Category In the News

Irene Hsiao, Chicago Reader

April 30, 2024

The rose gold interior of the Lyric Opera House is dappled with green light, as if filtered through leaves on a forest floor. Birdsong penetrates the space, sweet and ineffable in a place typically infused with the artifice of orchestral sound. Beneath a twinkling canopy of lights is a twin bed, upon which reclines a Dreamer (Dylan Gutierrez), still but for the rise and fall of sleeping breath, whose toes gently poke through the metal bars of the bedstead, as lines in cursive change above him: “Are you married?” “Why don’t you kiss me?”

From the house comes a humming, as a Hostess (Victoria Jaiani) prances in with the clothes he will wear, flourishing tufts of grass in each hand. When the curtain rises, the whole scene is roiling with plumes of hay, as if we have entered an impressionist painting in process, the hum magnified in music by Mikael Karlsson, everything bright with heat and motion, rush of bare feet, flash of long hair, billow and dust and glee of harvest. As if from a distance, lovers’ (Jeraldine Mendoza and José Pablo Castro Cuevas) arms wave like grain swelling in the wind, rippling as one. Swedish chanteuse Anna von Hausswolff wanders through the vision, voice ethereal as a mist. A blazing sun sends long shadows looming over the walls of the house, then transforms bodies into silhouettes that melt into the earth. Clouds roll in, disrupting the action with a deafening crack of thunder. 

Made by the earth’s tilt into the sun, the solstice has 18 hours and 16 minutes of sunlight in Stockholm, where Alexander Ekman’s Midsummer Night’s Dream premiered by the Royal Swedish Ballet in 2015, and where an ancient pagan holiday of summer, harvest, love, and fertility persists in ritual and festival to this day. Here in Chicago, where shifting winds and oscillating temperatures can make all seasons appear in a single day, Ekman’s ballet, performed by the Joffrey, offers a radiant meditation on the madness and mayhem of midsummer.

When the romance of the harvest and pastoral play recedes, we find ourselves beneath an enormous maypole. Celebrants cluster under a tent, hoisting it back and forth above them as they shuffle as a mass. The Hostess scrambles to hold a pose on her picnic blanket and suntans with a friend on a lawn chair, a chef smokes cigarettes as he wields his BBQ tongs, and drinking songs erupt before everyone dons wreaths to race around the maypole and raise wineglasses and candelabras. With this toast, time slows to a glacial pace—and yet like the heat of high noon, the moment is as evanescent as any other—the party departs too soon.

After intermission, the sound ramps up to ear-ringing frequencies, and the dream drifts from midday absurdity to midnight terror—tables tilt, bodies fall from the sky, headless guests roam. Everyone who isn’t headless is nude, crammed body to body trudging like a robotic centipede from side to side, as herrings drop in like memoirs of indigestion. In this act, for the first time, dancers wear pointe shoes—here seen as the extremity they are. And yet a day defined by excess ought to veer into intemperance: solar surfeit, astral indulgence, planetary prodigality.