Go Do This: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the ballet

What it is

I want to say that you’ve definitely heard of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aka one of the most popular Shakespearean plays of all time. But who knows! With Betsy DeVos as the head of our educational system, I can’t tell what anyone knows or doesn’t know.

But seriously, though, if you’ve never heard of it, that’s fine. I’ll sum up:

Midsummer is a beautiful play about fairies and humans and kings and queens and mischievous scamps. There’s real love and fake love and plays within plays…it’s really the perfect thing for a pick-me-up during a season of never-ending bad news.

Elena Bello and Fernando Sabino in rehearsal, 2017

The Midsummer BALLET includes the musical stylings of Felix Mendelssohn and the choreography of William Soleau. And this is all well and good, but the really neat thing that Richmond Ballet’s production includes is…narration!

TALKING! IN A BALLET!

That’s right, humans with voices will be adding the Bard’s gorgeous words overtop of the gorgeous dancing and the gorgeous music (Richmond Symphony in the house!) and the gorgeous costumes. It’s so gorgeous, I may just throw up!

The ballet is always above and beyond expectations when the Symphony’s added to it—there’s something thrilling and just more in-the-moment about the live music, and the dancers seem to be animated by it. And with narration? WILL WE EVER RECOVER?

Who’s Behind It?

My favorite tiny dancers, Richmond Ballet produced this same ballet back in 2008, to much acclaim. (The photos in this piece that feature costumes are from that production.)

I spoke to Valerie Tellmann-Henning, who plays Hermia alongside her real-life boo Kirk Henning. She was, in a word, enthusiastic. “I get to play a lover with my lover!”

Val had a lot to say about the performance of her friend and colleague Elena Bello, who plays Puck. “You can’t even tell if she’s a creature, if she’s a boy or a girl, she just is adorable.” She also loves Fernando Sabino as Oberon (and envies his costume—“He wears a little leotard and a big ol’ cape and he has glitter in his hair, he has to look like something that’s not mortal, so he’s just kind of perfect…you know?”).

Maggie Small and Matt Frain in rehearsal, 2017

You know what, let me just put all of Val’s words here, so you can truly get the sense of her. It’s way better in person than I can do justice with here, but you’ll just have to imagine it.

“Midsummer is hysterical, everyone should really come because it’s hysterical. I do love doing comedy…

“…Helena and Demetrius are Cody and Trevor (also lovers). I get to play Hermia so I’m just the prim and proper and polite Southern little belle [said with sarcasm, in real life, she is more “very funny and straightforward lady”]. And I just run around doting on Lysander, and I just go weak in the knees. Hermia just follows him around and never speaks her mind, just like me. [again, sarcasm. Is there a sarcasm font?] Elena comes out with the magic flower and puts the magic potion in Kirk’s eyes and he falls in love with Cody, and then the real Val comes out and I get all “Get away from my man!” Cody and Trevor are adorable, she just runs after him and he wants nothing to do with her, and then he gets the potion and wakes up and is all about Cody. She is hysterical in this as well.

“Maggie [Small] is Tatania, and she’s stunning, she looks so beautiful. She does a great job of being a queen with all her little fairy minions around her, and she looks great with Fernando as we all know. That chemistry is bangin’. Matt Frain as the donkey, and it’s tutu much, ha ha. He really just goes to a whole new level. He’s got donkey moves down pat. He’s real shy of Tatania at first, but she coerces him to dance and at the end he falls in love with her, of course.”

Val explained to me that there’s a lot of little ticks and nuances in the choreography that help the ethereal folk seem more ethereal, the way the fairies breathe, the way the elves turn their heads. “So the dancing is classical dancing but obviously it’s got these little quirky things added to it, which is fun for the dancers.”

From the 2008 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

There’s a sweet little RB story involved, in that Anthony Oates had been in the 2008 production as a little changeling boy and now is dancing in this production as a grownup elf. The years, they do fly by!

“We have the spirit of glitter in our soul, but after we leave there’s going to be glitter everywhere. I feel sorry for the Carpenter cleanup crew.”

Where it is

The Carpenter Theatre at 600 E. Grace Street.

When it is

This weekend only. February 10 at 7pm, February 11 at 2pm and 7pm, and February 12 at 2pm.

How much it costs

$25 – $125. You can buy tickets online or by calling the box office at (804) 344-0906.

Other things to note

There are various decks around Carpenter, and street parking. The former costs up to $10 and the latter costs nothing. Or, you can take the bus. Or, you can take a cab.

Val tells me this is a very family-friendly show, but I wouldn’t necessarily take kids that are too young. These ballets tend to be fairly long and the shine might wear off after the first hour—that is, unless your kindergartener is a whole lot different than mine.

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