A Midsummer Night's Dream (RNZB)

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

20/08/2015 - 23/08/2015

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

27/08/2015 - 29/08/2015

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

02/09/2015 - 06/09/2015

Municipal Theatre, Napier

19/09/2015 - 20/09/2015

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

25/11/2016 - 27/11/2016

Online, Global

10/04/2020 - 12/04/2020

Production Details

Royal NZ Ballet


Never harm, nor spell, nor charm,
Come our lovely Lady nigh.
So good night with lullaby.*

In an unprecedented artistic coup, the Royal New Zealand Ballet is thrilled that Liam Scarlett, one of the most sought-after choreographers working today, will create his first full-length, main stage production, for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, in 2015.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, based on Shakespeare’s play and with Mendelssohn’s wonderful incidental music, will have its world premiere in Wellington in August 2015. Scarlett’s musical, witty choreography, displayed in designs by Tracy Grant Lord (Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet) and lighting by Kendall Smith (Giselle) will bring Shakespeare’s enchanted wood and vivid characters, to fresh new life for New Zealand audiences.

Born in Ipswich and trained at The Royal Ballet School, joining The Royal Ballet in 2005, Liam Scarlett was appointed The Royal Ballet’s first Artist in Residence in 2012. He has created a string of acclaimed ballets for The Royal Ballet, with his first main stage work, Asphodel Meadows (2010) nominated for both a South Bank Award and an Oliver Award and winner of a 2011 Critics’ Circle National Dance Award. His commissions for international companies have included works for New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, English National Ballet, K-Ballet (Japan) and the Ballet Boyz (UK).

The Vodafone Season of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a Co-Production between the Royal New Zealand Ballet and Queensland Ballet.

RNZB’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream a hit

The Royal New Zealand Ballet has a major hit on its hands after the sell-out world premiere of The Vodafone Season of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Wellington last night.

The brand new ballet by 29 year old British choreographer Liam Scarlett, one of the most sought after choreographers in the world today, won over critics and audience members alike.

“The magic and delight never let up. This is an absolutely splendid production of which choreographer, Liam Scarlett and the Royal New Zealand Ballet can be justifiably proud.” says dance critic Ann Hunt from the Dominion Post. “One can see why he (Scarlett) is the current wunderkind of British ballet.”

“The dance rises to such heights,” says Jennifer Shennan in her review on Radio New Zealand today.

The RNZB’s largest-ever set and stunning costumes created by New Zealander Tracy Grant Lord and enchanting lighting design by American Kendall Smith wowed audiences.

“There is a charmed symbiotic relationship between all the elements of this ballet. Together they have made magic.” says Ann Hunt.

The production offers something for everyone.“An extraordinarily beautiful night at the ballet” that “will appeal across generations.”says Jennifer Shennan

The season continues in Wellington with the NZSO performing Mendelsohn’s stunning score until Sunday 23 August.  The company then tours the production to Christchurch 27-29 August with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, Auckland 2-6 September with the Auckland Philharmonia, Rotorua 10 September,  Palmerston North 16 September and Napier 19 & 20 September.



St James Theatre

Friday 25th November 7:30pm with free pre-performance talk

Saturday 26th November 1:30pm with free post-performance Q&A Buy tickets

Saturday 26th November 7:30pm with Warm Up, Curtain Up! Buy tickets

Sunday 27th November 4:00pm



Following its hugely successful world premiere in 2015, during Easter weekend 2020 we’re broadcasting A Midsummer Night’s Dream Live in your Living Room! 🌙

Be transported to a fantastical world of dazzling dance, music and enchantment.

Shakespeare’s classic tale comes to life with dazzling choreography by Liam Scarlett, stunning set and costume design by distinguished New Zealand designer Tracy Grant Lord and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra performing Mendelssohn’s famous score.

⭐️ Join the event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/209396930353161/

Free broadcast through Facebook Premiere:
Friday 10 April, 7:30pm
Saturday 11 April, 1:30pm
Sunday 12 April, 10:30am


Casting: http://www.rnzb.org.nz/shows-and-events/the-vodafone-season-of-a-midsummer-night's-dream/casting/

Dance-theatre , Dance ,

2 hours

The course of true love never did run smooth

Review by Greer Robertson 13th Apr 2020

And here again I sit in my living room, resplendent in opening night theatre going clothes, complete with eye catching to-die- for heels that sadly won’t be seen tonight, ready to revisit a ballet that I had so enjoyed a few years ago. 

Oh those were the days and in fact it was remarkably back in August 2015! Really?

Tonight’s presentation is of a dress rehearsal at the St. James, Wellington. I realise that in filming this as merely adequate for archival purposes, it was never intended to be released so publicly on an online platform.

