John Neumeier's A Midsummer Night's Dream
Houston Ballet launched its 45th season with the company premiere of John Neumeier’s visually stunning three-act ballet A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The ballet is based on Shakespeare’s joyous romantic comedy of the same name and follows the hijinks and hilarity that ensues when a well-intentioned plan with a love potion goes awry. Created in 1977, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has served as Mr. Neumeier’s calling card, and is one of his most joyous and
popular creations. “John Neumeier is one of the greatest choreographers of narrative ballets in the world today,” comments Mr. Welch. “With his four-decade tenure as artistic director of Hamburg Ballet, he has transformed that city into a mecca for dance." Houston Ballet was the first American ballet company to perform the famous work.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Neumeier’s signature works, a three-act ballet that is a funny, delightful romantic comedy with many magical elements.
Hippolyta, Helena, Hermia, Demetrius, Lysander, Theseus Duke of Athens, Titania, Oberon, Puck, Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, Moth
On the evening before the wedding of Hippolyta and Theseus, Duke of Athens, last minute preparations are being made, supervised by Philostrat, Master of the Revels at Theseus’ court. Hippolyta’s friends, Helena and Hermia, help to put finishing touches on her bridal gown. The Court Treasurer presents the bridal jewels to Hippolyta. He is accompanied by the officer, Demetrius, Helena’s former fiancé, who is now unsuccessfully intent on winning Hermia’s attentions. Helena still loves Demetrius. The gardener Lysander arrives, bringing Hippolyta’s wedding flowers.
He loves Hermia, and his love is returned. He secretly gives her a letter asking her to meet him in the woods under an olive tree. Helena finds the letter and shows it to Demetrius. A group of rustics, lead by the weaver Bottom, present Hippolyta with their text for a play “Pyramus and Thisbe” which they wish to perform for the marriage festivities. Theseus arrives to visit Hippolyta. Although he brings her a rose, Hippolyta is aware of his flirting with the ladies of the court. Left alone, Hippolyta finds and reads Lysander’s love letter to Hermia. Pensive, she falls asleep with Theseus’ rose in her hand. She dreams…
Night – In the Wood (The Fairy Realm)
Titania, Queen of the Fairies, argues with Oberon, King of the Elves. In his anger, Oberon gives Puck a flower which has magical powers. If shaken over the eyes of someone asleep, that person will fall in love with the first person seen upon awakening. Oberon orders Puck to use the love-flower on Titania. Lysander and Hermia meet in the wood. Demetrius looks for Hermia, followed by Helena. All are observed by Oberon. Taking pity on Helena, Oberon orders Puck to use the love-flower on Demetrius, so that he will return her love.
Lost in the woods, Lysander and Hermia lie down to sleep. Mistaking him for Demetrius, Puck shakes the love-flower over Lysander. Helena accidentally awakens Lysander and he at once falls passionately in love with her. Confused by his attentions, she flees. Hermia awakens and searches for Lysander.
Bottom and his companions are looking for a spot in the woods to rehearse their play. The place found, roles are distributed and Bottom leads the rehearsal. They are observed by Puck, who, as a joke, transforms Bottom’s head into that of an ass. Frightened by his appearance, the other rustics run away.
Titania and her followers fall asleep and Puck now uses the love-flower on her. She is accidentally awakened by Bottom, and is suddenly consumed with desire for him. Observing Demetrius, whose affections are still directed towards Hermia, Oberon realizes Puck’s mistake and orders him to use the flower on the sleeping Demetrius. Helena, pursued by Lysander, stumbles over and awakens Demetrius. He also falls madly in love with her. Confusion reigns. Oberon commands Puck to bring all the relationships in order. The elf arranges the sleeping lovers in their proper combinations and once again uses the love-flower.
Dawn in the Woods
The lovers awaken and are united – Hermia with Lysander, Helena with Demetrius. The rustics find Bottom.
After quietly observing the sleeping Hippolyta – dreaming upon her couch – Theseus gently awakens her. A love develops between them. Both pairs of lovers enter and beg Theseus’ permission to wed. The Duke of Athens blesses their unions.
A Festive Room in Theseus’ Ducal Palace
The wedding ceremonies begin. The rustics perform their play. After the wedding guests have left, Oberon and Titania are again united in love.
