Badisches Staatsballett at the Staatstheater, Karlsruhe
July 6, 2019
It was a balmy summer evening outside in Karlsruhe. Balmy inside on stage too, where love and the antics of a couple of impish fairies were getting decidedly out of hand. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Ein Sommernachtstraum) is a comedy, and in Youri Vámos bright and breezy version, the humour is very much to the fore.
Vámos fleshes out the story over two acts, remaining generally faithful to the original, certainly to its spirit, although he’s not above making the odd tweak. He also never forgets that this is a comedy. Visual gags abound, but while the humour is very up front, a lot of it is genuinely funny.
Mendelssohn’s familiar score is supplemented with other music by the composer. The inserts mostly work well except when they come after the choir, the sudden arrival Song Without Words for Cello and Piano, the one particularly difficult combination.
Rather than some dimly lit forest glade, designer Michael Scott transports the action to the corner of a park full of bright tropical plants, the appropriate sense of scale being given by having them grow or shrink depending whether we are in the fairy or human world. Bushes that shift around are made great use of to hide people.
The humans appear in pleasing thirties-style, the men in white suits, the women in flowing print skirts, which gave them a very fresh, real, feel. In their Seppl pants (a form of lederhosen), the bumbling rustics look like they have dropped in from nearby Bavaria, meanwhile.
Admill Kuyler was a dominating Oberon. All glittery sparkles, rippling muscles and rather Adonis like. Rather self-importantly, he prowls around patrolling his kingdom; not very well it could be said given the mess that is being created on his watch. The fairies come in skin tight costumes with glittering head caps. No delicate wings here!
Vámos doesn’t make a big deal out of the marital spat between he and Titania, danced sweetly by Rafaelle Queiroz, even though it’s actually the source of everything that follows. Queiroz and Zhi Le Xu as Bottom (known here as Zettel), changed into an ass, danced their end-of-Act 1, one-night stand delicately, the choreography gently comic as she pulls him by the tail towards the giant leaf that is her fairy bed. The choreography here is delicately comic
In Shakespeare’s play, Puck and Robin Goodfellow are one and the same. Vámos opts to have them as two characters, however; albeit definitely out of the same can. Pablo Octávio and João Miranda were perfect as the pair of out and out mischief makers. Right from the off take great glee in the unrest they create. Indeed, one of the first thing that happens is them tearing off the skirts and trousers (unseen of course) of the human couples as they walk in the park. Puck and Robin not averse to a cigar and playing cards.
The mix ups with Hermia and Lysander (Blythe Newman and Emiel Vandenberghe) and Helena and Demetrius (Harriet Mills and Timoteo Mock) and well done and fast-paced. In a slightly different take on things, Vámos shows us the start of their relationships, and it’s the two female friends who make the first approach to the men, who also clearly know each other.
In between the shenanigans is plenty of neatly constructed ensemble sections, for additional humans as well as fairies, that give the whole company a chance to shine; and pretty good the dancing was too.
The rustics provide a nice counterbalance to the rest of the goings on. They arrive rehearse their play that they want to perform at the wedding of Hippolyta and Theseus in a rather battered and very smoky three-wheeled truck.
Of course, it all sorts itself out in the end. Except that Vámos leaves the last words to the rustics who actually get to perform their play, for once; the supposedly sad story of Pyramus and Thisbe. Except that an awful lot goes wrong. In no particular order it involved a man with a moustache in a white skirt and busty flowery top, another in a very yellow pig-tailed wig who gets chased by someone in a bear skin, someone in a flying helmet, more lederhosen (well, it is Germany), a bike that Zettel falls off and finishes up in plaster, and sausages (don’t ask!). Completely mad, and maybe I was just in the right mood, but quite hilarious, and a great way to round off a fun evening.
It’s all change at the Staatsballett next season as Birgit Keil steps down to be followed by another former Stuttgart Ballet favourite, Bridget Breiner, who has successfully led Ballett im Revier Gelsenkirchen for the past six years. Among the repertory for her first season is Cathy Marston’s dramatic ballet, The Suit.