Olivier Wevers has choreographed a sprightly adaptation of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy — with a contemporary subplot about a nerdy boy escaping from neighborhood bullies.
Choreographer Olivier Wevers is known for his great wit, and in his sprightly take on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he gives it free rein. Commissioned by Grand Rapids Ballet in 2014, the full-length work is a nonstop delight and a wonderful showcase for the company’s exuberant dancers, who are making their first Seattle appearance.
Wevers’ update retains some of the original story’s most engaging elements while adding a contemporary motif — a nerdy little boy named Nick Bottom who escapes his neighborhood bullies by imagining a dreamworld populated by fairies.
True to the play, the fairies wreak havoc on the mortal world through the machinations of King Oberon and his faithful but misguided servant Puck. Puck is one of Shakespeare’s most enchanting characters and Wevers makes him even more playful with a range of props and hilarious sight gags. At one point, Puck rolls across the stage on a scooter; at another, he gives “pin the tail on the donkey” a whole new meaning.
Grand Rapids Ballet: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
Grand Rapids’ mixed-repertory bill, “MOVEMEDIA | Seattle,” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 10) and Sunday (Oct. 11), Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center, 201 Mercer St., Seattle; tickets from $52 (800-838-3006 or brownpapertickets.com).
Though Puck — danced with gusto by the athletic Matt Wenckowski — may be the most engaging figure, “Midsummer” is fundamentally an ensemble ballet. There are no central characters and all the main players get nearly equal stage time. Apart from a beautiful, languid pas de deux for Oberon and Titania and several jaunty variations for the two sets of mortal lovers, most of the scenes use the entire cast.
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As in much of the work he has created for his Seattle-based company Whim W’Him, Wevers uses deeply grounded movement with grand swooping gestures, unexpected twists and lifts that rarely rise above the waist. With the exception of the female mortals Hermia and Helena, who are in pointe shoes, all the other characters wear socks. This allows them greater fluidity as they glide across the stage, enhancing the ballet’s propulsive force.
It’s clear the Grand Rapids dancers have an affinity for Wevers’ challenging style and for his intense theatricality; this “Midsummer” requires first-rate acting as well as technical prowess — the Grand Rapids Ballet dancers have both in abundance.
As Titania, Yuka Oba is a riveting presence. With her elegantly pointed toes and beautiful extensions, Oba catches the eye whenever she’s onstage, and her flair for drama matches her perfect technique. Whether falling in love with a donkey or lording it over her husband, Oba’s Titania is a force to be reckoned with.
Nicholas Schultz is an appropriately macho but nuanced Oberon whose cocky confidence easily gives way to gentleness once he and Titania reconcile. Emily Rose is a standout as Helena, twisting and turning her body in every direction as she pursues or escapes her male suitors.
Under the direction of former Pacific Northwest Ballet prima ballerina Patricia Barker, Grand Rapids Ballet continues to burnish its reputation as a company of note. With exquisite lighting by Michael Mazzola, elegant costumes by Melissa Leitch and Clare Gardeski and a pristine, all-white set, this “Midsummer” is a visual stunner and a fine homecoming of sorts for one of Seattle’s favorite daughters.