Ballet by John Neumeier
based on William Shakespeare

Dedicated to August Everding


  Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
György Ligeti
and traditional mechanical music
  John Neumeier
  Jürgen Rose


World Premiere
The Hamburg Ballet, Hamburg, July 10, 1977


Original Cast    
  Zhandra Rodriguez
  François Klaus
  Kevin Haigen
  Magali Messac
  Marianne Kruuse
  Ivan Liska
  Tanju Tüzer
Bottom/Pyramus   Max Midinet
Flute/Thisbe   Richard Gibbs


On Tour
1978 Stuttgart, Frankfurt-Hoechst, Munich, Leverkusen 1979 Warsaw, Paris, Cologne 1980 Luxemburg, Mannheim, Bucarest, Lausanne, Bregenz, Wiesbaden, Brussels 1981 São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, St. Petersburg 1983 New York, Venice, Dortmund 1984 Toronto, Ottawa, Chicago (Ravinia Festival) 1986 Tokyo, Sendai, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kita-Kyushu 1990 Ludwigshafen, Stuttgart, Taormina, Schwerin 1991 Belfast 1993 Frankfurt-Hoechst 1997 Hannover 1999 Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing 2000 Prague, Baden-Baden 2011 Gütersloh 2012 Baden-Baden, Brisbaine 2014 San Francisco 2015 Salzburg 2016 Tokyo

In the Repertory
Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris
Bavarian State Ballet
Bolschoi Ballet
Polish National Ballet
Royal Danish Ballet
Royal Swedish Ballet
Vienna State Ballet


"And sleep, that sometimes shuts up sorrow's eye,
Steal me awhile from mine own company."
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act III, Scene 2





Hippolyta's Room

It is the evening before the wedding of Hippolyta and Theseus, Duke of Athens. Last minute preparations are being made, supervised by Philostrat, Master of the Revels at Theseus' court. Hippolyta's friends, Helena and Hermia, are helping put finishing touches to her bridal gown. The Court Treasurer presents the bridal jewels to Hippolyta. He is accompanied by the officer, Demetrius, Helena's former fiancé, who is now intent on winning Hermia's attentions – unsuccessfully. Helena still loves Demetrius. The gardener Lysander arrives bringing Hippolyta's wedding flowers. He loves Hermia, and his love is returned. He secretly gives her a letter asking her to meet him in the wood under an olive tree. Helena finds the letter and shows it to Demetrius. A group of rustics, lead by the weaver Bottom present Hippolyta with their text for a play "Pyramus and Thisbe" which they wish to perform for the marriage festivities. Theseus arrives to visit Hippolyta. Although he brings her a rose, Hippolyta is aware of his flirting with the ladies of the court. Left alone, Hippolyta finds and reads Lysander's love letter to Hermia. Pensive, she falls asleep with Theseus’ rose in her hand. She dreams...

Act I

Night - In the Wood
The Realm of the Fairies

Titania, Queen of the Fairies, argues with Oberon, King of the Elves. In his anger Oberon gives Puck, a flower which has magical powers. If shaken over the eyes of someone asleep, that person will fall in love with the first person seen when he awakens. Oberon's orders Puck to use the love-flower on Titania. Lysander and Hermia meet in the wood. Demetrius looks for Hermia, followed by Helena. All are observed by Oberon.

Taking pity on Helena, Oberon orders Puck to use the love-flower on Demetrius, so that he will love return her love.

Lysander and Hermia are lost in the wood, and lie down to sleep. Mistaking him for Demetrius, Puck shakes the love-flower over Lysander. Helena accidentally awakens Lysander and he at once falls passionately in love with her. Confused by his attentions, she flees from him. Hermia awakens and searches for Lysander.

Bottom and his companions are looking for a spot in the woods to rehearse their play. The place found, roles are distributed, and Bottom leads the rehearsal. They are observed by Puck who transforms Bottom's head into that of an ass. Freightened at his appearance, the other rustics run away.

Titania and her followers fall asleep and Puck now uses the love-flower on her. She is accidentally awakened by Bottom, and is suddenly consumed with desire for him. Observing Demetrius, whose affections are still directed towards Hermia, Oberon realizes that Puck has made a mistake. He orders Puck to use the flower on the sleeping Demetrius. Helena, pursued by Lysander, stumbles over and awakens Demetrius. He also falls madly in love with her.
Confusion reigns. Oberon commands Puck to bring all the relationship in order. The elf arranges the sleeping lovers in their proper combinations and once again uses the love-flower on them all

Act II

Dawn in the Woods

The lovers awaken and are united – Hermia with Lysander – Helena with Demetrius.
The rustics find Bottom.