 But it’s Lockdown, let’s have a look, let’s keep the Royal New Zealand Ballet alive!

The magnificent never changing set with twinkling starry sky, sweeping staircase, a beguiling domain holding secrets yet to be revealed; really needed the enhancement of specialised film lighting to see its full beauty.

Oberon: “I’ll met by moonlight, proud Titania” as he swirls about the stage in the opening scene. MacLean Hopper as Oberon King of the Fairies commands a defining presence wearing an elaborate coat. A rather long solo, without too much turnout and technique detailing was choreographically repetitive, and has me wanting to see the Queen.

And here she comes. Tonia Looker as Titania is everything Shakespeare imagined her to be I’m sure. “Though she be little, she is fierce.”

Lithesome, petite, faultless technique and superb timing while adorned in a sheer gossamer sequined gown, Locker enthrals. She is truly a fairy queen! Oberon and Titania dance majestically in a beautiful pas de deux. Having watched Looker dance her way to principal status, in my opinion this role is her finest.

The Lovers; Hermia, Lori Gilchrist, Joseph Skelton as Lysander, Helena, Abigail Boyle and Paul Mathews as Demetrius are comically portrayed with over–the-top mannerisms “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Buffoons to the core and not ready for a magical swingers party they add a delightful zing. Equally ridiculous the lads leap about.

Exquisite puffy blue tutus and way too far fast music for pirouetting clarity, the Fairies still make a hit in the Enchanted Forest. I welcome the vocal chorus.

“Cupid is a knavish lad, thus to make poor females mad.” Kohei Iwamoto as Puck mischievously and with brilliantly fast footwork coupled with supreme technique does as he is told even masterfully abseiling from a lofty height at one stage.

But “Bless thee, Bottom bless thee”

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind!”

The ballet’s highlight for me is the love duet of an enamoured Titania upon an ass headed Bottom. Harry Skinner suits yet another comic character role as he always performs them well. His strong nimble- pins and endearing love for Titania pings at my heart strings. Adorable!

“If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended that you have slumbered here while these visions did appear.”

It was all a long dream and so lovely to see the company dancers of 2015. Thank you RNZB.


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A feel-good ballet to enjoy at home

Review by Nicole Wilkie 12th Apr 2020

The Royal New Zealand Ballet delights the at-home audience with its second set of free broadcasts of its performances during the nationwide lockdown. This week, we are treated to an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

 The set and costume design in this work are striking. A backdrop of blue and black tones dominates, and with this deep, mysterious resonance dotted by glowing flora, we are transported into the realm of an enchanted forest.  A bridge fashioned by intertwining vines sits atop the action, allowing dancers to travel down to the stage organically, creating an opportunity for transition to be a part of the performance. The fairies are stunning in their brightly coloured, light-catching tutus, and a particular highlight is the black, bedazzled cloak worn by Oberon (played by MacLean Hopper), which he parades with staunch masculinity.

A stand-out performer in this ballet is Puck, played by Kohei Iwamoto. Iwamoto is a stunning dancer, his turns and jumps are skilfully controlled, his footwork dynamic and precise, and he embodies the character with fervor. The relationship between Puck and Oberon, in particular, is a joy to watch, their interactions displaying a cheeky comradery and rollicking humour. Contemplating the pas de deux between Hermia (Lori Gilchrist) and Lysander (Joseph Skelton), I am struck by the tangible chemistry between these two dancers and their full commitment to their roles.

While no one can deny that the choreography and execution of the solos and smaller group parts in this ballet are fantastic, the larger group sections are truly something to behold. The more dancers that are introduced to a section, the harder it is to maintain synchronicity and musicality as a unit, however, these dancers attack their footwork with swift accuracy, achieve exquisite lines and time their jumps with innate precision.

With support from a stunning score performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, this ballet is expertly choreographed, balancing phenomenal traditional ballet technique and wholesome, honest humour. Once again the RNZB has delivered a feel-good ballet for people to enjoy from their homes. During this unprecedented time when we are unable to access traditional theatre experiences, being given the ability to engage with dance despite being confined to our ‘bubbles’ is truly a gift and I commend the RNZB and other dance companies who are offering their work digitally.


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Neoterically engaging and modern

Review by Caitlin Halmarick 12th Apr 2020

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s second instalment of Live in your Living Room is 2015’s world premiere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, choreographed by Liam Scarlett.  Similar to last week’s chapter of Hansel & Gretel, this opulent yet utterly charming production of a well-loved Shakespearean comedy is a classic family-friendly ballet that has appeal for all ages and is a great opportunity to escape into a magical world of fairies, good-natured yet complicated love, fun-loving and excellently portrayed characters, and majestic dancing.

