In recent years, Olivier Wevers, Whim W’Him’s artistic director and founder, has been known or a sort of counter-ballet, or at least for incorporating shapes and unballetic movements like the ‘sickle-pickle’ turned-in foot and highly flexible spines that figure so often in his work for the company. But his origins are in classical dance, and a seldom seen facet of his choreographic talents will be on display at this week’s performances by Grand Rapids Ballet Company of his Midsummer Night’s Dream.* Created in 2014 for the company of former Pacific Northwest Ballet prima ballerina Patricia Barker, Olivier’s Midsummer is an old fashioned story ballet, though not without some new twists. Midsummer is one of those famous and quintessential works that have already been done in ‘definitive’ forms by such choreographers as George Balanchine and Frederick Ashton. What is fascinating is that—while neither ignoring the plot nor distorting it all out of shape—there is till something very new and intriguing to say about and with this story, in Patricia Barker’s words, “the telling of an old story with new eyes.”
None of the bosky woods or lush greenery of the usual rendition here. The stage will be spare and white, with tall wings and backdrop in what, depending on lighting, comes across as various shades of white and cream and palest gray. Three groups of linked cubes, also white, pile up or separate to produce settings for the scenes of the ballet— a child’s bedroom for the framing story, Titania’s bower, or the magic forest where lovers lose and find each other and the fairy queen has a love affair with a donkey.
The fairies also will be white-clad, emphasizing their strange, immortal, otherness. Only the human characters will be clad in colors, the two mortal women the only ones on pointe. And yet it is the mortals who often seem flickering and alien, even farcical, in their rushing about, unaware of the shadowy forces moving around them, oblivious in their own private obsession to how the supernatural creatures in this pale forest affect their fate.