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Program IV: A Midsummer Night's Dream

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As a New Yorker who has seen Midsummer many times I am afraid I still don't get it. Why? Putting the action underwater seems random and perverse. Did people in Fl really buy tickets because it took place underwater rather than in the woods? This ballet is brilliant, entertaining, funny and a prime example of storytelling in ballet at its best. Wouldn't that in itself be enough of a selling point?

BTW - I'm looking forward to seeing MCB in New York. Just got tickets.

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Re "Why?" I guess I think it's meant to say--'yes, we are doing Balanchine-Shakespeare, but we are doing it in a way that speaks to our community and is unique to us.' Marketing? Artistry? A bit of both. (Cf. Hubbe's Sylphide--and that's AT Bournonville's home company which I admit I found more problematic.) Maybe they could have sold a version based on NYCB's just as successfully, but maybe not...Would we be talking about it at this length? Certainly not,

But also, as noted by Birdsall above, redesigning classic librettos/scores in ways that reframe and recontextualize them is a norm in opera and has happened somewhat in ballet too. For myself, I'm very glad opera's wilder attitude to staging hasn't made its way to the ballet world, but I also think the art form just withers if it goes to the other extreme and every production of a 'classic' in every company is always the same. Keeping the music and choreography seem to be the essential thing in staging of a classic work. Though certainly the story in a story ballet and design elements true to the spirit of the music, choreography, and story are not unimportant. (I am not talking about a work like Prodigal Son where Rouault's designs would at least seem to be irreplaceable.)

The underwater/by-the-water theme remains true to the idea of a magical alternate world where everyday laws don't apply. It's not like Shakespeare's forest makes sense, though it is meant to conjure a certain image of England--Lopez presumably is translating that to the world of her Florida audience however playfully. (Balanchine brought the sea indirectly into his ballet with Titania's shell. Not an obviously logical touch and it links his Titania to, say, Botticelli's Venus born from the sea.)

The production does still sound as if it pushes against aspects of the libretto that do affect some aspects of the choreography and imagery. How much--too much or not much at all? I haven't seen it and though grateful for people's reports and interested in their arguments don't like to guess second hand what my own reaction would be in the theater. What I also don't know is if it might give me a new kind of delight in Balanchine's choreography.

But I'm writing 'blind' so to speak, anyway, because I am uneasy with the implication that Lopez has done something that's somehow illegitimate or disrespectful or without point. (I assume the Balanchine Trust took a similar view--they had to okay this no?) MCB isn't dancing Agon in baroque court dress -- or, for that matter, Les Sylphides in leotards :wink:?

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MCB isn't dancing Agon in baroque court dress -- or, for that matter, Les Sylphides in leotards :wink:?

Please...don't give any ideas. ANYTHING is possible down here.

BTW...I was just biking on my way from the beach, and I stopped by the company studios. There they were rehearsing Midsummer. It is so nice just to pass by and peak at classes or rehearsals through those huge windows. There was a couple along with Lopez conducting the rehearsals...more or less her age, with huge books that they would look at from time to time. I couldn't tell who they were.

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The underwater/by-the-water theme remains true to the idea of a magical alternate world where everyday laws don't apply. It's not like Shakespeare's forest makes sense, though it is meant to conjure a certain image of England--Lopez presumably is translating that to the world of her Florida audience however playfully.

I’m sure she is, but I think it’s sad she has to, or thinks she has to. Floridians are water lovers and a forest is too far a stretch for their interests – really?? It would be one thing if the area already knew a more or less original production and declining attendance suggested people were tired of it. Then this new setting might be inspired. But to have to take a work as accessible as Midsummer already is and sell it in such an obvious manner . . . if that isn’t dumbed down marketing, I don’t know what is. I mean no insult to Floridians, because it’s hard to believe they needed this.

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I... to have to take a work as accessible as Midsummer already is and sell it in such an obvious manner . . . if that isn’t dumbed down marketing, I don’t know what is. I mean no insult to Floridians, because it’s hard to believe they needed this.

