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A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)

TV Movie  |   |  Music  |  1999 (UK)
7.5
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Title: A Midsummer Night's Dream (TV Movie 1999)

A Midsummer Night's Dream (TV Movie 1999) on IMDb 7.5/10

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Cast overview:
Patricia Barker ...
Paul Gibson ...
Seth Belliston ...
Julie Tobiason ...
Ross Yearsley ...
Lisa Apple ...
Batkhurel Bold ...
Jeffrey Stanton ...
Ariana Lallone ...
Charles Newton ...
Tatania's Cavalier
Kaori Nakamura ...
Butterfly
Timothy Lynch ...
Louise Nadeau ...
Divertissement Dancer
Olivier Wevers ...
Divertissement Dancer
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First-rate!
8 January 2005 | by (New York, NY) – See all my reviews

This is a 1999 video of George Balanchine's 1962 ballet "A Midsummer Night's Dream" based, of course, on Shakespeare's play. The DVD is double-sided: side 1 is in the PAL format and 2 in the NTSC; they both play in my computer drive but only side 1 does on my stand-alone player.

The performing forces are the Pacific Northwest Ballet (based in Seattle, Washington) and the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Stewart Kershaw and the ballet was here performed at the Sadler Wells Theater in London, though the company is American. It is all first-rate! Though there is a film of the City Ballet (Balanchine's company), I, for one, don't miss them in this production.

The music, of course, is all Mendelssohn though not all taken from his incidental music to the play; the remainder consists of the Athalia Overture, Op.74 and The Beautiful Melusina Overture, Op.32, both complete, a good part of The First Walpurgis Night, Op.60 and the two beginning movements of the Sinfonia ("String Symphony") No.9.

The story is similar to the play but the rustics do not perform before Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta, this being replaced by a lengthy Divertissement. But the ass' head is still there as is essentially the rest of the story from the "Ill-met by moonlight" scene to Puck's epilogue: "And Robin shall restore amends" (Both danced or mimed, of course.). The most extended dancing in the whole ballet is probably done by Louise Nadeau and Olivier Wevers in this section and they are both superb. The other leads also do a fine job particularly Seth Belliston as Puck.

The excellent production and staging by Francia Russell must also be mentioned.

10 of 10 for the performance and staging.

Just after posting this review, I saw Sir Frederick Ashton's ballet version of the same play titled "The Dream". I thought it would be instructive to compare the two approaches. My source for the Ashton is a 2004 DVD (Kultur D2933) done by the American Ballet Theater (as seen on PBS' Dance in America series.) and staged by Sir Anthony Dowell.

Where Balanchine expands the Mendelssohn music by using other of his works in addition to the overture and Op.61 incidental music, this production uses arrangements by John Lanchberry from the incidental music alone to do the same. (The drawback here is that the music is altered more than in the Balanchine version and not generally for the better.)

To further complicate matters, Balanchine was famous for being heterosexual (various ballerinas were his muses and he married more than one of them.) but Ashton was enamored of several male dancers. In these cases, I think the difference shows.

Balanchine, who had the usual training in classical Russian ballet, maintains a rigid hierarchy of ballerinas and their "cavaliers" who support them. It is interesting that even Titania, who has a consort (Oberon), has her own cavalier in one scene. But even Balanchine has not given Puck his own ballerina!

Ashton, on the other hand, came to dancing late (at the age of 20 which is usually considered too old for a dancer to start.). Again there are the usual couples but perhaps of greater interest is how he treats the character of Nick Bottom the Weaver. The most striking thing about his Bottom is that after Puck puts the ass's head on him, (he's not named "Bottom" for nothing ;-)) he is given a "full pointe" (on the toes) solo which men rarely ever do except in the "Trocadero" ballet company. (At most, they get to do "demi-pointe".) The music, if I recall correctly, is not a bizarre version arranged by Lanchberry but is a generally unused part of the real incidental music in the Lydian mode and it works beautifully here even if the same idea is repeated several times. This is not something I think Balanchine would ever have thought of and shows perhaps that, while Balanchine was solidly traditional, Ashton was more imaginative, at least in this instance.

Another notable difference is that while Balanchine includes Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta (complete with her faintly risible Amazonian bow and arrows.) from Shakespeare's play, Ashton does not. But even in Shakespeare, these two mythological characters are treated more like English nobility. And the verbal byplay, in the original, where they and the other characters make fun of the rustics' play of Pyramus and Thisby could not have easily translated into dance moves.


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