John Neumeier was born in 1942 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he received his first dance training. He continued his dance studies in Chicago, as well as at Marquette University in Milwaukee where he created his first choreographic works. After further ballet study both in Copenhagen and at The Royal Ballet School in London, John Cranko invited him in 1963 to join Stuttgart Ballet, where he progressed to soloist and continued his choreographic development. In 1969, Ulrich Erfurth appointed Mr. Neumeier Director of Ballett Frankfurt, where he soon caused a sensation due to his new interpretations of such well-known ballets as The Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet. In 1973, he joined The Hamburg Ballet as Director and Chief Choreographer and, under his direction, The Hamburg Ballet became one of the leading ballet companies on the German dance scene and soon received international recognition. As a choreographer, Mr. Neumeier has continually focused on the preservation of ballet tradition, while giving his works a modern dramatic framework. His ballets range from new versions of evening-length story ballets to musicals and to his symphonic ballets, especially those based on Gustav Mahler’s compositions, as well as his choreographies to sacred music. Mr. Neumeier holds the Dance Magazine Award (1983), Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and French Order of Arts and Letters and the Legion of Honour. In 2006, he was awarded the prestigious Nijinsky Award for Lifetime Achievement. He received the Herbert von Karajan Musikpreis in 2007 and the Deutscher Jubiläums Tanzpreis in 2008. In 2007, he was made an honorary citizen of the city of Hamburg. In November 2012, he accepted the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation. Mr. Neumeier has established the John Neumeier Foundation, aimed at preserving and eventually making open his collection of dance and ballet-related objects to the public and Germany’s National Ballet, a young company of eight dancers.
FELIX MENDELSSOHN BARTHOLDY was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. Mendelssohn enjoyed early success in Germany, where he also revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and in his travels throughout Europe. He was particularly well received in Britain as a composer, conductor and soloist, and his ten visits there – during which many of his major works were premiered – form an important part of his adult career. His essentially conservative musical tastes, however, set him apart from many of his more adventurous musical contemporaries such as Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner and Hector Berlioz. The Leipzig Conservatoire (now the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig), which he founded, became a bastion of this anti-radical outlook. Mendelssohn wrote symphonies, concerti, oratorios, piano music and chamber music. His best-known works include his Overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the overture The Hebrides, his mature Violin Concerto, and his String Octet. His Songs Without Words are his most famous solo piano compositions. After a long period of relative denigration due to changing musical tastes and anti-Semitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his creative originality has now been recognised and re-evaluated. He is now among the most popular composers of the Romantic era.
György Ligeti was one of the most important avant-garde composers in the latter half of the twentieth century. His early works show the influence of Bartók and Kodály, and like them, he studied folk music and made transcriptions from folk material. Mr. Ligeti was almost alone among progressive composers from the latter twentieth century who have written popular and widely performed music. Mr. Ligeti was born on May 28, 1923, in the Transylvanian town of Dicsöszentmárton, Romania and grew up in Kolozsvar, Klausenburg. At the age of 14, he began taking piano lessons and soon wrote his first composition, a waltz. He served as a professor at the Budapest Academy. He studied and composed at the Cologne-based Electronic Music Studio from 1957 to 1959, producing the influential Artikulation (1958), one of his first electronic works. Other important progressive works followed, such as the orchestral composition, Apparitions (1958-1959) and Atmosphères (1961). In 1972, Mr. Ligeti became Composer in Residence at Stanford University and the following year took on a professorship at the Hamburg Academy of Music. Mr. Ligeti composed his opera Le Grand Macabre in the period 1975-1977, but revised it in the 1990s, with the final version completed in 1997. It has become one of his most popular large works. In the 1980s the composer forswore further composition in the realm of electronic music. Mr. Ligeti retired from his post as professor of composition at the Hamburg Music Academy in 1989. In the 1990s, he spent much time on the aforementioned second version of Le Grand Macabre. Mr. Ligeti received his share of awards and prizes, including the 1986 Grawemeyer Prize and the 1996 Music Prize of the International Music Council.
A Midsummer Night's Dream Repertoire History
This was Houston Ballet’s first time performing John Neumeier's A Midsummer Night's Dream and first work by John Neumeier. This performance was the North American premiere of John Neumeier's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
A Midsummer Night's Dream Production Details
ORIGINAL CHOREOGRAPHER: John Neumeier
GENRE: Contemporary Ballet
RUN TIME: Ballet in 2 Acts with a Prologue; approximately two hours and thirty minutes
COMPOSER: Felix Mendelssohn
SCORE: "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
COMPOSER: György Ligeti
SCORE: "Volumina" and "Harmonies" for Organ, "Continuum" for Harpsichord, "Coulees" Etude No. 2 for Organ
ORIGINAL PREMIERE DATE: July 10, 1977 in Hamburg, Germany by the Hamburg Ballet
COSTUME DESIGN: Jurgen Rose
SET DESIGN: Jurgen Rose
LIGHTING DESIGN: John Neumeier
LIGHTING ASSISTANT: Ralf Merkel
STAGER FOR HOUSTON BALLET (2014): Janusz Mazon, Niurka Moredo, and Lloyd Riggins
HOUSTON BALLET ORCHESTRA CONDUCTOR (2014): Ermanno Florio
HOUSTON BALLET STAGE MANAGER (2014): Michelle Elliott
SPECIAL PROGRAM NOTES (2014): "Houston Ballet's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is made possible through the generosity of Phoebe and Bobby Tudor."