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Arts & Life

5 Things To Know About Kansas City Ballet's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

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Julie Denesha
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KCUR 89.3FM
The Kansas City Ballet practices A Midsummer Night's Dream. Titania (Tempe Ostergren), the queen of the fairies, calls out to the Indian changeling (Isabel Ingleby). Meanwhile, Oberon (Liang Fu), king of the fairies, wants the changeling for himself.

Shakespeare’s romantic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream revolves around the mishaps of two mortal couples, as well as the king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania. An oft-quoted line provides a summary of the plot: "The course of true love never did run smooth."

The Kansas City Ballet's production, choreographed by Bruce Wells, tells the story of magic and mistaken identities — through movement and music. 

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Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
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KCUR 89.3FM
Gavin Abercrombie, a member of Kansas City Ballet II, looks at golden wings that were worn by Devon Carney, artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet, 30 years ago when he starred as Oberon in the Boston Ballet’s production of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream.'

Here are five things to know about the production: 

1. There's a 30-year connection

Kansas City Ballet music director Ramona Pansegrau and the ballet's artistic director Devon Carney both participated in the debut of choreographer Bruce Wells' A Midsummer Night's Dream at Boston Ballet  -- 30 years ago. 

"This was my second ballet that I was playing rehearsals for at Boston Ballet, and Devon (Carney) was a recently promoted principal dancer. Bruce Wells, the choreographer, was, at the time, associate artistic director at Boston Ballet," says Pansegrau. "So it's just been lovely for us to reconnect (and) see the production, how it has withstood time. It's still as beautiful and delightful as it was the day that it first went on stage." 

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Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
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KCUR 89.3FM
Puck (Joshua Bodden) is delighted as Nick Bottom (Charles Martin) is magically transformed into a donkey.

2. Music matters

German composer Felix Mendelssohn was only 17 in 1826 when he wrote the overture that accompanies the ballet, and the incidental music followed in 1842. According to Pansegrau, "It (the music) tells descriptively, you can close your eyes and see the story."

She adds: "That scampering of the feet that's in the overture, we have scampering feet on stage, so it goes together so beautifully. And then the rustics, or as Shakespeare called them 'the mechanicals,' that sound of the donkey, that's exactly what happens on stage when he (Bottom, one of the actors in the play within the play) is changed into a donkey."

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Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
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KCUR 89.3FM
The Indian changeling (Ingleby) performs with Bruce Wells, choreographer of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' who is standing in for a dancer during an open rehearsal.

3. The essence of the story is key

Subplots abound in Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, but choreographer Bruce Wells streamlines it for the ballet, according to artistic director Carney.

"Bruce takes artistic license, which any choreographer is going to do to bring it down to its essence," Carney says. "This battle between Titania and Oberon, which ultimately is a uniting of these forces ... and the four lovers, and their comedy of errors that are caused by Puck. 

"We don't spend so much time with the characters that you get lost in the overall line of the main story."

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Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
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KCUR 89.3FM
In a joke played by Oberon, Titania (Ostergren) awakens to discover she has fallen in love with a donkey (Martin).

4. Dancers must get in character

There might be some sounds in dance, such as clapping or stomping, but "in general, it's non-verbal," says Carney. "So in order to tell a story, you need to choose individuals who have the ability to be in character, who are open to being people other than themselves, or an amplification of themselves. 

"You need individuals who can really reach in to becoming three-dimensional characters on stage, take on the role, live within the role, and then trust the choreography to do the rest."

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Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
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KCUR 89.3FM
All is eventually forgiven between Oberon (Fu) and Titania (Ostergren) as they perform a final pas de deux.

5. Artistic director Carney shares 'sheer joy'

When asked what it's like to see someone else dancing as Oberon, a role he originated for choreographer Bruce Wells, Carney describes it as bittersweet.

"Part of me just wants to get up and do it, the urge is so strong when I'm seeing a role that I've done," Carney says with a laugh. "It's almost like watching this ghost behind the dancers and it's me ... I'm right there with them, and kind of helping them along.

"And I always wanted to pass it on. That was always my intent, this is too fun to not just give it over to someone else. That's what I love about directing the company is that it's now my chance to really give the gift of dance, the art form of dance, and the sheer joy of dance, to a new generation. To me, that's quite fulfilling." 

Kansas City Ballet presents 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' Oct. 7 - 16, Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Broadway, Kansas City, Missouri. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter, @lauraspencer.

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