A Midsummer Nights Dream Without Words

This past January I was lucky enough to see the play A Midsummer Nights Dream performed by the NYC ballet at Lincoln Center. The production was fabulous and the costumes were just beautiful. I was especially interested to see the production because it was a Shakespearean play without any iambic pentameter or even any dialogue!
Reading, watching and listening to Shakespeare can all produce different interpretations of the text, simply depending on the format of the presentation. As we talked about in class the other day most people agreed that Shakespeare was most easily understood when performed or watched in a movie. Seeing the stage directions, hearing the voices and accents each character uses and having the scene set definitely make the plays more understandable. Now what if you were watching the play but without any of Shakespeare’s so famous lines, would it still be understandable?
As I was watching the ballet I found myself wishing I had reviewed the text before the performance not because I was totally unsure of what was happing, more so just to remember the specifics of the play. Somehow the music, lighting, dancing, scenery and drastic body movements indicated what was happening, to the point where the basic plot points were covered although at some spots I found myself wishing for the text.
The ballet was a beautiful visual representation of the play but it would have been nice to have the original text available for reference or clarification. Bottom was literally a dancer wearing a donkey head and the fairies that tend to Titania were little children dancing around the stage. As the fairy children tended to her and the sparkles glittered everything, I could just imagine the fairies helping the weather and making the winds work.
My favorite part of the ballet was when the four lovers were running around in the woods, interpreting their relationships through dance was pretty awesome! As Hermia chased Lysander and Lysander and Demetrius ran after Helena the text was illustrated very well.
At the end of the ballet I remember thinking about how Puck never verbally told the audience to think of the play as a dream but it almost wasn’t necessary as the flowing curtains, amazing costumes, inordinate amounts of glitter and beautiful movement of the dancers already had created a dream! It would have been nice to hear him be called a “hobgoblin” just because that is such a great word but possibly watching his funny tricks on the cast were enough to suggest his hobgoblin status.
Reading the introduction to the play in our Norton books I was intrigued to see the different methods of presenting the play. From film to “simplest of settings” and even on trapeze (840) the story can be interpreted in so many ways. Is the audience missing out on a part of the play if the dialogue is not there or if it is modified?
I think maybe when watching a modified performance the audience is almost receiving a different text. In the first scene where Hermia tells Theseus she can’t possibly marry Demetrius the interactions can be performed and danced but the words and her strong statement of protest is not verbally addressed. Hermia says:
So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord,
Ere I will my virgin patent up
Unto his lordship, whose unwishèd yoke
My soul consents not to give sovereignty. 79-82
Her defiance is so clear and her bravery (or stubbornness?) toward Theseus, the Duke of Athens is not as highlighted without the direct lines.
Either way I’m enjoying reading the text and picking up on new pieces of information that were not directly presented in the ballet but I’m glad to have seen the performance because it’s setting an extremely beautiful stage in my mind.

Check out a video interview with the dancer who played Puck, there are also some great clips of the dancers


Here is my photo outside of the ballet!


2 thoughts on “A Midsummer Nights Dream Without Words

  1. Nikki Golde

    I'm super jealous that you got to see that ballet. It sounds beautiful. I always enjoy other theatrical forms using Shakespeare's plays as inspiration (abridged; ballets; movies; etc) Last summer I saw a wonderful abridged and adapted version of Midsummer. It put alot of the text to music, giving it a very interesting rhythm.

  2. Cyrus Mulready

    Thanks for sharing these images, Lauren! Shakespeare's plays have been adapted into several ballets and operas, and I like how your post examines the elements of the plays that lend themselves to interpretation across genres.


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