Hamburg Ballet A Midsummer Night's Dream Cultural Centre Grand Theatre February 12-13 The last chilly whisperings of winter might have been delivering shivers outside, but in the Grand Theatre it was balmy midsummer; a time to dream.
And dream we did, swept away by John Neumeier's ambitious staging of the Bard's densely-layered tale. Here is a choreographer at the height of his powers - his effortless ranging from classical grand pas de deux (albeit with his tongue slightly in his cheek) to writhing modern mayhem could easily have come over as a messy, silly hodge-podge in the hands of a lesser artist. But Neumeier - who perhaps more than any other choreographer successfully fuses the dance and literary worlds - guides us with assurance and a finely-honed sense of humour through Shakespeare's most-loved comedy, from its bedroom-farce laughs to its exploration of the nature of illusion and reality.
Following the play faithfully in the main, the action spans the aristocratic court of Theseus, Duke of Athens, on the eve of his wedding to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, the misty sylvan glade ruled by the magical Oberon and Titania, and the ham-fisted, well-meaning world of the mechanicals.
Neumeier's choice of music works well; Mendelssohn for the court, Ligeti for fairies, and barrel organ music for the mechanicals.
One criticism: perhaps he could have reined himself in a touch in the fairy world of the first act. The slow-motion, underwater feel of dreams was evoked cleverly, but you can have too much of a good thing - once or twice towards the end of the act things tended to drag.
The cast was first class; a vibrant and technically assured company. Standouts included the sinuous Heather Jurgensen as Hippolyta and Titania, Jiri Bubenicek as Theseus and Oberon, and his moustache-bristling twin brother Otto as Demetrius. Lloyd Riggins almost stole the show as an elegant, ebullient Master of Revels and as a, well, puckish Puck.
The mechanicals proved popular - not least Jacopo Munari as Bottom, and Carsten Jung as Flute. They were hysterical in their strangling of the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, with Jung quite fetching in his frock, plaits and pointe-shoes.