Enter the enchanted land of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a lush forest besieged by quixotic love triangles and feuding fairy kingdoms, awash with magic at every turn.
Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of his happiest and most loved comedies. It is called a "Dream" because of the unrealistic events the characters experience in the play — real, yet unreal, such as crossed lovers, meaningless quarrels, forest chases leading to more confusion, and magic spells woven by the infamous Puck. Balanchine had been familiar with Shakespeare’s play from an early age. As a child he had appeared as an elf in a production in St. Petersburg, and he could recite portions of the play by heart in Russian. Balanchine loved Mendelssohn’s overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (composed over a period of 15 years with the overture (Opus 21) first in 1826, and the other sections later in Opus 61). It is this score, Balanchine later said, that inspired his choreography. Mendelssohn had written only about an hour’s worth of music for the play, not enough for an evening-length dance work, so Balanchine added the following pieces, listed in the order of being played: Overture to Athalie, Opus 74; Overture to The Fair Melusine, Opus 32; excerpts from The First Walpurgis Night, Opus 60; Symphony No. 9 for Strings; Overture to Son and Stranger, Opus 89.
Midsummer night has long been associated with love and magic. In European folklore it is the one night of the year when supernatural beings such as fairies are about and can interact with the real world. It is also a date that falls near the summer solstice, which was traditionally a time for fertility rites and festivals devoted to love. Shakespeare’s 1595 play has been the source for films, an opera by Benjamin Britten (1960), and a one-act ballet by Frederick Ashton, called The Dream (1964). George Balanchine’s version, which premiered in 1962, was the first wholly original evening-length ballet he choreographed in America. Two years later, on April 24, A Midsummer Night’s Dream opened the New York City Ballet’s first repertory season at the New York State Theater (now the David H. Koch Theater).
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The rebuilding of costumes for A Midsummer Night's Dream is made possible by The LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust.