Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London, UK; February 26, 2014
Ballet Black’s Linbury programme was fairly predictable up to the interval but Arthur Pita then sprinkled a dash of fairy dust, added a mirror ball and gave us Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” as you’ve never seen it. Titled “A Dream within a Midsummer Night’s Dream” it opens uber formal, the company in tights, tutus and pointe shoes promenading to Handel’s “Sarabande” but soon shifts up a gear, accompanied by the husky tones of Eartha Kitt’s “Birds Do It, Bees Do It”. The cicadas chirrup in the trees and the wood outside Athens relocates to an undefined tropical rain forest and Puck, Isabela Coracy, in Boy Scout shorts, sporting a beard of flowers and harbouring wicked intentions, sets about stage managing the action.
The carnivalesque of ill-assorted couples enters a new dimension as Helena and Hermia (Sakaya Ichikawa and Kanika Carr) kiss and walk off arm in arm leaving the warring men to their own devices. Oberon (Damien Johnson) shacks up with Lysander (Jacob Wye) and the delicious Cira Robinson as Titania seems to be the only one going straight – well maybe not quite as she’s having it off with the Ass/Bottom (José Alves). Hardly good, clean heterosexual fun; but a quite magical journey.
Jean-Marc Puissant’s designs and Pita’s inherent theatricality come into play in simple and very effective staging – a necessity on the small Linbury stage – for example the black chiffon scarf to create nightfall as the couples enter the forest. Robinson exotically draped and equipped with a pink parasol is imperious, sexy and utterly captivating as she meets Alves for their sensual duet bathed in violet light. A lot more dance, another touch of mirror ball lights and fairy dust, the couples return to their rightful consorts and its back to Handel for a formal classical close.
The ballet is a gift for this small company where each dancer is a performer and able to draw out the comedy in the character. The choreography is some of Pita’s best, offering technical challenges to stretch the dancers while carrying the narrative in the movement. Few companies can switch so effortlessly from classical to the show time tunes of Cole Porter and Rogers and Hart, and Pita exploits this ability to the full. Cira Robinson well deserved her nomination for Outstanding Female Performance (classical) in the 2013 National Dance Awards and on the strength of her performance in this gem of a ballet she may well be up there again next year.
The opening work, “Limbo” from Martin Lawrance danced by Robinson, Alves and Wye has a subtext spelt out in the lighting, designed by David Plater. A thin red line across the front of the stage confines the dancers to a narrow traverse. The area expands as the work progresses to use the entire stage and introduce inventive choreography in trios and solos. It closes as the red line returns isolating Robinson to the downstage area. The few moments of stillness were welcome in a work that tends to stay in busy, rather aggressive mode. Robinson was on top form, her athletic stretch producing fine classical lines while her versatility and musicality make her always interesting to watch.
Christopher Marney’s “Two of a Kind”, uses music from Tchaikovsky and Ravel and features Carr, Ichikawa, Johnson and Christopher Renfurm in a double duet of neo-classical pointe choreography. Linked to the musical theme it was touched with gentle sentimentality and packaged in traditional form. However it was hampered by a weak story line of jealousy and confrontation which distracted rather than informed. However Carr in a warm and appealing performance managed to make sense of it with strong support from the rest of the cast.