Of all the Shakespeare plays, comedic classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream has arguably been the most tweaked and tampered with by modern interpretations. In the last decade, questionable adaptations have incorporated a WI-attending female Bottom helping in the 1940s war effort (played by Dawn French), a big fat gypsy triple wedding and a film version where the forest setting is moved to a rave and Puck is a drug dealer. Just what Shakespeare would have wanted, I’m sure.
So it was with a certain degree of cynicism that I accepted an invitation to the Northern Ballet’s rendition of the iconic play, dubbed the “world’s first ever ballet on water”. But I needn’t have worried. The event was held outdoors at Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens on a breezy but clear evening, and as the sun set, we took our seats in front of the garden pond before being informed that we would have to wait for the sky to grow black.
Having waited in anticipation, a thin veil of water sprouted from the lake and a projector flared up. Some words came into focus on the watery screen and seemed to dance as they floated on the spray: “Once upon a time, down at the bottom of the garden, there was a magical lake. And as the stars came out, something wonderful happened…”
And it was wonderful indeed. As our wireless headphones began to blare out the classical lilt of Mendelssohn, a ballerina ‘emerged’ from the water in a flame red dress complete with fluttering wings, dancing and leaping energetically. In fact, the fairy dancer was merely a projected image which was made visible by the spraying water, but the effect of the moving droplets gave an added sensory element to the fairy’s dance as her twirls and kicks appeared to blur into a mesmeric glowing haze.
In Act 2, a second fairy emerged to dance alongside her winged companion; and the mirrored images and symmetry of the routine took on a poetic force as the light bounced off the water. The performance only lasted 20 minutes, which was actually long enough to appreciate the novelty of this delightful rendition. The choreography became repetitive at times and as the night chilled, I detected a waning of interest as the audience shuffled in their seats. Nonetheless, the dancing was enchanting, and as I glanced around at the leafy environs of the gardens, the majestic glass house took on an ethereal air as its two fairy guests glided and sprung through the water.
For more information about the Northern Ballet and their current productions, visit the website. The event was hosted by Taylors of Harrogate to mark its collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.