This production obviously took some imagination and brought not just local color but local artists (designers etc.) into the mix. That is one way to get a community excited and involved that seems legit to me. That Lopez has to find ways to get audiences excited is a reality; that she find creative ways to do so while supporting major choreography seems to me what one can hope. This production sounds like it was an attempt at just that.

The local geography allusions--"dumbed down marketing" or reaching out? Even if it amounts to the former, I have seen ballet companies get much, much dumber. And not in the service of serious choreography either. Was it really necessary in this case for success -- who knows? (Lopez says in interviews that even when she was at NYCB she wanted to see the ballet with a brighter palette.) I am a little skeptical the company would have gotten as much attention for a reproduction of a version done by other companies or even for a more standard-style redesign. But at any rate time will tell if this production "takes" so to speak with the company and its audience.

Edited to Add: presumably the Nutcracker doesn't need any helping along marketing-wise but doesn't San Francisco Ballet set their Nutcracker at the San Francisco World's Fair? Plenty of differences from what Lopez is doing, but does show a similar spirit of wanting to give the audience something of it's 'own'--and I'm guessing not because they can't enjoy a Nutcracker set in 19th-century Germany.

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Several productions of Nutcracker have been set in the hometown of the producing company -- as long as the 'holiday party' vibe remains, it seems that the actual location is less significant. Nutcracker has become a remarkably elastic ballet, but even so, I think it's very possible to move some aspects of a heritage work around and still have a viable production.

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... MCB isn't dancing Agon in baroque court dress -- or, for that matter, Les Sylphides in leotards :wink:?

Please...don't give any ideas. ANYTHING is possible down here.

Just to tease my friend Cristian a little - in 1972 Balanchine had Danilova restage Fokine's Les Sylphides - without the overture, without an orchestra (a piano instead), without the tulle skirts - the girls wore white tunics, with short pleated skirts, the boy a white blouse with full sleeves and black tights - and Ron Bates lit the scene in what looked like afternoon sunlight to me. No more moonlight! (I remember the girls even looked suntanned, but at Saratoga, they may have been.) He called it Chopiniana, the original title, and I'm wondering whether Drew had this short-lived NYCB production in mind.

(Critical reception was all over the place, one calling it stroke of genius which revealed the clarity and precision of the choreography like never before, another complaining that you do not somehow reveal a masterpiece by destroying a ballet's intentions.)

Fortunately we do not seem to have anything like as extreme a "makeover" as that with MCB's Midsummer! But we can wonder about obscuring the "intentions."

I quite agree with Drew that evocation of "an alternate magical world" is the thing - I wouldn't say that the precedent of other opera and ballet redesigns automatically justifies more of them. They have to be judged by whether they contribute to or handicap the art's effect. I worry that "localizing" the production can take away from the audience part of their imaginative "trip" to that alternate world, and I think Floridians need that as much as anybody, even if they don't discover that need until they make that personal discovery, the experience of having that need met: An audience deserves the opportunity to go get that.

(I don't think it was much of a stretch for Shakespeare's audience to imagine getting confused in a forest, speaking of how a setting can contribute to the effect. And Balanchine makes the music he and Robert Irving assembled over a few years seem like such an effective setting as to call forth the visible action. But underwater? Familiar - or magically strange?)

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Just to tease my friend Cristian a little - in 1972 Balanchine had Danilova restage Fokine's Les Sylphides - without the overture, without an orchestra (a piano instead), without the tulle skirts - the girls wore white tunics, with short pleated skirts, the boy a white blouse with full sleeves and black tights - and Ron Bates lit the scene in what looked like afternoon sunlight to me. No more moonlight! (I remember the girls even looked suntanned, but at Saratoga, they may have been.) He called it Chopiniana, the original title, and I'm wondering whether Drew had this short-lived NYCB production in mind.

That's exactly what I had in mind.

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Came across this again today -- video of Doug Fullington talking about the "new" PNB production, including a discussion of specific Pacific Northwest elements in the design.

