By Norm Robins
A setting in ancient Greece, lovers, love potions, fairies, and a mischievous, underachieving sprite named Puck. Who could dislike a ballet made of these? Shakespeare, Mendelssohn, Balanchine, who could not like these people? The Mendelssohn Wedding March that is still being played at weddings all over America? Splendid. Such is the stuff of the NYC Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream streaming now and available to watch free.
The story starts in ancient Athens with Theseus, Duke of Athens, about to marry Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. (I don’t know who the Amazons are either.) Theseus charges his Master of Revelry Philostrate with getting entertainment suitable for the occasion.
The Athenian nobleman Egeus comes to court with his daughter Hermia and two young men, Lysander and Demetrius. Egeus wants Hermia to marry Demetrius who is in love with Hermia. Hermia, however, is in love with Lysander. Egeus asks for the full weight of the law to be visited on Hermia if she goes against her father’s wishes. Theseus agrees with this and gives Hermia until his upcoming wedding to comply. He warns Hermia that if she doesn’t obey her father she may be sent to a convent or even executed.
Nonetheless, Hermia and Lysander plan to flee Athens and get married in the house of Lysander’s aunt 21 miles away. Hermia reveals her plans to her friend Helena who was once engaged to Demetrius and is still in love with him. This is surprising since Demetrius jilted Helena in favor of Hermia. (I don’t think either of my two daughters would do this sort of thing.)
Helena tells Demetrius of the plans of Hermia and Lysander hoping to thwart them. Hermia and Lysander go into the woods. Demetrius goes into the woods to follow them. Helena goes into the woods to follow him.
Into the woods we all go. There are two groups in the woods. The first is a group of fairies including the king of the fairies Oberon and his queen Titania. The other is a group of thespians preparing for Theseus’s wedding night entertainment.
Titania has just returned from India to bless the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta. She has also brought back a young Indian prince who is so beautiful Oberon wants to make him a fairy knight. Titania refuses.
Oberon is not happy about that. He sends his servant, the mischievous sprite Puck, to get a magical flower whose sap if spread on a sleeping person’s eyelids will make that person fall in love with the first one he or she sees upon awakening. Puck does this. He is instructed to spread some of the sap on Titania’s eyelids, and some of the sap on the eyelids of the beautiful Indian prince.
Puck makes a mess of his mission. Puck spreads some of the sap on Titania’s eyelids. He sees Lysander and Hermia mistaking him for the beautiful Prince. He spreads the sap on Lysander’s eyelids. On awakening, the first person Lysander sees is Helena. He falls in love with her and abandons Hermia.
Now both Lysander and Demetrius are in love with Helena. She thinks they are mocking her and not in love with her. Hermia is furious and tries to pick a fight with Helena. Demetrius and Lysander also come close to blows. Puck, trying to straighten out the mess he made, confuses everyone by mimicking their voices, something tough to do in a ballet. He confuses them so much they all get separated and lost in the forest.
When Titania wakes, the first person she sees is Bottom, the silliest of the thespians. Puck has transformed his head into the head of an ass. Oberon gets the Indian prince. Puck spreads the love potion on Lysander’s eyelids, and he awakens and sees Hermia. Theseus discovers the sleeping lovers in the forest and takes them back to Athens to be married. Demetrius now loves Helena. Lysander loves Hermia. Bottom and his fellow thespians perform a hilarious play, ass-head and all. The lovers go to sleep. The fairies emerge to bless the sleeping lovers.
In the play, Puck, still smarting from his screw-up, is alone onstage. He apologizes and asks the audience to consider the whole adventure only a dream. In the ballet he doesn’t do that. How does one deliver a soliloquy with dance? Impossible, so Puck doesn’t do it.
End of Ballet. Curtain.