This beautiful version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes the classic Shakespeare fairy-tale and keeps its rich history and opulence alive while also neoterically keeping it engaging and modern. The supernatural, majestic lighting by Kendall Smith beckons you into a childlike playfulness where magic is real and fairies with tulle skirts trimmed with sparkling gold can be found between little mushroom houses and glittering sprigs of grass, all wondrously designed by Tracy Grant Lord.

In terms of the dancing itself, the ever-cute Puck danced by Kohei Iwamoto steals the show with his endearing characterisation, and impressive technical prowess and stamina. The jovial relationship between Puck and MacLean Hopper’s Oberon is also a standout, the merry enactment executed without flaws. The breathtaking pas de deux between Oberon and Tonia Looker’s Titania magnificently accomplishes the ultimate application of modern ballet technique, with just the right mix of opulent classical technique and an exploration of new partnering movement pathways sure to excite any audience member. This version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream also includes a few witty sexual references. These rollicking moments courteously go straight over the heads of the little ones but add just the right amount of humour, merriment, and spice for the enjoyment of the big kids.

Apart from the wondrous dancing, RNZB also provides the public an insider’s look into the experience of two of its principal dancers; Mayu Tanigaito and Paul Matthews. These two dancers were available in the comments section to answer any questions the audience had about the production, the rehearsal process, or anything to do with ballet. It was a great opportunity for the general public to have a peek behind the curtain and interact with the people that they see on screen and on the stage. I applaud RNZB for initiating this intimate engagement with their audience and I encourage everyone to engage with each other in the comments as it is a lovely way to come together as a community during this time, as well as allowing the dancers the space to dispel some myths about men in ballet, and shine light on the gruelling rehearsal process that takes place to provide the audience with the magical production they see before them.

In the matter of the magic of production, it was heartwarming to see RNZB give a shout out to their “workers in black” by showing during the intermission a time-lapse of the pack-in process. It is beautiful to see arts companies show support for all workers in the arts industry during this time, where the entertainment industry has temporarily shut down all its physical spaces and many jobs and earnings have been lost or postponed. I applaud RNZB for providing exposure to the many invaluable artists and workers who often go unthanked and unnoticed by the general public and yet are integral to getting the show up and running seamlessly.

RNZB’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is such a joyous tale that is sure to delight anyone during this time of quarantine and somewhat gloomy prospects. I would highly recommend anyone to check out this magical tale and splendid production for all your jovial fairy-tale needs.



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An outstanding production in every way

Review by Donna Banicevich Gera 26th Nov 2016

The course of true love never did run smooth’ – William Shakespeare.

Yesterday evening I was lucky enough to explore my own midsummer night’s dream through the outstanding performance of the Royal New Zealand Ballet Company. Yes – one of Shakespeare’s classic romantic fairy tales opened at the St James Theatre last night in true comedic style.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ choreographed by Liam Scarlett is a singularly profound and moving work, with the clarity of this production highlighting the value of magic and intrigue through storytelling.

Set in an enchanted forest in mythical Athens, the story explores themes of love and all its complications. The fairy-tale world is spellbinding, and from the moment the curtain rises the audience is transported into the mayhem of life in the depths of the undergrowth during one night. Themes of love, lust, disappointment, and confusion reign. Scarlett admirably contrasts the narratives of Oberon, King of the Fairies (performed by Qi Huan), Titania, Queen of the Fairies (performed by Tonia Looker) and Puck (performed by Shaun Kelly) with their tent camping visitors from the real world.

The set design by Tracey Grant Lord is beautiful – a complete work of art in its own right. Oberon has his own bridge to oversee his kingdom from, and this structure also allows Puck the freedom to run and jump and slide his way anywhere and everywhere with impish energy and wit.

The lighting design by Kendall Smith fully complements this architecture – illuminating the bridge and the forest in varying shades of purple, signifying the passions that unfold. A full moon sits in the night sky casting light and shadow over the intrigue taking place in the landscape below.

In the characterisation, there is a strongly delivered contrast in movement between the fairies who are light and swift and the visitors from the real world who are heavier and grounded. These styles, however, are woven together in seamless transitions perfectly executed by the cast.

Qi Huan and Tonia Looker both provide outstanding performances. The strength and stance of Oberon, the Fairy King, is compelling to watch and parallels the feminine perfection of his Queen. Together in these roles, both dancers present an unforgettable partnership.

In fact when I think about this production my thoughts centre around the letter ‘P’: Powerful, Passionate, and Profound. And of course Puck! Perfect on so many levels.

