MCB’s landmark 30th Anniversary Season culminates with an unprecedented reimagining of George Balanchine’s magical full-evening ballet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Balanchine’s classic choreography is the vehicle for Shakespeare’s timeless tale of love, magic and illusion, with ravishing music by Felix Mendelssohn – including the famous Wedding March. This reimagining includes all-new sets and costumes by artist Michele Oka Doner, and dramatic direction by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney.
With a fairytale cast that includes 24 children and six vocalists, magical new sets and costumes, and the breathtaking Miami City Ballet dancers accompanied by the Opus One Orchestra, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a dazzling spectacle for families and audiences of all ages.
Miami – Adrienne Arsht Center | March 18-20, 2016
West Palm Beach – Kravis Center | April 1-3, 2016
Fort Lauderdale – Broward Center | April 9-10, 2016
A number of years ago, while serving as the executive director of The George Balanchine Foundation and investigating Mr. Balanchine’s Dream, I began thinking of a new approach to this narrative masterpiece, one that would preserve the integrity of the choreography while highlighting new aspects of the entire dramatic experience. Later, when I moved to Miami to head MCB, the possibility of such a reimagining started to become more real. An extraordinary leadership gift from Claudia and Stephen Perles provided the spark that set this major undertaking in motion.
My first step was to secure the “blessing” of The George Balanchine Trust, which they graciously gave, and next I reached into the international artistic community to identify artists for this reimagining. To my surprise and delight I found two with close ties to Miami: Michele Oka Doner for original sets and costumes and Tarell Alvin McCraney for dramatic direction. Together, they transferred Shakespeare’s magical Athenian forest, where fairies and sprites manipulate and control humans, to our surrounding waterways with their rich marine life, creating an estuary where these ‘otherworldly’ activities take place. All of this, while remaining loyal to the production’s three geniuses, Shakespeare, Mendelssohn, and Balanchine.
For me, narrative ballets link literature, music, and design to dance, creating entertainment that attracts more audiences and families to experience the art form. Just think of what Balanchine accomplished with his introduction of The Nutcracker! My hope is that the same thing will happen in South Florida through our lovingly reconsidered A Midsummer Night’s Dream
This has been a labor of love for all of us at Miami City Ballet, where we are committed to keeping Balanchine’s incomparable legacy alive. I hope and believe you will be entranced by the beauty of this new production, and will come to love this ravishing ballet as all of us do who have lived with it for so many years – and in my own case, danced it so happily for more than two decades!
MCB's reimagining of George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream incorporates the vision of three artistic partners - MCB Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez, visual artist Michelle Oka Doner for original sets and costumes, and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney for dramatic direction.
"The forest, at least during Shakespeare's time, is where the unknown took place, where life as you knew it, no longer existed," explains MCB Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez. "Michelle Oka Doner has chosen to use the ocean floor as inspiration... The ocean floor is uncharted territory. All bets are off when you go down there. It's an unrecognizable world."
"This convergence of the visual and kinesthetic arts, science, and natural world has always been the DNA of collaboration," says Oka Doner. "The costumes and sets are based on site specific underwater plants and creatures both familiar to a general public and more esoteric. The Invertebrate Museum at the Rosensteil School, University of Miami, is the source of much inspiration for these exceptional designs. Add the wonderful story provided by William Shakespeare and the brilliant music of Felix Mendelssohn.. expect a magical experience."
George Balanchine’s first wholly original evening-length ballet crafted in America, A Midsummer Night’s Dream debuted in 1962 – a work full of love and magic, reality and illusion.
John Martin, writing for The New York Times said of the premiere: “Of perhaps greatest interest is what Balanchine has done in recreating the involved plots in compact, clear and choreographic terms… he has here transformed the dramatic developments into self-contained movement themes and manipulated them compositionally almost as if they were abstractions. He has also come up with some stunning passages.”
Known for his rejection of the storylines made famous by 19th century classical ballet, Balanchine’s choreography moves quickly through the story without sacrificing the omnipresent metaphor of love.
Although Frederick Ashton, a contemporary of Balanchine’s, set the Shakespearean tale into a single act ballet entitled The Dream, Balanchine waited nearly 20 years to create his ballet, as he searched earnestly for music that would embody the Midsummer Night he imagined. Enter Felix Mendelssohn. Balanchine famously credited Mendelssohn’s music for the ballet’s continuity rather than its namesake, saying, “It is really impossible to dance Shakespeare. He is a poet.”
Mendelssohn wrote the score for Overture E Major, Opus 21 just prior to his 17th birthday, composing Opus 61 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream 16 years later. While the overture and incidentals written for the score total just over one hour, hardly accommodating a full-length ballet, Balanchine wove together other works from Mendelssohn’s oeuvre to create the full score. As a result, Mendelssohn’s music is perhaps one of the most unforgettable contributions to Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Lourdes Lopez became Artistic Director of Miami City Ballet in September 2012. As a Soloist and Principal Dancer with New York City Ballet, she danced for two legends of the art form, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.
