4 out of 4 stars
Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman’s brilliant Midsummer Night’s Dream has nothing to do with Shakespeare, and everything to do with its titular themes: the midsummer solstice celebration, and dreaming. This dance/theater work causes literal jaw dropping with its visceral images and ambitious scale (over 40 dancers, flying scenery, surprising props), and presents a unique artistic integrity and emotional vitality that will grip you from start to finish. The Joffrey Ballet presents the American premiere of this 2015 work this weekend only, and you should not miss it.
Hay! Act one begins with a flurry of hay, the stage covered in the yellow stuff, a frenzy of gorgeous aerial swirls as the company hurls it over their heads. They shout and hurl to driving violins, accompanied live by the Chicago Philharmonic, to an original score by Mikael Karlsson. Couples sway on top of giant hay bales, until a gigantic, medieval-looking hay cross descends from the sky, and a spirited circular folk dance ensues. Ekman uses Swedish traditions as source material, yet it awakens something familiar in anyone who has been to a Chicago summer music fest: the power of losing one’s individuality to the collective, the ritual of collective celebration of heat and sun. Ekman makes fun of the social conventions inherent in some of these gatherings: the dancers applaud each other, make nonsense small talk, and stare at the audience awkwardly for a while, before breaking into a new round of hearty song and dance. An unforgettable dinner-party scene skewers social drinking habits, while Swedish vocalist Anna Von Hausswolff strides on top of the table, her haunting voice asking “how many more of these?” Ekman is a master of transitions and of contrast: swift-moving, frenetic, yet tightly-choreographed bursts of movement pair perfectly with calmer moments, keeping me on the actual edge of my seat.
In Act Two, Ekman explores the psychology of dreams and nightmares, and the comic gives way to the truly surreal. We delve into the mind of one dancer (who we see in bed at the work’s beginning and end, who drags his bed around the stage as he watches crazy things happen) as it filters and flashes back to the events of Act One. This poignantly captures the human experience of dreaming by having the audience share reference points with the dreamer: the dinner party table rises into the air like the Titanic, bales of hay jump across the floor like little animated Furbies, headless men joust, dummies fall to their death, and giant fish drop from the sky. Naked-seeming bodies march in synch (oh, the power of the nude leotard!). It’s Kurt Joos, and Pina Bausch, and Tadashi Suzuki. And yet, it is completely original and completely astonishing. It is A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Midsummer Night’s Dream runs April 25-28 at the Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Pkwy). Call the box office at 312-341-2310 or visit www.auditoriumtheatre.org for more information.
Susanna is a Teaching Artist with Chicago's finest dance education companies, exposing hundreds of students to the art of dance each year. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology and Dance from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, where she was awarded the David Wick Prize for Choreography. Susanna enjoys performing, keeping up with the city's performance scenes, and traveling.