Three decades ago, a young Devon Carney starred as Oberon in the Boston Ballet’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
The ballet’s choreographer, Bruce Wells, took advantage of Carney’s special skills as a partnering dancer — his turns and his ability to do high lifts — in creating the show.
Now Carney, as the artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet, is passing along his intimate knowledge of Wells’ vision to the Kansas City dancers, who will present “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for six performances beginning Friday, Oct. 7, at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
“It’s just funny to look at our dancers in Kansas City and I’m seeing this movie, this ghost figure that’s dancing behind the men that are doing the role of Oberon,” Carney said. “I don’t know how to describe that feeling. I see me through them, and it’s really kind of cool.”
Carney was 26 years old in 1986 when Wells, the Boston Ballet’s resident choreographer, created his version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Several other distinguished choreographers, including Frederick Ashton, Victoria Morgan, William Whitener (former artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet) and George Balanchine, had done productions of the Shakespearean play. Wells was very familiar with Balanchine’s version from his 10 years as a dancer with the New York City Ballet.
“Can I honestly say I was not influenced by Balanchine?” Wells said. “No, I cannot because obviously it’s there. But I think if you were to look at Balanchine’s version and the way he tells the story and the way I tell the story, they are two very different approaches. In my version, the four lovers are much more rollicking, with a much broader sense of humor. And I have my own choreographic voice, so I heard the music in a different way.”
Balanchine preserved many of the subplots of Shakespeare’s play, which, frankly, can be quite confusing to the average modern day theatergoer. Carney appreciates the way Wells pared the story down to its essentials while preserving the Shakespearean magic.
“What I like about Bruce’s version after seeing so many different versions over the years is that it’s easy to follow,” Carney said. “He’s brought it down to its core about the four lovers, about Puck’s mischievousness, about the struggles between Oberon and Titania, the sense of the world of the fairies and the human world and how these fairies are always around that you don’t know are there but are influencing the humans.”
Speaking of sprites, Wells’ “Midsummer” is aflutter with fairies. So the production will feature 30 children from the Kansas City Ballet School Academy. They range in age from 7 to 10.
“There are lots of kids running about the stage being cute, and they’re happy children,” Carney said. “It’s challenging for the age group, so it gives them a chance to think about counting and their spacing and be sure they smile and are engaged and are really out there performing for the audience.”
The sets and costumes add to the magic. They are the original designs that were used for the Boston Ballet premiere. Wells describes the costumes as having “a very classic European Shakespearean quality.”
“The sets were designed by Lewis Folden, and they are all different shades of blues and greens and browns,” Wells said. “They have a wonderful, gauzy quality with kind of a gold and glittering light. There are large platforms that move in and out and side to side. Lots of roots and nooks and crannies.”
Although the original set designs are being used, Carney is also taking advantage of certain technological advancements. Trad A Burns, the production’s lighting designer, will have all the tools of the Kauffman Center’s Muriel Kauffman Theatre at his disposal.
“I’m so looking forward to what Trad does with the lighting,” Carney said. “According to what Trad has told me, our eyes have adjusted after decades and decades of using computer monitors so that our eyes have gotten used to what a century ago would have seemed glaringly bright light. Well, now our eyes are ready for a lot of intensity. And he has all of this incredible LED lighting now, which gives you almost limitless possibilities in a single unit.”
But it still comes down to the story and the dance. And Carney believes it’s those ballet basics that will truly delight the audience.
“ ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is hysterical comedy, and the audience laughs so much,” Carney said. “That’s another thing I love about this production, there’s humor in it, with Puck and the lovers falling in love with people they shouldn’t. It’s this whole whimsical sense about ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ which the title indicates, of course. This funny thing that happened in the woods last night.”
Arnaldo Cohen at the Folly
Arnaldo Cohen may not be a household name, but the pianist is revered by those who appreciate his exquisite and sublime artistry.
The Friends of Chamber Music will present Cohen in a recital Friday, Oct. 7, at the Folly Theater. The Brazilian-born pianist will perform the music of Johannes Brahms, Frédéric Chopin and Johann Sebastian Bach transcribed by Ferruccio Busoni.
Cohen, 68, now lives in the United States and has earned a reputation as one of the finest exponents of the Romantic style. Distinguished music critic Harold Schonberg wrote about Cohen: “In a day when so many pianists sound bleak and percussive, Cohen produces a big sound that never splinters and is capable of any kind of nuance. He understands the pedals. He has a world-class technique. His playing, color and all, has text-book clarity.”
Requiem and dance
One doesn’t usually associate requiems and dance, but it’s easy to imaging Gabriel Fauré’s drifting, dreamy requiem as a ballet.
The Spire Chamber Ensemble and the Störling Dance Theater will bring their talents and creativity together for a performance of the Fauré Requiem Saturday, Oct. 8, and Sunday, Oct. 9, at St. Michael the Archangel Church.
Also on the program is a beautiful piece of contemporary choral music, “The Little Match Girl.” David Lang used Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion as the model for his Pulitzer Prize-winning retelling of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Full of heartbreaking harmonies and unique vocal techniques, it’s already taking its place in the canon of great choral works.