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  • Angela Allyn

Midsummer: Swedish not Shakespeare at Joffrey

The Joffrey Ballet has overtaken the Lyric Opera House with a gorgeous, sensual Scandinavian solstice celebration with its rendition of Alexander Ekman’s lush 2015 ballet Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is an astonishing work of art. 

As you enter the lobby you are enchanted by a string quartet surrounding a midsommerstang, a kind of hay or leaf embellished maypole that is traditionally danced around. Then you go find your seats in theater filled with dappled green lighting framed with those overhead patio lights,  and note that a bed sits upon the stage and the tall and handsome Dylan Gutierrez sleeps until an alarm jolts us all: Victoria Jaiani comes humming up the aisles and entices him with handfuls of hay and hands him his pants.  Dressed, they go into the curtain which opens with a large crowd in a raucous dance with loose straw and bales of hay, the rite of spring now a hot dance of summer.  The straw dances like Basil Twist’s Symphonie Fantastique, but take an antihistamine if you are allergic to hay before you come because the tossing and swirling grasses fill the stage with a lovely golden haze that is highlighted by an artificial sun that will move across the stage as the piece continues. It is enormous dancing, filling the stage with a kind of primal beauty. 

The music composed by Mikeal Karlsson is worthy of a listen on its own, and it makes you want to dance too.  The vocalist, the Swedish pop sensation Anna Von Hausswolff, is mesmerizing. She moves through the work like a Goddess of Summer. Ekman’s highly visual stage design combined with Linus Fellbom’s graphic lighting design make this entire ballet a feast for the eyes. 

The first act is a summer day, a gathering with brief rainstorm, a smoking Weber grill dragged on stage,crowds under a moving pop up canopy, and the entire ensemble breaking the fourth wall, arrayed at the front of the stage and offering a toast with empty glasses that one dancer declares “dry!” (the work is rife with visual and situational humor) and it ends in a hangover producing Bacchic party where the cast moves out into the audience with candles held high. The intermission arrives too soon. Out in the lobby dancers surround the string players in tall lifeguard chairs and move like a living art installation. 

We come back to that hangover in the second act: the Theatre Dream, a wild surrealistic dream: strobe lights with fish dropping out of the sky and a giant fish moving through the crowd, including a chef en pointe with nothing on but an apron, a toque and a camera ( the astounding Fernando Duarte), a giant table that becomes a ramp with a man falling, falling in slow motion,  and dances with mannequins that are casually tossed about,there is a  a sensual sextet, and headless men in suits (danced by Edson Barosa and Davide Oldano). There is this lineup of dancers moving attached in two snakes of barely clad dancers shuffling across the stage until it opposes and joins with the other snake of bodies– it was fantastic!  It is a Dali-esque adventure with tour de force dancing. It is an ever evolving art house of images and movement and music that you wish would not end.  But the overhead clock has taken us from Midsomer 2024 to Midsomer 2025 and the piece ends with the bed again, the dreamer awakened by the cacophonous alarm and Victoria Jaiani bringing him his pants and hay again. The cycle of the seasons continues. We come back to the waking world and out of our liminal subconsciousness.  We are so lucky to be home to Joffrey, a company that can take on the magnitude of this work, a modern masterwork of lyrical exuberance and carefully curated captivating visuals along with dynamic music. Its a total work of brilliance.   

You really need to drop what you are doing and go see this ode to summer and ourdream state.  Chicago summer, like that in Scandinavia, is far too short,( just like ballet runs) and worth celebrating.There is no better way to kick off this season  than to head to the Joffrey Ballet’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Thursday through Sunday ONLY until MAY 5th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N Wacker in downtown Chicago.  For tickets and information go to

Photo by Cheryl Mann

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