The Dream & Being and Nothingness Primer
by Karen Kain
Sir Frederick Ashton is one of the most important figures of 20th century British choreography. Renowned for his fidelity to the classical tradition, his works reflect a sensibility that sought, within a modern context, to create ballets that would be pleasing, accessible and entertaining, while never sacrificing the nuances and artistic principles in which he was trained and that helped to define his style.
Among Ashton’s most assured and treasured ballets, and one that exhibits many of his best traits as a choreographer, is The Dream, which is returning to our stage after an absence of 17 years. Created in 1964 to mark Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, the ballet is based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Needless to say, given its length, it is not a full retelling of Shakespeare’s play. It leaves out such elements as the Pyramus and Thisbe play, for instance, as well as several secondary characters. Ashton chooses instead to concentrate on the story of the four lovers – Helena and Demetrius and Hermia and Lysander – and their amorous misunderstandings, and the king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania, the latter being a role I always loved to perform when I danced. Of course, we also have the memorably impish Puck, along with the comically touching Bottom (en pointe, no less) and the other Rude Mechanicals, familiar to lovers of the Shakespeare play.
But The Dream is not, of course, just a condensed version of the play with a Victorian era setting. Sustained wonderfully by Mendelsohn’s gorgeous incidental music, it achieves a structural clarity and level of vision and fantasy all its own, with some of Ashton’s finest Corps de Ballet work ever and a sparkling sense of magic flowing through every scene. It’s a small gem of a ballet that never loses its lustre.
Guillaume Côté is not just one of Canada’s finest male ballet dancers, he is also one of our most artistically and intellectually adventurous choreographers. There’s no better evidence of that latter claim than his 2015 work, Being and Nothingness. Taking his inspiration from Jean-Paul Sartre’s landmark philosophical work of the same title, the ballet explores in richly poetic, intricate and often destabilizing choreographic language notions of identity, selfhood, responsibility and alienation.
Michael Levine’s minimalist sets, Philip Glass’ music and Krista Dowson’s evocative costumes combine with the dancing in a perfect synthesis to bring these philosophical abstractions to vivid and startling life.
Being and Nothingness was received with enormous critical and audience excitement on our recent tour to Moscow and St. Petersburg.
The Dream and Being and Nothingness is onstage November 21 – 25, 2018.