The opening scene of Midsummernight's Dream. Photo Hans Nilsson

The opening scene of Midsummernight's Dream. Photo Hans Nilsson

Ekman realizes a Swedish Dream

STOCKHOLM: Alexander Ekman is a seriously smart young man. If he were in politics, he might well be running the country. Although his highly developed sense of the ridiculous and penchant for fun might exclude him from high office, they certainly give him plenty of scope for choreography.

His riotous Midsummer Night's Dream for the Royal Swedish Ballet is fun in capital letters.

For more photos, see Swedish version!

Forget Shakespeare and Stratford upon Avon, this is most definitely a Swedish creation. The first act, The Midsummer Night's Dream is earthed in Swedish festivities while the second act, A Midsummer Night's Dream, has wings and takes to the air, sometimes literally, in flights of fantasy. Mikael Karlsson, Ekman's long time collaborator has delivered a score worthy of great dreams. The company is out in full force, I counted 38 on stage, add the angelic voice of Anna von Hausswolff and you have realised a Swedish Dream.

The dreamer, Dragos Mihalcea, is asleep onstage when the audience enter. His partner, Nadja Sellrup, comes to wake him, her pocket stuffed with hay for the festivities, it is a theatrical device repeated at the close and bookends the ballet very neatly.

One of Ekman's great talents is his skill with ensemble movement, as was evident in Cacti. In the opening scene, in a field replete with piles of hay, dancers thrash the sheaves of wheat in rhythmic unison to stunning effect drawing gasps and applause from a delighted audience. When Mihalcea picks out a simple dance sequence balanced atop a bale of hay he soon has the entire stage dancing around the maypole and again, the audience just lapped it up.

The first act has plenty of action. Once the hay has been swept up, the dancers return in urban suits and dresses to feast and play games. They drink our good health but don't share the bubbly and when the party ends one gentleman has lost his trousers and a few guests are the worse for wear but no serious harm has been done. For an act with surprisingly little choreography it is, nevertheless, always interesting.

Act 2 and the dreamer stirs in his nightmare sitting up with staring eyes. Karlsson's music, a distortion of the first act tunes punctuated by harsh electronic sounds, sets the scene exactly for the chaos that follows as tables tilt and dancers fly. The question asked at the party, 'did you bring the salmon?' returns to haunt as the fish reappears in ever increasing size, rolling its eyes and threatening to devour the cook until finally, in a neat dancer joke, Sellrup scoops up the last small fish up as she recovers from her 'fish dive'.

Sellrup is a joy from start to finish: a highly versatile dancer she morphs effortlessly from country girl to sophisticated hostess to grand ballerina lapping up the comedy along the way. Mihalcea, too, gave a sterling performance, the life and soul of the party he wanders like a lost soul in the dream world. He gets his act together for the grand pas de deux before finally, dragging his bed back to the corner to fall asleep.

Ekman does not often concern himself with the finer details of the movements so the Act 2 duet for Sarah Jane Medley and Jérôme Marchand was something special. The Swedish saying, 'Midsummer's night is not long but it sets many cradles to rock', they took to heart and spend much of Act 1 groping amorously on the floor, under the table and up the wall. However in the dream, in slow sensual moves, their arms gentle curving and intertwining and bodies melting, they created something quite gorgeous.

For the female corps he devised a more provocative sequence. With loose hair, bare legs and clad only in shirts and pointe shoes they strut across the stage like Amazons. Pointes feature strongly in the dream world. Daniel Norgren-Jensen, who busies himself with typical male pursuit of grilling the meat in the first act barbeque now becomes the very untypical cook en pointe proving he can bourrée with the best of them in a highly entertaining characterisation.

Further dream characters come in the form of the two Headless Men, Preston McBain and Joakim Stephenson. Their relationship involves drinking (a popular pastime in this work), slow dancing plus a bit of groping and a very comic fight sequence which they pulled off admirably.

Mikael Karlsson's music is a gift to dance: it is evocative, tuneful and always engaging. He blends electronic sounds with instrumentation and folk tunes in a seamless stream. Both he and Von Hausswolff are responsible for the song lyrics and her voice, ethereal and haunting, stays with you long after curtain down. My only gripe was that she sang in English. Granted, she plays the outsider always wandering alone, but this was such a Swedish evening that a foreign language went against the grain.

'Everything is possible in a dream', says Ekman and this plays to his strengths in a world where the surreal collides with the ridiculous. He also notes the problems of ending the dream and finding suitable theatrical closure, and this problem he has not yet resolved. The crowd of neutral bodies chuntering around the stage at the end are both cute and funny in their activities but the action outlasts the interest and the alarm clock could have rung a few minutes earlier. However Midsummer Night's Dream is perfect summer fare, Ekman's best full-length work to date and a fine addition to the Swedish Ballet's repertoire.

Maggie Foyer
April 20, 2015

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