This interpretation of Shakespeare’s work on the complexity of love seeps into my brain like a soft gentle massage. Life and love certainly hasn’t changed much since he wrote this text hundreds of years ago. It is not often you get to the end of a performance of this length and find yourself thinking ‘I wish it were longer’.

Congratulations Orchestra Wellington and the Royal New Zealand Ballet Company.


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Review by Kim Buckley 20th Sep 2015

A starry nebulous projection establishes a magical and wondrous introduction to the Royal NZ’s Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Changeling child (Keira Rolston-Larking), with book open on lap and stuffed donkey under arm reads us into his world as iridescent fairies begin to abundantly flit and flicker in and around designer Tracy Grant Lord’s quintessential fairy dell. Fantastically lit by Kendall Smith, the pods, tree bridge and flowers all create the perfect wonderland for Liam Scarlett’s interpretation of one of our most beloved Shakespearean stories.

Oberon (Shane Urton) and Titania (Tonia Looker) are sublime together, first bickering over who will take possession of the Changeling child, and later in possession of their true love with each other. Singularly, Shane Urton dances with mercurial grace and a fluidity of strength. His theatricality blends just the correct amount of ominous majesty. Tonia Looker is every bit as graceful and fluid as her partner, and she combines this with a delightful rendering of a beautifully playful and besotted Titania. Looker’s Titania is perfectly matched in will to Urton’s Oberon.

Puck (Shaun James Kelly) reveals himself as gleeful, mischievous, flirtatious and childlike. Paul Mathews creates a rather likable and suitably distracted Bottom. He is comically clever in his rendition of the Ass, with his wiggly bottom, quivering hoof, and nuzzling nose. The physical comedy created by the human aspect of this Shakespearean spectacle was perfectly timed. Hermia (Clytie Campbell) and Lysander (Loughlan Prior) are theatrically sweet while Helena (Abigail Boyle) and Demetrius (William Fitzgerald) are perfectly quirky and nerdy. The choreographed trio of this love mix-up is superb and funny, heralding Puck’s whimsical magic.

The rest of the Rustics are hilarious. At one stage seven of them all exiting a tiny pup tent one by one, is perhaps Scarlett’s version of the “how many people can we fit into a mini?” scenario.

Nigel Gaynor stitches together more than one piece of Mendelssohn’s music with original linking passages to create a full-length ‘unity with contrasts’ version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for this choreography. This extraordinary gift gives Scarlett, and therefore the dancers, full musical connection to their characters, enabling gestures and motifs not necessarily accessible otherwise. Brilliant.

There are only three things that I could say anything even slightly unfavourable about. The set, even as delightful as it was, seemed to crowd the stage, not leaving much room to dance. Puck’s hands squeaked with ungainly noise as he slid down his pole. And I was a little disappointed that not more was made of his ropey exit from his bower.

Costumes are exquisite from start to finish, with every single sparkle, wing, twirl and flounce stunningly designed and placed. The set construction is clever and allows the audience to participate in every moment; Oberon quietly watching from the top of his very tall tree bridge at the going’s-on of his Queen, his fairies, and the Humans that inhabit his world; the cheeky fairies waving at the audience from stairs hidden from view behind a bower; the Rustics placing their pup tents so as to create the perfect dell for dancing; Puck’s bower with its stairs, pole, rope and bridge.

I have seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream at least five times during my life, all performed in dance or theater. This version was no less delightful than any of the others that I have enjoyed. I was thoroughly entertained by the energy, vibrance and joy of the RNZB dancers. I hope you are too.

For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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Love makes the world go round

Review by Bernadette Rae 04th Sep 2015

If you are going to do fairies there can be no holding back, so wunderkind English choreographer Liam Scarlett unashamedly mixes, in this sparkling new production, 110 per cent magic with a gorgeous design by Tracy Grant Lord, an intricately stitched up score of Mendelssohn’s music, courtesy of the company’s musical director Nigel Gaynor, and a lighting design from Kendall Smith that animates the whole like an ongoing shower of fabulous fairy dust.

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Away with the fairies

Review by Raewyn Whyte 03rd Sep 2015

When the curtain rises on the Royal NZ Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we are in an archetypal fairy dell in the forest on a midsummer’s night, with a small sleeping child in a purple bear suit (Aston Pickmere) and clutching a donkey toy, off to one side. The rim of the full moon glows above a fantastical assortment of spire-topped fairy-bowers/sleep pods built into tree trunks, with whimsically glowing fungi-like flower pods marking the edges of three or four clearings which create pathways into the space, and a rickety-looking bridge hangs above the scene, built from branches. It’s an entirely splendid, magical scene and all kudos to designer Tracy Grant Lord for her rich imagination.

