Category In the News

Kyle MacMillian, Chicago Sun-Times

April 26, 2024

When the curtain rose Thursday evening on the Joffrey Ballet’s revival of “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” it was immediately and unmistakably clear again that Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman’s creation is anything but a conventional ballet.

Spread across the entire stage, dancers are reveling in a sea of hay (turns out it’s actually haylike raffia), throwing and waving clumps of the golden strands. It is the first in a series of startling and transporting scenes in this odd, wonderful, provocative and utterly original work.

But what to call the two-hour work? A happening? A performance piece? Dance theater might be the best characterization. Sometimes quiet and static, sometimes loud and intense, it combines a simple episodic narrative with all manner of movement, some of it even balletic with toe shoes.

Let’s be clear. Despite its familiar-seeming title, this piece has no connection with Shakespeare. Instead, Ekman goes in his own distinctive direction, paying homage to the summer solstice and the centuries-old Scandinavian Midsummer holiday.

The Joffrey presented the North American premiere of this work in 2018 at the Auditorium Theatre, and this return raised two big questions to start with: How would the work look at the Lyric Opera House where the company moved at the start of the 2021-22 season?

The immediate answer is great. Because drops are entirely removed and the stage is converted into a giant black box for this production, with set pieces and exposed side and ceiling lighting setting the scene, any suitably large space would work.

To enhance the notion of a summer party, several strings of white lights are draped above the front of the stage, which is bathed in green light, and the pleasant recorded sounds of singing birds greet audiences as they entered the theater.

The Joffrey’s personnel has changed considerably in six years. Would this latest group of 47 dancers attack this work with the same fervor? The answer is an emphatic yes, with the company delivering a performance that is every bit as energetic, exuberant and heady as before.

“Standouts include company stalwarts Victoria Jaiani and Stefan Gonçalvez, who perform a slow, erotically charged duet in the second act, and featured artist Dylan Gutierrez, whose dreams set all the action in motion.”

What is especially striking this second time around is the edgy, pop-infused score of Swedish composer Mikael Karlsson with Swedish indie-rock singer Anna von Hausswolf back to providing her alluring, other-worldly vocals, moving amid the action as she sings. The music is performed by an onstage ensemble, including four string players from the Lyric Opera Orchestra.


While “Midsummer” is arguably not going to become a classic that audiences will want to see again and again, because there are few insights to gain a second time, it is definitely a fresh, absorbing sensorial experience worth seeing once.

Probably because this work is so different and challenging in its way, no other company has mounted it besides the Joffrey and Royal Swedish Ballet, which debuted it in 2015. The Joffrey deserves credit for taking a risk on “Midsummer” six years ago and for showing enough belief in it to bring it back for new round of audiences to discover.