Hippolyta's Room

After quietly observing the sleeping Hippolyta – dreaming upon her couch – Theseus gently awakens her. A love develops between them. Both pairs of lovers enter and beg Theseus' permission to wed. The Duke of Athens blesses their unions.

A Festive Room in Theseus' Ducal Palace

The Wedding ceremonies begin. The rustics perform their piece, "Pyramus and Thisbe". After the wedding guests have left, Oberon and Titania are again united in love.



Play into Dance

Has the stylistic change in dramatic productions had an effect on ballet and dance interpretations of the play? Not in the case of Mendelssohn's music, which has continued to be used by all the major choreographers who have made their own versions of the play from Petipa (St Petersburg, 1877) to Balanchine (New York City Ballet, 1962), Sir Frederick Ashton (Royal Ballet, 1964) and John Neumeier (Hamburg Ballet, 1977). And who would wish such appropriate music for dance to be abandoned?

John Neumeier uses not only the incidential music to excellent effect, but other delightful Mendelssohn works as well. But, with dramatic flair, he has used the music of Ligeti for the fairy world, and further emphasizes its difference from the mortals by giving the fairies remarkable costumes and a totally individual style of dance and movement. So too with Bottom and the mechanicals - their music, costumes and movement perfectly express their engaging character. What's more, they'll make you laugh as well - not an easy thing to do in ballet!

None of us can have seen all the ballet versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, but it is difficult to believe that there has ever been a version as fine as John Neumeier's for Hamburg. To lose Shakespeare's words can easily destroy the magic of the text - but not in Neumeier's version. He has created a "reading" of the play which makes every sense of it. He has created, in music and dance, the very spirit of Shakespeare's play. What an extraordinary play it is. What an extraordinary ballet it is.




Three Worlds - Three Styles

John Neumeier's Selection of Music for "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

The "Three Worlds" of Shakespeare's play are the aristocratic world of Duke Theseus and his court; the fairy world of Oberon, Titania an Puck; and the world of the mechanicals Bottom and his friends.

The music chosen by John Neumeier is in "Three Styles", and distinguishes the "Three Worlds". Thus, Mendelssohn for the aristocrats, Ligeti for the mysterious fairy world, and barrel organ music for the mechanicals.

Here is the performing order of the music to be played:

Overture, "A Midsummer Night's Dream": op. 21
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

Volumina for Organ
György Ligeti

Incidential Music for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" op. 61
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

Barrel Organ Music

Overture, "Son and Stranger" (Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde), op. 89
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

Barrel Organ Music

Etude No I for Organ "Harmonies" and Volumina for Organ
György Ligeti

Overture, 'Ruy Blas': op. 95
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

Continuum for Dulcimer and Etude No 2 for Organ, "Coulées"
György Ligeti

Barrel Organ Music

Overture, "Calm Seas and Prosperous Voyage" op. 27
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

Barrel Organ Music
with a selection from Verdi's "La Traviata"

Incidential music for Athalie: op. 74
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

Music from "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy




"It is difficult to do justice to the lines as Shakespeare wrote them let alone create a new work that will measure up to the Bard's efforts. Yet Neumeier has come damn close to composing a rendition of Midsummer that has the fantasy, wit, slapstick, romance, and grandeur of the original and, perhaps most impressively, he has concocted physical and visual jokes that serve as the equivalent of Shakespeare's play with words. ... Neumeier has clearly found a story whose balance of humor and dramatic complexity allows him to exercise his considerable wit and inventiveness within an intelligent structure."
Marcia Pally, New York Native

"...and dream we did, swept away by John Neumeier's ambitious staging of the Bard's densely-layered tale. Here is a choreographer at the height of his power - his effortless ranging from classical grand pas de deux to writhing modern mayhem could easily have come over as a messy, silly hodge-podge in the hands of a lesser artist. But Neumeier - who perhaps more than any other choreographer successfully fuses the dance and literary worlds - guide us with assurance and a finely honed sense of humor through Shakespeare's most loved comedy, from its bedroom-farce laughs to its exploration of the nature of illusion and reality..."
Jason Gagliardi, South China Morning Post




1 intermission
2 hours 30 min.




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