Two groups of flittering, fluttering, flowing, glowing, glistening and gorgeously-clad fairies pass through, the first bringing a deep purple and rich blue colour palette through their almost iridescent tutus, the second group adding lemon to lighten the mix. Following in their wake comes Oberon, King of the Fairies (MacLean Hopper), wearing a black and deep purple swirling coat open to the waist, black pants and boots, all embellished by glittering sequins and jewels which glint in all directions as he constantly waves and twines and swirls his arms while striding about. Titania, Queen of the Fairies (Tonia Looker), joins him, wearing an elegant cream gown of glitter pattern tulle with Swarovski crystals on the bodice which sparkles and glints as it swirls in the moonlight, her calmly focused womanly presence providing a charming counter to Oberon’s feverish flitting about.

In due course, Oberon’s sinewy, slippery, constantly-moving, almost-bare-chested apprentice Puck (Shaun James Kelly) descends from his lair to do his master’s bidding, wearing close-fitting scaly tights in purples and blues with green tinges; and to complete the roster of characters in this re-worked version of the Shakespearian original, along comes a ragtag bunch of hikers led by Demetrius (Paul Mathews), comprising three friends with love on their minds –  Hermia (Lori Gilchrist), Lysander (Joseph Skelton), and Helena (Abigail Boyle),  and seven chino-clad male Rustics who look like they could have come from different countries and eras.

It makes little difference whether you are familiar with the original Shakespeare play, as this version has been stripped back somewhat, losing the complexities and political intrigues to become a delightfully rollicking tale of love’s misadventures resulting from Puck’s somewhat misdirected sprinkling of a magic pollen which turns the next entity seen into a love object.  So on waking, one of the Rustics (Harry Skinner), clutching the small boy’s toy,  is turned into an ass (aka Bottom) who finds his way into Titania’s bower. He nuzzles into her, and on waking, Titania falls madly in love with him, ruffling his ears, stroking his chest, kissing his nose. Hermia and Helena are set on finding true love, but all does not run smooth as pollen-influenced Lysander and Demetrius are temporarily paired with each other’s girlfriends. Fortunately, in the end, Oberon relents and Puck is directed to put things right.

Liam Scarlett’s choreography keeps up a cracking pace to lay out and tie up all the necessary plot points within 2 hours. The dancing is clean, confident, crisp, and decorative as required, and all the major characters are well played. The two hiking couples turn out to have wonderfully comedic expressivity, with Abigail Boyle and Paul Mathew tipping over into the zany when choreography combines with costume choices such as her nerdy heavy framed glasses and  jaunty pigtails – and the liberal use of red ribbons to indicate romantic dishevelment. The movement is well matched to Felix Mendelssohn’s score, played by the APO, throughout, though it is a little odd to have the Wedding March without any weddings per se. Subtly lambent lighting by Kendall Smith plays nicely with the black light used to produce the special effects, and faces are especially well lit.

As a co-production with Queensland Ballet, this work will have an extended life across the Tasman, enhancing the sustainability of this investment in future repertoire.


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Enveloping the audience in a magical fairyland

Review by Sheree Bright 28th Aug 2015

Why do we go to the ballet (or any type of dance performance)? For story ballets, do we go because we want to see if Sleeping Beauty will ever wake up? It’s a fair guess to say that most people know the answer to that question when they attend a performance of Sleeping Beauty. “In every case the artist use(s) the story line to explore the emotional facets of the characters and the nature of these emotions. At all times the movement qualities and patterns (are) devised to involve us in something larger than a story. This something larger is the implicit subject of a dance, and may be referred to as the theme.” (The Dance by Joan Cass)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, is a delightful experience for all ages.  This version is a co-production with the Queensland Ballet and is two hours long including the 20 min interval. The RNZB have dedicated the Vodafone Season of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Sir John Todd.

It is originally a comedy play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1590 and 1597. One of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s most important themes is, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” This production is filled with a light hearted humour that reassures the audience that even amidst the chaos, everything is likely to work out. The RNZB version has stunning visual effects and glorious dancing. 

If it is coming your way, go see it!

George Balanchine (1904-1983) considered to be one of the 20th century’s most prolific choreographers, created his first original full length ballet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for the New Your City Ballet in 1962. Balanchine interpolated further music by Mendelssohn into his Dream, including the overture from Athalie. A film version of the ballet was released in 1966. (Arthur Mitchell, who went on to found and become the artistic director for The Dance Theatre of Harlem, danced as the mischievous fairy Puck, considered to be his best work for Balanchine.)