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- I wouldn't say that the precedent of other opera and ballet redesigns automatically justifies more of them. They have to be judged by whether they contribute to or handicap the art's effect.

You probably didn't mean this exactly toward me but in general, but since I brought up the opera issue and how operas can be wildly interpreted, I wanted to clarify. I actually find flaws in the new MCB Midsummer. I stated that above and I actually agree with Cristian on certain things he brought up that are flaws. However, overall I enjoyed MCB's Midsummer.

My only reason for bringing up the opera productions is not to justify crazy stagings and encourage more of them, but to basically say that this has been going on for many years even before I was born (1967), and I am so used to crazy productions in opera that I am actually surprised that MCB's Midsummer has become so controversial. If this level of change were in an opera, nobody would complain. In fact, it would be considered a very conservative version by many opera lovers. Basically, I find the controversy much ado about nothing.

Seattle Opera's Ring has a very distinct Pacific Northeast flavor (the trees especially), even though it is very traditional at the same time, and it totally works. Many flock to see Seattle's Ring, b/c it is probably the only "traditional" staging of the Ring left in the entire world since the Met retired its traditional Ring. And there is a sense that it will replaced eventually. Basically, I believe Lourdes Lopez was ATTEMPTING the same thing. The Seattle Ring is breath-taking and evokes the Seattle area with its gorgeous nature. Lopez wanted to do the same for Miami and its Midsummer. I don't really think she succeeded to the extent that the Seattle Ring has succeeded, but it was a good try. On paper I actually think it was a GREAT idea, but in delivery and reality it doesn't totally work. But it is not terrible either. It is actually quite pretty.

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I'm not a great fan of the Ring, but I thought the characters were more fantastical, inhabitants of some world more completely of the imagination, so that a setting that evoked the forests of the Pacific Northwest in a recognizable way might be pretty in its own right but take the viewer somewhere else than that more authentic and unfamiliar world, more unlike the one where our "ordinary" existence takes place, but the one evoked by the sounds.

But about the worst example of scenic interference, if i can call it that, with re-creating the world of an opera for us to go to, was one at the Met I think (I was watching a television broadcast) probably of a Verdi opera where two people were singing a love duet. They were facing across the stage, but on different levels! Each gazing into the wings on opposite sides, one well above the other, neither in the other's line of sight. Hunh?

In Verdi, if not in the Ring, it's usually a realistic situation, and I find it very helpful if the plot - which mainly serves as a dramatic framework for the music, motivating it - is reinforced by realistic staging, but this must have made anybody paying attention to it wonder, what's she doing up there? (It being a broadcast, I could shut off the picture and just listen, and it being the Met, what I could hear was pretty good, and worth hearing without distraction.)

By the way, what kind of Ring stagings go on now in Bayreuth? Totally disconnected from tradition? I'd be surprised.

But, to get back to MCB's Midsummer, dancing to the music assembled for the purpose of carrying it is the thing, and reports here differ as to whether the dancing was obscured by the scrim, which I gather remained in place the whole time, or maybe just given some competition by it, depending who was watching. Your posts read like it didn't interfere with your vision of the dancers.

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What really bothers me the most about this production is that it somehow obscures pivotal intentions-(to use Jack's phrase)- of the original. Let's pass the fact that we are deprived of the Shakesperean "strange things happens in forests" idea-(a very old mantra applied to infinite works of art, including literature). The most bothering fact is that in the original there is a clear distinction,-( BOTH libretto AND dancing wise)- of the difference in between the two human couples vs. the magical characters. The humans go in the forest...they run around, get confused at the apparently magic forces that seem to be playing with them, and it is very clear that they can not see them, for which maybe they are invisible to the human eyes. This is essential in this ballet. Audience need to realize that humans are physically entering the reals of the fantastic forest world, and there they get all played by the creatures-(particularly Puck). In Lopez production, by everything being dumped underwater, the role of this humans running around looks pretty silly and senseless. Now there's no distinction...everybody is the same, for which there's no logical way to think of a human story taking place into the depths of the sea. I'm sure most of the audience unfamiliar with Shakespeare text or the ballet libretto-(let's be honest...many people don't bother to read the notes)-won't have a clue at to what's going on. Obscuring the little story of the two human couples is what this production did.

