A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream, Limbo, Two of a Kind

Choreographed by Arthur Pita, Martin Lawrance and Christopher Marney
Ballet Black
Watford Palace Theatre

A Dream Within a Midsummer Night's Dream Credit: Ballet Black
Jacob Wye as Oberon's partner and Isabela Coracy as Puck Credit: Ballet Black: Photo Bill Cooper

Ballet Black is touring this lively triple bill, first seen in the Royal Opera House Linbury Theatre earlier this year. It shows off their young dancers well and sees them dancing in tutus for the first time since the company was founded in 2001.

The programme opens with Martin Lawrence’s Limbo, danced to Paul Hindemith’s Sonata for Solo Viola. It begins with a kinaesthetic solo, here danced by Isabela Coracy. Her sweeping gestures and slow arabesques occasionally flashing gold under deep red light hint at the proximity of hellfire before she is joined by José Alves and Jacob Wye who seem to be assessing her like a pair of Satan’s imps before the choreography with its high lifts becomes more freely abstract.

Designer Rebecca Hayes costumes the men partly in crimson and David Plater’s lighting through heavily misted air gives everything a sumptuous rich look. Indeed his lighting makes a major contribution to the company’s style.

Two of a Kind, which follows, is Christopher Marney’s development of a pas de deux he created for the company in 2009. Now danced to Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence and Ravel’s Pavane pour une infant défunte, it now presents two couples. It is loaded with inventive lifts, becoming more lyrical with Ravel’s emotive score, strongly danced by Kanika Carr and Damien Johnson, Christopher Renfurm and Cira Robinson.

It is a very abstracted exploration of romantic relationships and, though a programme note suggests that Marney wants this to be seen as two aspects of the same woman and designer Yukoko Tsukamoto dresses the pairs identically with the women in canary yellow, it doesn’t come through but it is a totally engaging piece to watch.

After the interval comes A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream, for which Arthur Pita is credited as director as well as choreographer. It is not a choreographic version of Shakespeare’s play, though inspired by its characters and incidents.

Pita puts a boy scout Puck in charge: Isabela Coracy with a blossom beard. Is he just mischief making, earning his good deed badge by freeing people to be their real selves or just offering a taste of being different? That’s up for interpretation.

A formal line-up of baroque grandeur presents Titania and Oberon and the two pairs of young lovers in elegant classicism to the courtly measures of Handel’s Sarabande.

Before it can draw to a close, Puck has halted everything and with an eclectic succession of very different music weaves his magic. Exotic mambo sung by Yma Sumac takes over before he puts them to sleep, to dream.

Forget the fairy monarchs’ feud, the young lovers in competition, defying parental authority but Puck is still making matches. “Let’s Do It” sings Eartha Kitt, “Let’s Fall in Love” and Cole Porter is followed by James Shelton’s “Lilac Wine”.

Kanika Carr’s Hermia and Marie Astrid Mence’s Helena discover each other while José Alves’s Demetrius and Jacob Wye’s Lysander pair off. To a Streisand version of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered“, even Cira Robinson’s rather icy, shade-wearing Titania finds love in the arms of a Bottom (José Alves), just magicked by Puck into a delightful donkey.

Bottom’s transformation may be jokey but their lovemaking isn’t to ridicule her but her liberation: Titania discovering sensuality with a handsome young man with some donkey attributes. “Twilight” then sees Oberon (Damien Johnson) enraptured with another youth (Jacob Wye), his Indian Boy from Shakespeare’s plot grown up perhaps.

Then enters a modern figure in a sober, modern suit. Salvador Dalí (Christopher Renfurm) the programme says; is he there to give a surreal blessing before Puck puts all back to courtly convention and daytime “normality”.

There is lively and lovely choreography here, veiled figures sweeping across the stage give a whiff of romantic ballet and there is a spirit of joy. Designed by Jean Marie Puissant and more consciously classical than we are used to from Pita, this is delightful invention.

This delightful triple bill presents a company who are not only technically strong dancers but can act too with excellent comic timing and expressive faces.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton