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Royal New Zealand Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Liam Scarlett. Photograph by Stephen A’Court

Mischief at Midnight

Two broadcasts by Royal New Zealand Ballet

Broadcast
Royal New Zealand Ballet: “A Midsummer Night's Dream” by Liam Scarlett, filmed at St James Theatre, Wellington, New Zealand on August 19, 2015
Broadcast
RNZB: “Cinderella” by Christopher Hampson, filmed at St James Theatre, Wellington, New Zealand on August 1, 2012
Words
Madelyn Coupe

There is something inherently mysterious about the midnight hour; it has an otherworldly power that can be both alluring yet also sinister. Curses can be sworn, spells can be broken, and even the most beautiful things (including carriages) can be returned to mundane, everyday objects. Midnight is cloaked in mystery because it is a liminal space—a threshold of time. It signifies the moment when one day turns into the next, and it is within this transition that it holds its power. As time suspends between the days, so too does rational thought. Because midnight is the hour that gives voice to magic. 

The next two episodes from the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s “Live in Your Living Room” series are engulfed by magic—a magic that exists through the power of midnight.

Episode Two: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Kohei Iwamoto as Puck in Royal New Zealand Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Photograph by Stephen A’Court

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a ballet full of mischief, cheek, and excitement. It invites its audience to enter into a world ruled by chaos. Magic runs rampant. Fairies hold dominion. And the forest lies in wait, ready to ensnare its next victim. Created in 2016 as a co-production with Queensland Ballet, this Shakespearean adaptation features choreography by Liam Scarlett and music by Felix Mendelssohn. What “Dream” does—which is, arguably, the most commendable aspect of the ballet—is embrace the complexities of plot, rather than shy away from it. 

Shakespeare’s text is not straightforward; there is not just one linear narrative. Instead, subplots are intricately wound around each other, pulling and pushing the characters in every direction. Take the love triangle, for example. In “Dream” two sets of lovers wander into the forest. Hermia loves Lysander. Lysander, in turn, returns Hermia’s love. Demetrius, however, is also in love with Hermia, and poor Helena is left unrequited in her love for Demetrius. Lori Gilchrist (Hermia), Joseph Skelton (Lysander), Abigail Boyle (Helena), and Paul Mathews (Demetrius) danced these roles in the RNZB broadcast. Their characterisation, collectively, was superb. It was apparent who these dancers were portraying and how their relationships interlinked. When their story combined, then, with that of the fairies, it was obvious how magic and Puck’s meddling changed the lovers’ plot.

Although, the most exciting aspect of this production was being able to watch Kohei Iwamoto dance the role of Puck. Iwamoto is a special breed of dancer; he has an innate ability to draw and hold your attention from the moment he steps on stage. Whether he’s dancing a variation or creating mischief in the background, Iwamoto’s characterisation of Puck was a true delight to watch (he also continues to shine across the Tasman as a senior soloist with Queensland Ballet).

Episode Three: Cinderella

Lucy Green dances Cinderella. Photograph by Evan Li

The following week saw the broadcast of Christopher Hampson’s “Cinderella.” Where “Dream” was mischievous and chaotic, “Cinderella” stands at the opposite end of the spectrum. Hampson has created a ballet that is romantic, calm, and ordered.

There are many different versions of “Cinderella” that exist already. The most notable are staged by Frederick Ashton (1948), Christopher Wheeldon (2012), and Alexei Ratmansky (2013). Hampson’s production, despite it portraying the same fairy-tale, is distinctly different; his “Cinderella” is a ballet about grief. It is less about the traditional rags-to-riches story that we are all so familiar with, but concentrates on the journey of a girl who has to has to come to terms with her mother’s death.

Grief touches every aspect of this ballet. The prologue begins with a young Cinderella mourning her recently deceased mother. When the audience is introduced to a more mature Cinderella in Act One (danced by the wonderful and sweet Lucy Green), her life is still tainted by her grief. She finds no solace with her father (danced by Paul Mathews—a role in stark contrast to that of Demetrius in “Dream”) who continually drinks to cope with the loss of his wife. What Hampson presents, then, as the narrative unfolds, is a journey out of grief. The characters of “Cinderella” actively participate in the story; they do not just exist for comedic relief—especially the step-sisters.

Aesthetically, “Cinderella” isn’t dissimilar to “Dream” and this is partly because Tracy Grant Lord designed both productions. What she creates, alongside Hampson, is a romantic pastel fantasy. Cinderella exists in a beautiful world that she can only truly admire when she acknowledges and overcomes her grief.

RNZB will broadcast productions from their archives every week on their Facebook page. Links will appear 30 minutes before each broadcast and are free to view. For copyright reasons, some productions may be subjected to geo-restrictions. Broadcast times may vary so please check the information given on the company’s website.

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