Dance and music are true partners in art. Louis Horst, the long time musical director and composer for Martha Graham wrote: ‘The dance should be the centre of interest, the point of tension. The music creates a transparent aura. It is open and spacious, so the audience can see the dance through it.”

Nigel Gaynor, as Music Director for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, also incorporates additional musical selections by Mendelssohn that are appropriate for the characters and the action in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra weave a beautiful aura through which we see the dance.

Robert Starer, who composed scores for a number of dancers, expressed his respect for choreographic artists as follows: ‘I would like to state at this point that I have never encountered more truly musical people than choreographers. They may not know the difference between F sharp and G flat, but they have an unfailing sense for what I would like to call musical ‘gesture’.” In this way, phrase by phrase, Liam Scarlett’s wonderful choreography has perfect pitch.

The exquisite musicality of the dancers enhances the audience’s ability to enter into this fairy kingdom. Scarlett says, “There should always be a connection with the music. Even if it’s something minimal, there has to be a relationship between what’s happening in the (orchestra) pit and what’s happening on stage – and it has to be visually acknowledged. That’s my stamp that I like to put on a piece: that it somehow translates the music into real life.”

The expansive and cohesive set and stunning costumes are created by New Zealand’s Tracy Grant Lord.  Combined with American Kendall Smith’s enchanting lighting design, a magical spell is cast over the audience. The rich colour scheme of the lighting, set and costumes primarily uses hues of iridescent purples, blues, greens and golds with a clever use of fluorescent paints and UV lighting, creating an enchanted forest for the winged creatures and the human interlopers.

A fantastic environment is created for the fairies as they dance spritely, delicately curving and waving their arms as they flit and dart through their enchanted forest. There is a fairy bridge and a stairway seemingly leading to the moon. The movement of the fairy corps is light and simple at times and complex at others. The fournamed fairies’ had colourful, slightly dishevelled yet endearing qualities.  The six corps fairies were also shimmering in their iridescent blue/purple tutus. With their costumes and movements, all of the fairies reminded me of shimmering hummingbirds.    

Oberon, king of the fairies, danced by MacLean Hopper, gestures to awaken Puck. Titania, the fairy queen, danced by Tania Looker, enters with a Changeling child, innocently played by Joseph Berry. Oberon gets angry and sees red after a dispute with Titania over possession of the Changeling. His solo has sweeping gestures that match the sweeping curves of the set. 

Explorers enter the forest accompanied by eight rustics, including Bottom danced by Harry Skinner, with butterfly nets (or are they fairynets?) all pointing to which direction they should go next.  Joseph Skelton as Lysander and Lori Gilchrist as Hermia stay behind, skilfully performing an adagio duet that demonstrates the lovely innocence and candour of young love.

A dejected Demetrius, danced by Paul Mathews, continually refuses Helena’s attention as she persists in wooing him. Demetrius and Helena, played by Abigail Boyle, artfully provide much of the evenings’ clever comedic timing.

Puck, danced by Kohei Iwamoto, is effervescent with a crisp clarity. He energetically and seamlessly expresses a wide range of emotions. Puck seems to be an interloper in almost every scene, either causing chaos or fixing it. The Puck and Oberon duet demonstrate fleetness of foot and precise use of energy. Iwamoto (Puck) and Oberon (Hopper) share strong unison movements, yet both impressively remain solid in their character, moving as their character would do the movement. Contrasting each other, Oberon is stately, confident, while Puck is mercurial, a quicksilver. Puck’s splendid fouette turns are spot on axis.

As Titania goes to sleep, Oberon puts the magic flower potion on Titania to get revenge. Tents have emerged for the explorers and serve to house, as do the fairy pods, a variety of characters as they sleep. This is where the mistaken flower potion sprinkled on the eyelids of the sleeping causes the individual to instantly and completely fall in love with the first one they see. The unintended happens and characters are falling in love with the wrong person. Hence, a comedic chaos ensues.

When Titania awakens, she is stunned as the first one she sees is the character Bottom who has been magically changed to a donkey. But, alas, she falls in love with him much to Oberon’s amusement. In their duet, Bottom, now a donkey, quivers with delight at Titania’s caress, and nuzzles her. All this adds to the comedic chaos. Coincidentally, painted on the beautiful ceiling dome of the theatre amongst other images, is the image of Titania and Bottom as the Donkey.

As all that has gone wrong eventually gets put right and Puck is clearly thrilled. Oberon and Titania dance a reuniting duet and move with synchronistic fluidity. He is strong and confident; she is regal and confident yet sublimely delicate and graceful. Together they have a tender elegance. Regal yet mysterious and otherworldly, they lovingly languish in their duet with beautiful extensions, lifts and consistent clarity. Titania shines and glistens. Tonia Looker is particularly exquisite and unforgettable in this role.

