Alexander Ekman’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is a phantasmagorias dance-theater work with loose, free references and ties to the timeless, mischievous 16th-century play by William Shakespeare.
Ekman is a well-known choreographer and he did well in using only a few thematic elements from the original play and adjusted them partially to his culture and artistic discourse with his peers.
Dortmund Ballet presented Ekman’s contemporary dance embedded in a Nordic setting during the solstice season, a moment of importance when the gloomy, long, winter nights give way to warm, optimist days traditionally marked by celebrations of paganism roots. In a way, it reminds us of The Rite of Spring, reassuring the world’s continuity and allowing for passionate bursts galore. This is where reality and the surreal mesh, and fantasy takes over.
The stage easily allowed for about 40 dancers, and naturally, a lot of large scenes with action on stage accompanied by a great singer, Hannah Tolf, and a great group of six fine musicians playing live on stage. A rare treat, indeed.
The performance and atmosphere
It all started with a lone dancer asleep in his bed. His girlfriend comes, urging him to join her, as the curtain opens to one of the loveliest, magical, more surprising scenes of the evening. The stage was covered with mounds of straw after the harvest, and the dancers rolled and played with it, throwing bunches of straw in the air. With the right lighting design, the stage looked like a merry gold field. Ekman managed to build the scene up and connect it with a countryside atmosphere that later turned into a heartwarming, committed circle of folk dancing around a huge pole in the center.
The joyous affair allowed for modest flirting but on in its second scene, choreographic attention turned to the bizarre, translated as surreal: A bed flew in the sky, a huge fish fell from above, headless men in suits behaved weird, as everyone tried to figure what to do with an enormously long dinner table, decorated with candelabras but no food.
If that wasn’t enough, the unexpected arrival of full-sized trees with green leaves and all were lowered down from the ceiling. A nice treat for the eyes.
No doubt, it is a good dance company and the dancers were totally able and had fine control of their technique. Once in a while, some added even more flair with their virtuosity, which was impressive, no doubt. Yet, it was getting harder to follow where the dance was going when a large group of nice female dancers came up on stage as a determined group and marched, taking big steps left and right on point. Yet, this dance wasn’t about balletic point technique, as such, up to now.
Several of the other scenes also seemed to overstretch their point, referring to decisions intended to coerce laughter out of the audience with a sneaky gimmick. In the end, it was a full, long, intense production and could profit with tightening a bit.