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Grand Rapids Ballet's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream': A magical and delightful show

Two signs of a good show are when the dancers tell the story with each movement of their body, and the audience connects with the story. The Grand Rapids Ballet's world premiere of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," choreographed by Olivier Wevers, had the audience in turns smiling in delight, laughing, and feeling the passionate tension between Oberon and Titania throughout the opening weekend performance. Based on William Shakespeare's play and the George Balanchine ballet, Olivier Wevers' production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a new modern tale that takes place as a dream of a little boy, young Nick Bottom, and features Wevers' original choreography. "A Midsummer Night's Dream", which opened last weekend, is holding three more shows this weekend, Friday through Sunday. The production will conclude the Grand Rapids Ballet's 2013-14 season.

Midsummer Night fairies
Midsummer Night fairies
Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Ballet
Olivier Wever brings a fresh, new spin on a classic tale.
Olivier Wever brings a fresh, new spin on a classic tale.
Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Ballet

A New Modern Twist on "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Taking a classic ballet masterpiece and reinventing it into an original work is daring, but the Grand Rapids Ballet and choreographer Olivier Wevers created a new master work. The ballet is based on playwright William Shakespeare's romantic comedy and George Balanchine's classic ballet. However, this production entirely reimagines the story and characters. The ballet takes place in a modern world through the eyes of 11-year-old Nick Bottom as he dreams of growing up and running for president, and witnesses the mischief of the fairies and mortals who inhabit his dream world. The costumes and set are modern. Contemporary music is played in addition to Felix Mendelssohn's music for certain scenes. The result is an entertaining and fun new tale with inventive choreography that will surprise you. The story and dancing have moments of humor, sweetness and passion.

The choreographer Olivier Wevers is the founder and artistic director of the contemporary dance company Whim W'Him. Originally from Brussels, Belgium, Wevers is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning choreographer and dancer. As a choreographer, he has created works for ballet companies all over the world. He is also a former principal dancer for the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

The Set and Costumes

The set is entirely white and bare except for three large boxes that the dancers move around the stage and reshape into set pieces like beds, buildings or walls for various scenes. The dancers dance the scenes into place as they reshape these set boxes. Lighting designer Michael Mazzola creates beautiful lighting effects against the backdrop of the white set.

The costumes are contemporary and summery. The fairies dress all in white - the girls wear short white dresses and the boys white shirts and pants. Only the mortal characters wear colors. The mortal lovers wear matching color tunic outfits. Most dancers dance in socks, with only the mortals Helena and Hermia dancing in pointe shoes.

Wevers' Original Choreography

Wevers' choreography is a mix of contemporary and classical ballet. He has the dancers using their entire body, and moving with great emotion. The dance sequences involve bodies twisting, turning, pushing, lifting, crawling, and even rolling on the ground. Wevers' choreography uses a high level of athleticism and artistry.

One great example of Wevers' full body and emotional choreography is the passionate dance between fairy King Oberon and Queen Titania, danced by Yuka Oba and Nicholas Schultz as they tried to reconcile their differences. The audience experiences the full spectrum of their emotions of anger, frustration, love and desire conveyed in the dance. Oba and Schultz make you feel all these emotions through each small and large movement of their bodies. They give an outstanding performance as Oberon and Titania throughout the show.

Other good examples of Wevers' unique expressive choreography are the fairy numbers. The fairies use a lot of full body movements to make the audience see them as fairies. Demi Trezona, Laura McQueen Schultz, Morgan Frasier and Cassidy Isaacson dance beautifully as fairies. They don't need wing props. They truly seem to flutter as they move across the stage. During the main fairy dance number, their graceful movements give the illusion of fairy wings unfolding.

Only Hermia (Connie Flachs) and Helena (Hannah Wilcox) dance on pointe. This helps separate the mortal characters from the fairy ones, and added romance to their movements. The fairies dance in socks. Nick Bottom wears shoes.

Wevers' choreography incorporates a great deal of humor for comic plot elements. Kyohei Giovanni Yoshida as Puck and Stephen Sanford as Bottom the donkey are truly funny and entertaining.

The choreography also has sweet moments. 11-year-old Ethan Kroll, a member of the Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company, does a good job as young Nick Bottom. Kroll dances well with Yuka Oba, who plays his mom, in a touching scene where they dance together to the 1950s hit "Mr. Sandman."

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" Performance and Ticket Information

The Grand Rapids Ballet will perform "A Midsummer Night's Dream" this weekend at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre at 341 Ellsworth SW Grand Rapids, MI. Performance times are Friday, May 16 at 7:30 pm, Saturday, May 17 at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, May 18 at 2 pm.

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster and at the Grand Rapids Ballet Box Office. Call (616) 454-4771 to contact the Grand Rapids Ballet Box Office. Tickets cost $40 for adults, $30 for children, $35 for seniors and $20 for students. Student rush tickets are available for $12 at the Grand Rapids Ballet Box Office and go on sale one hour before the performance.

This is a ballet that the entire family will enjoy. It will bring a smile to your lips.