Each of the characters is very well cast. Each dancer clearly and believably inhabits their respective characters. Adagio and particularly staccato movements are skilfully performed throughout the production, whether creating a lofty and delicate mood or conveying strength and confidence.

While the CSO creates its magic, the set, lighting and costumes create a beautiful visual symphony. Indeed, joined with brilliance of the RNZB dancers and choreographer Liam Scarlett, the combined expertise in all of the elements of A Midsummer Night’s Dream envelops and welcomes the audience into a magical fairyland that will long remain in viewers’ memories.


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The magic never lets up

Review by Ann Hunt 25th Aug 2015

The curtain rises. fairies come creeping and flitting through the forest, followed by their King, Oberon, and their Queen, Titania, and we are in their thrall.

The magic and delight never let up. This is an absolutely splendid production of which choreographer, Liam Scarlett and the Royal New Zealand Ballet can be justifiably proud. This world premiere is a joint collaboration between the company and the Queensland Ballet – a New Zealand first.

Scarlett’s choreography is wonderfully inventive, full of sweeping lifts that are echoed in the curves of the set design in their great arcs of movement. One can see why he is the current wunderkind of British ballet. He manages to convey through dance, all the beauty and complexity of Shakespeare’s play. No mean feat. 

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Sparkling new production hits the jackpot

Review by Jan Bolwell 24th Aug 2015

Without question this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a triumph for the RNZB and for all the many skilled people who were part of its realisation.

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Ballet delightfully away with the fairies

Review by Ann Hunt 23rd Aug 2015

The curtain rises. Fairies come creeping and flitting through the forest, followed by their King, Oberon, and their Queen, Titania, and we are in their thrall.

The magic and delight never let up. This is an absolutely splendid production of which choreographer, Liam Scarlett and the Royal New Zealand Ballet can be justifiably proud. This world premiere is a joint collaboration between the company and the Queensland Ballet – a New Zealand first.

Scarlett’s choreography is wonderfully inventive, full of sweeping lifts that are echoed in the curves of the set design in their great arcs of movement. [More]


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Glistening and luminous

Review by Sam Trubridge 22nd Aug 2015

What is ballet? What does it mean? How does movement tell a story of love denied, confused, and found again? How could a movement be a symbol or a metaphor? Sometimes Ballet is so structured, so abstract, that it seems almost athletic. Few of us move like this to express ourselves, and even fewer of us could move like this if we even wanted to. So what is ballet other than the dance of unknown or foreign worlds, of places and things beyond our comprehension? The ballet dancer is so disciplined in their form that they look alien to our own earthbound bodies. These spirits do not appear to be cast from the same clay as us. So what better story for these masters of the grand jeté and the arabesque to tell, than Shakespeare’s intricate comedy about entanglements between the spirit world and the world of ordinary men and women 

It seems fortuitous that Royal NZ Ballet has chosen this production, with the lights of Wellington’s annual Lux Festival enchanting the laneways, wharves, and parks of the city outside St James Theatre. This A Midsummer Night’s Dream seems to be a part of the same world :featuring a glistening and luminous mise-en-scene rendered so beautifully by a painterly integration of lighting design, sets, and costumes. But more on that soon. The lights fade and the orchestra breathes into life like a gentle ocean. The strings of our NZ Symphony Orchestra no less. It is such a real treat to experience these two fantastic companies working together in the same space.

Choreographer Liam Scarlett has dispensed with the whole court setting from Shakespeare’s original script, in the style of Balanchine’s 1962 production. Without the parental world of Theseus, Hippolyta, Egeus, and the Athenian court, Scarlett is able to launch us straight into the fairy kingdom and introduce the Lovers and the Rustics as they enter the forest. It is a decision that really pays off, allowing for a greater economy in the work, and a focus upon the interactions between the forest fairies and their trespassers, without any intrusion of state, patriarchy, and governance that comes with the court scenes. The Lovers and the Rustics are exuberant explorers of this world, a small tribe of private school students on their field trip, complete with their scout tents, butterfly nets, cameras, and preppy outfits. But we start with Titania and Oberon: a slick, stylish couple whose liquid movements glide them across stage amid clouds of fluttering fairies in luminous blue tulle and feathery wings.

Designer Tracy Grant Lord does an amazing job, equalling her visual mastery of the story that was so successful in earlier RNZB works like Romeo and Juliet (2003) and The Wedding (2006). And yet it is a design that cannot be separated from the stunning lighting by Kendall Smith. Together these two artists have painted the stage with hues of inky black purple, blue, and green – casting twinkling lights and glowing shapes over the twisted walkways and canopies of a midnight garden. The use of UV lighting gives the colours of some fabrics a saturated quality, while other textures catch the light differently, glistening like scales, cobwebs, or stardust.