Lopez was born in Havana, Cuba in 1958 and raised in Miami by her parents along with two sisters. She began taking ballet lessons at the age of five, and the age of 11 she received a full scholarship to the School of American Ballet (SAB). Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, she joined the corps de ballet of New York City Ballet.
Under the direction of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, she was promoted to Soloist in 1981 and Principal Dancer in 1984, performing countless featured roles.
In 2002, Lopez became the Executive Director of The George Balanchine Foundation, which works to educate the public about dance and to further the art of ballet, with a special emphasis on the work and achievements of George Balanchine. Lopez co-founded The Cuban Artists Fund, which supports Cuban and Cuban-American artists in their endeavors. She also co-founded Morphoses with Christopher Wheeldon in 2007 — a New York-based dance company aiming to revitalize dance through innovative collaborations with important artists from the worlds of music, visual arts, design, film and fashion; and by inviting younger and broader audiences to engage in and actively experience dance.
In 2007 she received an award from the American Immigration Law Foundation honoring Cuban Americans for their accomplishments and contributions to American society and in 2011, she received the prestigious Jerome Robbins Award for her years in dance.
In 2014 Lopez was elected to serve on the Ford Foundation’s Board of Trustees, marking the first time an artist was elected to serve on its board.
Costume & Set Design
Michelle Oka Doner absorbed the natural world around her as a child in her hometown of Miami Beach:
“Miami Beach is primal in my work. It was a place that fascinated and nurtured me, with the forces of nature, the dramatic thunderstorms, the extraordinary light.”
In 1957 at age 12, Oka Doner, fully engaged by science and the processes of the natural world, began a year-long independent project studying the International Geophysical Year (IGY). She assembled a book of drawings, writings and collages that became a template for projects realized in later years.
The artist’s father, Kenneth Oka, was elected judge and mayor of Miami Beach during her youth (1945-1964) and, as such, the family lived a public and politically active life. In later years, Oka Doner co-authored, with Mitchell Wolfson Jr. Miami Beach: Blueprint of an Eden, an intimate portrayal of Miami Beach from the 1920s to the 1960s using their families as prisms to reflect the times.
An internationally acclaimed artist whose prolific career spans four decades, Oka Donor’s work is fueled by this lifelong study and appreciation of the natural world, from which she derives her formal vocabulary. Her artwork has been acquired by major museums and private collections in the United States and Europe, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museé dé Arts Dècoratifs at the Louvre; the FIU-Wolfsonian in Miami Beach and many others. Oka Doner is renowned for her numerous public art installations, including “A Walk on the Beach,” at the Miami International Airport (1995-2009), nearly a mile long concourse of dark terrazzo inlaid with bronze and mother of pearl.
Oka Doner has simultaneously sustained a decade’s long exploration of the human figure. She has been featured and reviewed by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, and a number of other publications.
She has received numerous awards and grants, including the Legends Award, Pratt Institute; the Award of Excellence from the United Nations Society of Writers and Artists; A Kress Foundation grant; and a grant from the New York State Council of the Arts among others.
Tarell Alvin McCraney
Tarell Alvin McCraney was born and raised in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami, Florida. He graduated from the New World School of the Arts High School, with the Exemplary Artist Award and the Dean’s Award in Theater in 1999. From there, he matriculated into the Theater School at DePaul University in Chicago, graduating in 2003 with the Sarah Siddons Award and a BFA in Acting.
He went on to attend the British American Drama Academy (BADA) Mid-Summer at Oxford, studying Shakespeare with master actors and teachers from the Royal Shakespeare Company and around the UK. In 2007, he earned his Master of Fine Arts Degree in playwriting from Yale School of Drama where he received the Cole Porter Award. In 2013, he was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant.”
Exploring the rich diversity of the African American experience, McCraney’s work imbues the lives of ordinary people with epic significance. Complementing his poetic, intimate language with a musical sensibility and rhythmic, often ritualistic movement, McCraney transforms intentionally minimalist stages into worlds marked by metaphor and imagery.
His most well-known works, a triptych collectively titled The Brother/Sister Plays (2009), weave West African Yoruban cosmology into modern-day stories of familial self-sacrifice, unrequited love, and coming of age. The audience becomes an essential part of the story as the characters speak their stage directions and inner feelings directly to the viewers. In Head of Passes (2013) and Choir Boy (2012), McCraney draws on themes that run throughout the Book of Job and traditional spirituals, respectively, to explore the role of faith and tradition in two very different close-knit worlds. Head of Passes, set in the isolated marshlands of the Mississippi River Delta, dramatizes a matriarch’s struggle to maintain her faith as her world literally falls apart around her. In Choir Boy, students at an elite boarding school remain united in their dedication to performing traditional spirituals even as they navigate the fraught nature of adolescent self-expression. McCraney’s work speaks to the intimate human experiences of people from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, cultures, sexualities, and identities.
In addition to writing new works, McCraney is committed to bringing theatre to elementary and secondary school students, particularly in underserved communities in his hometown of Miami. Telling stories that are simultaneously contemporary and universal, McCraney is demonstrating to new and younger audiences the ability of theatre to evoke a sense of our shared humanity.