Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Below is a lovely review on our last show, A midsummer Night’s Dream by Weasel Features. Thank you!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Read the plot for the play here

My decision to see all of Shakespeare’s plays performed live inside of a year was made on 23rd April 2016 – the 400th anniversary his death. If I’d thought about it in advance there would have been more time to plan. I would have kickstarted this challenge with a play that day perhaps, or at least one that week. Given that 38 plays in 52 weeks works out as a play every 9.6 days, there’s no time to waste. It was an impulsive decision however, which meant that I didn’t end up seeing any Shakespeare until June – whoops!

I want to see Shakespeare live, but I don’t just want to see traditional performances. The beauty of Shakespeare is that over the centuries his words have been ripped apart, edited, played with, interpreted and presented in so many different permutations that there is no wrong way to ‘do’ Shakespeare. I want to enjoy that variety to the fullest by watching plays, operas, recitals, ballets and dance performances by professionals, youths and amateur dramatic societies. With A Midsummer Night’s Dream (AMND), a play I know well, I leapt at the opportunity to see it done in a new way; I went to see an amateur ballet.

On Friday 3rd June 2016 I enjoyed a surreal Friday evening as I watched AMND performed by the Yuka Kodama Ballet Group at Wychwood School. Part of the reason I wanted to see a ballet version is that I don’t hugely like AMND. I find the mechanicals’ plot time consuming and tedious, the women of the play are fairly meh and when Titania shows a hint of defiance towards Oberon, she is punished by being made to fall in love with a donkey. It’s not Shakespeare’s finest, nor is it hugely funny, yet AMND seems to be the most popular of his plays with dozens of performances this summer across the UK. I could have gone to a promenade version by Creation Theatre but the ballet appealed to me as something different.


©Susan Taylor Photography

The Yuka Kodama Ballet Group AMND cast was composed of adults and children and the audience was composed almost exclusively of their friends and family. If there’s one thing this challenge has taught me, it’s to learn to embrace watching theatre alone, often surrounded by people who know the cast members (wait until you hear about the Richard II I saw…). So I sat on my own in that school auditorium in June, watching children and adults dance in front of proud parents, siblings and friends whilst trying desperately not to look too out of place. That was play number one, by now I’ve stopped caring!

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine

– Oberon, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2 Scene 1 ll. 249-252

The sad thing about the ballet is missing out on Shakespeare’s beautiful language (see quote above). The great thing about the ballet is watching the physicality of Shakespeare’s characters come to life. If there’s one thing I love about AMND it’s the otherworldly elegance of the fairies – particularly the impish Puck – which lends itself so perfectly to dance. The cast were brilliant, especially the adults working alongside much younger students. Puck was played by Yuka Kodama’s son with mischievous ebullience. I know next to nothing about ballet and it was lovely to sit back and watch the action without analysing the language (or trying to avoid the occasional mind wander during long speeches).


©Susan Taylor Photography

All in all, I spent an enjoyable evening doing something I wouldn’t have done otherwise – this challenge is certainly pushing me to explore new plays, places and performances!

Thank you to Susan Taylor for allowing me to use her photos in this article.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream


Teaching Young Children and Adult Beginners

Every time I hear someone say something along the lines of “I don’t know ballet enough to teach advanced ballet, but I can teach beginners/children” it makes me cringe so much that I can find it very difficult to conceal it.

I have been teaching a while now and I have taught from very young children to adult, from complete beginners to professionals. The classes I find most demanding and satisfying at the same time are the ones for those who are just starting ballet for the very first time, regardless of the age. The new pupils know very little about ballet. This, however, does not mean that the teacher can get away with knowing little. The teacher has to have a very sound and extensive knowledge in technique and history of ballet, of actual ballet repertoires, anatomy, injury prevention, different methods and how they differ from one another, and the ability to see and offer different advice and corrections depending on the individual pupil.


YKBG Class

New pupils often have many questions about all sorts of things related to ballet. Many often come and ask what to do when they have stiff muscles or when something does not feel quite right from different physical activities they might do. It is imperative that the teacher can offer appropriate advice in order that they can work pain free and injury free, and maximise the speed of their improvements.

Many of my dancers who have been to other dance schools as adults (especially beginners and those with fairly little experience) told me that their former teachers hardly ever corrected them in adult classes and generally left them alone. They often find it astounding that I would touch their legs or arms to teach them the correct positions. I am yet to come across someone who does not improve even if they started ballet for the first time as an adult or are already fairly mature, and I simply cannot understand why some teachers do not bother teaching them properly.

I have also seen and heard so many dance schools, and not just in this country, letting young and inexperienced teachers or teaching assistants teach young children’s classes. The time when they are just starting out to learn ballet is the most important for child students and this is when they are at their most impressionable. Poor and ill-informed teaching at this stage might well be destroying the development of potential future ballet dancers. I see plenty of students who learned ballet at a young age carrying their old habits ten or twenty years later and finding it extremely difficult to break them.

It saddens me to hear stories like this.  Of course, there are many many fantastic teachers and dance schools where they teach everyone everything they can, where pupils are inspired and encouraged to continuously improve, and where very strong bonds between teachers and pupils are forged. If you are planning on starting learning ballet, or sending your children to learn ballet,  make sure you shop around and find a conscientious, knowledgeable and experienced teacher.

Maya Plisetskaya, One of the Greatest Ballerina Dies at Age 89

Splisetskaya dancing Dying SwanMaya Plisetskaya, my idol and inspiration, died of a heart attack on 2nd May, 2015 at her home in Munich, Germany.

She was born in 1925 in Moscow and trained at the Bolshoi Academy, joined the Bolshoi Ballet and quickly climbed the ladder to the rank of a principal dancer.

This article is not dedicated to talking about the details of her life though. There is an interesting obituary by Sophia Kishokovsky on NY Times that gives a good overview of her life and career:

Plisetskaya was one of the first dancers I have ever seen, and certainly had the greatest impact on my life. Through her I learned that technique should be merely a means of expression rather than the goal, and so many other things besides.

A while ago I wrote an article about Plisetskaya and how meeting her affected my life. Please click on the link to read it.

“May she rest in peace” somehow does not suit her. She will keep on dancing forever in my heart and in that of many others.