This mise-en-scene is a wonderful collaboration between two defining features of this production. It is only matched by the amazing and intricate relationship between choreography and score, between the dancing and an exceptional performance by the orchestra. The NZSO and conductor Nigel Gaynor are masterful in detailing each scene with Mendelssohn’s score, animating the story with as much painterly precision as the design: the tingling of chimes with each fairy touch, the wonderfully comic tuba section with Bottom’s transformation, and the precision with which each new instrument or sound in is used to become a vocal force for the story on stage, rendering the characters and their journeys clearly and with such detail. This is Scarlett’s greatest gift to the production and NZSO have equalled his precision move for move, so that even if you did not know Shakepeare’s original story, you would follow it easily in this performance.

On stage, it is Kohei Iwamoto as Puck who really holds this story together. He is dynamite from the moment he is awoken to do Oberon’s bidding – rushing across stage with a bold and almost uncontained energy that is beautifully matched to MacLean Hopper’s poise as Oberon. Iwamoto has an incredible amount of dancing in this performance, as Puck appears in most of the scenes, meddling in the lives and loves of all the characters as he rushes about on his errands. By the end, this mischief-maker imposes himself into just about every one of the closing dances, pretending to be a Rustic with their last scene, then attending on the reunification of the Lovers, before dancing with the fairies. Iwamoto remains the pivotal force throughout, often quite literally as he spins a perfectly executed fouette again and again as the corps gather around him. It is an outstanding performance that the fairies complement well with more delicate movements, high legs, and high arms, so they appear to drift through this moonlit kingdom.

By contrast with Puck and the world of the forest folk, the Lovers move with greater solidity and jolliness, but with equal grace. The opening scene between Lysander (Joseph Skelton) and Hermia (Lori Gilchrist) is amazingly tender, with all of the breathlessness of first love, as the pair come and go, to and fro, across the stage. Finally she drifts before him, en pointe, as he reaches for her, and I begin to know what ballet means. It is a yearning for the other, or an-other way of being, that we can never attain. Demetrius (Paul Matthews) knows about this, he cannot have Hermia. Because he loves her too. Helena (Abigail Boyle) knows this, because she cannot have Demetrius. The scenes between these two is another highlight of the night, as are the scenes when Lysander and Demetrius both turn their attentions on Helena. The comedy and timing is perfect as the Lovers pursue one another through these various fancies. Abigail Boyle is amazing to watch, taller, long-limbed, and perfectly in time with her partners, while nonetheless able to communicate Helena’s awkward and sexually frustrated energy that is in one moment desperate to please, then desperate to escape the amorous advances of both Lysander and Demetrius. It is a brilliantly performed role by one of RNZB’s stars.

The Rustics take the movement further into comedy with exaggerated knees and elbows, tight cannonades, and a wonderful entrance from their tiny tent. Bottom (Harry Skinner) is the last to appear, bottom-first as he does several times in the performance, to remind us of his name. Skinner’s physical wit and strength in this role is fantastic throughout, but is most beautifully rendered when he finally discovers that he is human again, carefully exploring the memories of being a donkey that tremble through his body. Here in this second half, where Puck’s mischief is revealed and then mended, there is some fantastically dense movement across the stage leading up to Pucks reparation and Oberon’s reconciliation with Titania. In this confusion, the lovers whirl in hot pursuit of one another, chased by fairies, rustics, or a donkey. This is ballet with an almost cinematic approach to action and narrative, montaging movement across the space with great precision, kept time and pace by the omnipresent Puck and the swelling music. It is a brilliant crescendo that could have only done at times with a larger corps, when the dancers gather in unison for the fairies’ last dance.

Finally Oberon and Titania are left alone together, as they were at the beginning. After the maelstrom of action, and Puck’s trickery, the two seem to have resolved their dispute over the Changeling child (Joseph Barry). There is balance in their relationship. Tonia Looker and MacLean Hopper close with a duet that is satisfyingly long, stately, and graceful. After many shorter dances throughout the work, we finally get to see two dancers really spend time with one another. She is pliant, he is tender. Her limbs arc around him as he lifts her high, spins her wide, and sets her back down. His inky starry black. Her moonlit frosty white. As this midnight pastoral closes, the Changeling child settles down to sleep as the faeries leave, cuddling a toy donkey to his chest. Before the teenage crushes, before unrequited love, before jealous love, and before desire, there was the child. We leave him alone on stage, this innocent, as if it were all his dream.


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