2.0 – NTSC 16:9 – Region 0 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English and German – Bonus interview in English
American choreographer John Neumeier is director/choreographer of the prestigious Hamburg Ballet. In 1977 he created his ballet adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it became one of his signature productions all over Europe.
After sitting out months in pandemic lockdown, Neumeier brought his Midsummer cast of 75 dancers to the shuttered Hamburg State Theater with an opportunity to make what he calls true “ballet film”, not what he dubs a ‘documentary’ film of a live performance (the industry standard approach). The result is complete cinema magic, now available on Blu-ray and DVD formats.
Neumeier blends Felix Mendelssohn’s incandescent Midsummer score for the classical ballet framework of the scenes of Hippolyta and Theseus’ nuptials, but Oberon’s fairyland scene is underscored with otherworldly music by György Ligeti and an Italian barrel organ which sets the scenes of the Rustics, the traveling theatricals. Musical cues ingeniously annotate Shakespeare’s dizzying story of mix-matched lovers.
It is no wonder that this production is among Neumeier’s most admired ballets, everything about it is magical. On the eve of her wedding, Hippolyta has her earthy and sensual ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ which, as the film conjures, is a dance-film fantasia.
Equal credit goes to the obvious synergistic collaboration between Neumeier and film director Myriam Hoyer, this being their third collaboration. The production was last seen live onstage in the Company’s 2019/2020 season. Now they were dancing around seven cameras to reprise it for the screen in a filming that took, remarkably, just three days.
Neumeier is an adventurous story ballet choreographer, and he has made ballet from stories as complex as Tennessee Williams’A Streetcar Named Desire to Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice . In 2018 he filmed his dance biography of the life of Nijinsky – an ambitious production that had scenes dazzling in their invention, but not lending itself to film, even with triumphal performances by the lead cast. His production of Midsummer loses none of its energy and its magic onscreen.
Neumeier’s open and closing wedding scenes, with preparations of a royal wedding, is European classical ballet at its most recognizable with its spirited court dancing, pas de deux and ensemble unison. The dream though changes the dance template as the mischievous fairy, Puck, ignites the mayhem for the betrothed and their wedding party when he waves the Rose over all of the court, couples fall in love with the first person they wake up to, or in the case of Bottom, an animal. This is Shakespeare’s study of misdirected ardor fertile dramatic and comedic conceits for dance.
The ‘Fairy Realm’ of Oberon and Titania with the unbridled movement of a massive corps de ballet, spectrals in silvery unitards, catapulting through the space in perpetual modern dance motion. Neumeier keeps them aloft half the time, streams through the air in feral leaps or grounds them in geometric configurations that keep evolving in supernatural allure.
Alexandr Trusch as Puck/Philostrate is a virtuosic dancer-actor. His eyes dance at the magic and mayhem he causes, and the technical artistry and athleticism that Neumeier builds makes this a tour-de-force performance.
Hélène Bouchet dances the bridesmaid, Helena: the dance comedy and sincere romance are just two examples of the impressive dancer-actor in this cast. Helena hurls herself at Demetrius (Karen Azatvan), only to be rebuffed, because his heart belongs to Hermia, but she has eyes for Lysander (Jacopo Bellussi). Bouchet’s comedic missteps transform into radiant balletics when Demetrius comes under the spell of the Rose and falls for her. And so it goes round and round for the couple swapping until Oberon commands Puck to put things right.
Edvin Revazov is a steely Oberon who commands Puck to entrance the lovers with the magic flower. Anna Laudere’s dual performance, as the equally regal Titania and in the wedding scenes as the dreamy bride, captivates in its mirroring subtleties.
For more comic mayhem, the Rustic tramp is entertainment for the wedding. While they rehearse in the forest, their leader, Bottom (Marc Jubete), is transformed into an ass in the forest.
The lead cast’s dual roles prove their mettle in both classical and modern dance idioms. Neumeier’s choreographic template in both genres is technically and aesthetically captivating in its energy and inspired drive. Acting by these leads, some in dual roles, completely impresses: the close ups, for instance, reveal the emotional precision of the lead players as lovers, and they remain in character for all the farcical plotlines.
It was Neumeier’s intention not to have the camera moving around the action during the Fairy scenes not to have any suggestion of the theater space. Even with the camera moving around and inside the action still captures the full aesthetic and energy of a live performance. Neumeier wisely chose to film the scenes separately, not in the standard full run through of a performance onstage.
Neumeier’s range of neoclassical, modernist choreography achieves such naturalism in this production. Kids of all ages will delight in the Rustics classic commedia dell’arte dance stooging with all of its campy bawdiness and pratfalls. Neumeier admirably makes the love scenes romantic and even lusty, just as Shakespeare intended them for the Globe Theatre audiences. Even in the court scenes, Neumeier’s classicism is not ‘ballet under glass’, and looking even more vivid than the earthier Fairyland scenes when different dance disciplines fuse, collide, enthrall and enchant.
Lewis J. Whittington