#Throwback Thursday: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Today's #ThrowbackThursday focuses on A Midsummer Night's Dream, a ballet unusual for one reason: there are two of them.

New York City Ballet

The former work is George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The two-act piece was choreographed to music by Felix Mendelssohn (who was, in turn, inspired by the Shakespeare play of the same name). In creating the work, Balanchine also used incidental music from Mendelssohn's other works, including Athalie, Son and Stranger, The Fair Melusine, and The First Walpurgis Night.

'A Midsummer Night's Dream', New York City Ballet

Act I follows Shakespeare's story of the lovers and the fairies, while Act II discards Shakespeare's ending in favour of a strictly classical wedding celebration. A Midsummer Night's Dream was premiered by the New York City Ballet on 17 January 1962, and was Balanchine's first original full-length work. The original cast included Melissa Hayden as Titania, Edward Villella as Oberon, Arthur Mitchell as Puck, and Gloria Govrin as Hippolyta. The work opened the New York City Ballet's 1964 season and was recorded on film in 1966, with Suzanne Farrell replacing Melissa Hayden as Titania. The ballet has been revived several times.

'A Midsummer Night's Dream', Mariinsky Ballet

The second version, known simply as The Dream, is a one-act piece by Sir Frederick Ashton. Again to music by Mendelssohn, the ballet was presented on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. It was originally part of a triple bill which also presented Kenneth Macmillan's Images of Love and Robert Helpmann's Hamlet.

'The Dream', The Australian Ballet

Ashton drastically trimmed Shakespeare's originally plot, cutting Theseus and Hippolyta, and (like Balanchine) Shakespeare's original play-within-a-play ending. The designers set the piece in the Victorian period, around 1840, but the basic plot remains the same. Confusion ensues from the romantic misadventures of Hermia and Lysander and Helena and Demetrius; Titania and Oberon quarrel over a changing boy, leading to the transformation of the unfortunate Bottom into a donkey, with which Titania promptly falls in love; and the ballet ends when Oberon reconciles the lovers and smooths over the quarrel with Titania.

Alina Cojocaru as Titania, Royal Ballet

The original cast, at the Royal Opera House premiere of 2 April 1964, included Antoinette Sibley as Titania, Anthony Dowell as Oberon, Keith Martin as Puck, and Alexander Grant as Bottom. The ballet received excellent reviews and has since been revived several times, most notably by the Australian Ballet, the Royal Swedish Ballet, the Dutch National Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, and American Ballet Theatre. A 2002 performance by American Ballet Theatre was filmed, and stars Ethan Stiefel as Oberon, Alessandra Ferri as Titania, and Herman Cornejo in a defining performance of Puck.

'The Dream', The Australian Ballet

Newer versions of the ballet include Liam Scarlett's A Midsummer Night's Dream, premiered by the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2015 to great success.

RNZB dancers Tonia Looker as Titania and Harry Skinner as Bottom,

Liam Scarlett's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

Here's American Ballet Theatre in their 2002 production of The Dream, with Ethan Stiefel and Alessandra Ferri:

And La Scala Theatre's 2007 performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, with Roberto Bolle and Alessandra Ferri (with some unfortunate camera choices, but nevertheless):

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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