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Jack, I haven't been to Bayreuth because you have to buy tickets years in advance supposedly and the seats are totally uncomfortable (friends who have been told me), you get literally LOCKED into the auditorium, and the productions have gotten crazier and crazier simply trying to outdo the previous summer it seems. Not to mention they require so much rehearsal that superstars do not usually want to lock their schedule up all summer long for a handful of performances and lose tons of money in the process (the superstar singers can rake in the cash flying from place to place.....it is like asking someone to take a huge pay cut). So the singers are usually up-and-coming singers who are not the best for Wagner. Wagner needs singers who know what they are doing vocally or they wreck their voices. So from what I have heard and seen via bootleg sources, it is not worth the money to actually go to Bayreuth because you are actually getting substandard singers in crazy productions. Yet this is not a break with tradition. I said earlier that I was quite surprised to see an exhibit of Ring stagings from around the world (photos, set designs) through the years in San Francisco and it showed very clearly that the crazy productions evolved gradually over time, so it is actually part of the tradition.

Verdi's Rigoletto has been staged in NYC mafia days and even Las Vegas! Anything is possible!!! LOL Actually, this type of thing is actually more common at the major houses and not so much at regional houses. The smaller companies play it safe whereas the major companies like the Met, Royal Opera, Paris Opera, etc. experiment a lot.

I might not have been bothered by the Act 1 scrim in MCB's Midsummer b/c I read about it here (Miami performances) before seeing it in West Palm so I dreaded that aspect, and so since I had low expectations about seeing through the scrim I guess I was pleasantly surprised when I could see everything clearly, although it was much more clear when the scrim was gone for Act 2. I sat in the 6th or 7th row in orchestra for one performance and in a box way above for the other performance and during both the scrim did not really bother me.

Cristian, I totally understand why you feel the way you do, but after seeing the production I did not view it as all of them underwater. I feel like the concept of ocean/underwater was just a motif. I think this because Coral Castle was shown in Act 2 and that is not underwater. I think the ocean/underwater concept is just a motif......sort of underwater, sort of not. But I do think it does get muddied b/c a manatee is not going to be out of the water where the humans are. So, definitely, there are flaws. But I actually felt like the humans did not see the magical beings even in this version. Helena walks by at the beginning and doesn't know Puck is there. Later when the men are fighting they have no idea who is fighting with them, etc. Puck takes the flower from one of them and replaces it without his knowledge, etc. So I think that is still there. I feel like the choreography and story are still the same. It just has an ocean motif that is pretty but doesn't always work in every aspect.

Maybe things have changed in public school in the U.S. but I grew up attending public school and Shakespeare's plays were an integral part of English classes in high school. I can't imagine any American not having a passing knowledge of Midsummer Night's Dream, but I have to admit that I have no clue about today's high school students and whether they study Shakespeare or not.

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I'm generally ok with re-settings of Shakespeare's plays – I saw a great Pericles at the Public Theater that took place at a shabby beach hotel – if it sharpens the play for our time, and has sound structural reasons for doing so, etc.

But Cristian makes an important point that in Midsummer Night's Dream – and other Shakespeare comedies – it is important to maintain the contrast between the green world and the world of the court. (A little like the difference between the Theme and Variations act and the three green movements the precede it in Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 3). I don't know how the Miami production is handled, but if that contrast is lost then an important element of the play is lost, flattened out. (And all the references to the moon and

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Having just returned from the Sunday matinee, I thought I might add I enjoyed the 2nd Act much more today than in West Palm. While some dancers may be lacking in pure classical line, over all the 2nd Act was danced with more calmness and femininity. We sat in the back of the orchestra for the 1st Act and a bit more forward for the 2nd.

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I went to today's performance as well Vicky, and sat upstairs for a change, where I could better enjoy the groupins and formations. The screen didn't bother me as much this time. Maybe because I was farther apart...? Nice seeing you there, Leight Witchel! I wish we would had had time to exchange some words. ;-) Oh...and the house was completely SOLD OUT.

