Highlighting the use of multimedia and blend of live and electronic music in its online press, as well as showing off the cast in a blend of 1970s boho and modern festival attire, Ballet Cymru’s Dream – a balletic adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – bills itself as an exciting and innovative contemporary ballet. Accompanying the rainbows repeated throughout the promotional material, the character of Lysander becomes Lysandia, with Hermia’s relationship modified to incorporate an LGBTQ+ element.
Ballet Cymru’s presence as I entered the building filled me with enthusiasm. There’s a sensory table so you can touch and engage with the props; staff out front say hello and chat with you about the piece; there are notes about engaging with the company within your community – all lovely and homely. However, while Dream has all the trappings of an exciting and modern piece of theatre, something stops it from fitting together as well as you might like it to.
The pace is the primary issue with the show as a whole. There is very little space for important moments to land, and the quality of the choreography itself focuses more on content than story. For a (Shakespearean) comedy, most of the comedy simply doesn’t come across: the slapstick is too gentle in many places, and jokes are often brushed over in the rush to cram such a lengthy play into a 90-minute dance piece.
While giving each of the dancers time to come out and flaunt their talent might be standard practice in traditional ballet, in the case of this production, it feels as if they rushed to get the story done and then didn’t know what to do with the rest of the runtime. The last 10 minutes drags as, following each set of characters closing their arc, the energy is allowed to peter out again and again – the audience applauded as if it was the end of the show at least four times before it was actually the end.
This extends into the majority of costume and set design, which feels like it could have been excellent had a little more thought gone into it. The projections are somewhat generic and the lighting design often prevents them from being clearly seen; Titania’s bed is a wooden box which looks redundant while not in use and hides her movements when she’s in it.
As the show bills itself as “vibrant, fresh and new”, it’s disappointing to see it lean into so many aspects of classical ballet that put audiences off. The choreography is pretty and fast-paced, but ultimately shallow, and the emphasis on aesthetic over authentic storytelling ultimately means that no amount of modernisation is going to make this an exciting and up-to-date retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A reason for this might simply be a team stretched too thin – with choreographers Darius James OBE and Amy Doughty also designing the majority of set, costume and visual multimedia elements, it’s unsurprising that things feel somewhat under-considered.
There are still a number of things that very much make this show worth your time. Frank Moon’s new score gets top billing for a reason – the music perfectly transports you to each world in the piece, the sounds of the eerie, Disney-esque world of the fairies contrasting beautifully with the raucous, joyous world of the mechanicals. Moon, present as a live musician, provides an important grounding element to a show that can often feel too airy.
Within the cast, Kotone Sugiyama’s performance as Hermia is particularly stand-out. Her pixie-like movements, immense energy and humorous charm mean that your eyes are naturally drawn to her whenever she is onstage. Beth Medway is also wonderful, both as Helena and Snout the Mechanical, and her performance is equal parts elegant and witty.
Ballet Cymru’s latest production has all the facets of a strong piece and potential, but Dream isn’t fully realised.
The Riverfront, Newport, Tue 28 June. Also on Wed 29 June. Info: here
words HARI BERROW
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