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SNB gives Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ a steampunk ballet makeover

(Photo: Frederic Howland, Fine Art Photo, provided by Rosine Bena/SNB)

My next-door neighbor, Mary Maul, is a terrific MD and acupuncturist and an avid ballet fan. She is very excited about SNB’s new edgy steampunk ballet that will premiere July 23.

“So what is it like to create a completely new story ballet from scratch?” she asked me.

Amir Yorke and Darwin Black rehearse for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Sierra Nevada Ballet. (Photo: Domingo Rubio, provided by Rosine Bena/SNB)

My answer: Imagine riding a unicycle on the freeway in San Francisco while juggling 12 fragile china plates and reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy … blindfolded. Then multiply that by 10.

The creative process starts with a vision. In this case, it is a new ballet version of the famous Shakespeare comedy, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Next comes a written project description and estimated budget including the complete cast, sets, costumes, technical needs, proposed venues and estimated costs.

Once approved by the board (which helps raise the funds), the creative process begins.

Director Ananda Bena-Weber spent six months listening to the music of Felix Mendelssohn as well as searching for more choices. Bena-Weber did some research into our community and discovered a large steampunk/Burning Man culture, which led her to design a steampunk fantasy ballet using both classical and hypnotic modern music styles.

An experienced actress, Bena-Weber was very familiar with the Shakespeare comedy but it took her continuous rereading of the play to design a scene-by-scene storyboard version of the ballet. Since there are no spoken words in ballet, careful attention must be given to describing the dramatic action that will take place in each scene. “Midsummer” is made up of more than 25 short scenes and Bena-Weber had to find the proper music to go with each scene. Musician Dallas Smith worked with Bena-Weber to edit the music to make it appropriate for the action.

The set selection must create the right atmosphere, leave most of the stage space for dancing, be easy to move and be within the ballet budget. After much research, we decided on renting two main backdrops for the two indoor venues and smaller moving sets that could be manipulated easily by dancers and incorporated into the choreography for the indoor venues and outdoor venue at Sand Harbor. For creating the feeling of a dream, Bena-Weber picked Reno Little Theater’s Chad Sweet to make the moving sets and SNB lighting designer Gary Gubberman to design the lighting.

SNB held a large nationwide video audition for leading dancer selection and also hired some extra professional dancers to augment the regular company. Student dancers were chosen for group and children’s roles through an audition held at SNB. “Midsummer” has a cast of 22 professional dancers and approximately 30 student dancers.

Bena-Weber was determined to create a dream atmosphere, with each of the eight fairies painted a different color. This required elaborate laborious experimentation with different types of body paint and face makeup. Tres House of Hair was called upon to create the extravagant colored fairy hairstyles.

Cindy Joy was hired as steampunk costume consultant, and SNB costumers Alisanne Maffei, Jenny Johnson and Laurie Bertero worked tirelessly for months to properly costume the cast of 52 performers.

The 11 out-of-state dancers required travel arrangements, housing and transportation within the community for approximately six weeks — no easy task for SNB company managing director Cathy Mercer.

Amir Yorke and Kristy Butler. (Photo: Frederic Howland, Fine Art Photo, provided by Rosine Bena/SNB)

The choreography for the student dancers and large group was created first. The lead dancers arrived three weeks prior to performance and have been working daily from five to eight hours per day with Bena-Weber as well as Alexander Biber and Domingo Rubio, who are assisting with the choreography. Each soloist has assisted by contributing creative ideas of their own. It is this invested team effort that really makes the story come to life for the audience.

The printed program is being put together this week. All the lighting and sound cues are being written and the final touches are going into the choreography and costume designs.

SNB is really picking up steam in this last week of rehearsal before the exciting premiere of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream – The Ballet” on July 23.

My neighbor, Mary, says that she wants to come to see the production at all three different venues. I am really glad that I could answer her question.

SNB performs “A Midsummer Night’s Dream -The Ballet” on Monday, July 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Sand Harbor venue on the lake as part of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival; on Sunday, Aug. 5 at 4 p.m. at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts in Reno; and on Saturday, Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Carson City Community Center. For ticket information, visit www.sierranevadaballet.org or call SNB at 775-360-8663.

Check out this article on the Reno Gazette Journal

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