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I mentioned way back that the loveliest performance in Miami, for me, was probably the final night’s Divertissement duet with Jennifer Lauren and Renan Cerdeiro. This duet is also, for me, one of the most beautiful in all of ballet. Possibly the most beautiful performance of this that can be seen on video is on the dvd of the Paciflc Ballet Northwest’s version featuring Louise Nadeau. I just happened to find this very brief but lovely excerpt with Tyler Peck & Jared Angle, the only look at this duet that I’ve seen on the internet. (It's posted by the performance site.)

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I love this ballet for many reasons, but I think my favorite part is that duet -- many thanks for the excerpt!

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You're very welcome, sandik. I’m glad that you enjoyed it.

I just watched it again and I really like the way that the excerpt highlights the one series of Tyler Peck’s entrechats (fluttering of the feet). They’re so fairylike and so well define the magic of the entire work. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” indeed. They are such a touch of Balanchine at his most delightful.

I recall Alessandra Ferri (well named for this one) and Ethan Stiefel’s Titania and Oberon duet from the Ashton version which had this same wonderful feeling.

Whenever I mention the ABT Ashton’s “The Dream” I always have to single out Herman Cornejo as Puck, which happily is documented for posterity on the video. I saw him do it live a few years later and it hadn't lost a thing, As great as Shimon Ito was with his Balanchine version in Miami and Seth Belliston was on the PNB video, Herman Cornejo’s is probably his masterpiece and perhaps untouchable in comparison.

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On 3/23/2016 at 2:52 PM, kfw said:

Oh yeah. :wink: Especially when it comes a choreographer's home company. I'm the kind of purist who wonders why in the world Martins couldn't just have had the costume shop copy Karinska's original designs for Symphony in C, instead of paying for the blingy ones Marc Happel replaced them with. I'm the kind of purist who wonders what would would have been wrong with recreating Peter Harvey's original sets for Jewels. If they were good enough for Balanchine . .

Yes, exactly. The new Swarovski tutus are hideous--absolute Kardashian Kollection--and obviously geared to the lowest common denominator of taste. They suit the new name of the State Theater to a T.......not to mention certain other atrocities coming early next year.....

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On 3/24/2016 at 9:51 AM, Jack Reed said:

and he was frequently tinkering with his ballets, often "stripping them down" - perhaps most famously cutting away Kurt Seligmann's original, obscuring costumes for The Four Temperaments between performances?

But I have never encountered any report that he acceded to somebody else's idea to make such changes for a publicity stunt. It was always his artistic inspiration of the moment. It was always his show - just as Apollo was his ballet, and, as he said at the time he truncated it, in response to the uproar over those changes, "It's my ballet, and I can do what I want with it."

People said then, He had no right to do that, but personally, I agree with him in principle - he and no one else had the right to make that decision, while at the same time, I disagree with his actual decision that time - I think the original Apollo is much better. (As does, most significantly, Suzanne Farrell, who stages Balanchine's original version with her troupe.)

 

You're definitely not the only purist , Jack. However........The Seligmann costumes (have you seen pics? MON DIEU!!!) were not only garish and kinky but made it impossible to dance the beautiful choreography. Everyone involved in that production , from Moylan to Tallchief to LeClercq, said so. Canning them was a mercy killing.  It's true that Apollo was his ballet, and it's also true that he wrecked it with that horrible truncation and revision, and it's been speculated several times (Billy Weslow, most notably, in I Remember Balanchine) that Balanchine did that to make Baryshnikov, then a member of NYCB and of course slated to dance Apollo, less spectacular and dazzling. I wouldn't be surprised, considering what B. did to Villella several times (after the Donizetti Variations encore in Russia, after the Tchaik Pas more than once, etc.) Balanchine was a genius with some awful weaknesses on the personal level. The 'hair down' thing in the Elegie of Serenade is another change which may not have been an improvement....

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