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George Balanchine's Midsummer Night's Dream

In the second act of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, fairies dance and sing a lullaby to their queen. In the third act, Bottom, his head transformed into the head of an ass and deserted by his friends, sings to show he's not afraid. In the last act, he and another clown dance a comic hoe-down, and the fairies dance as their king sings a blessing for the play's newly married couples (the song isn't assigned to a specific character in the 1623 Folio, but most editors follow the Quarto and give the song to Oberon).

George Balanchine
Photograph by Ernst Haas
For centuries, Midsummer's singing and dancing has inspired composers and choreographers. Of the composers, Felix Mendelssohn created the best-known music: an overture written when he was seventeen—what have you done lately?—and incidental music written near the end of his life. Classical music geeks will recognize the overture before its first four chords are finished, and even people who don't listen to classical music will recognize the incidental music's wedding march.

Of the many choreographers who've created dances for Midsummer, the most renowned is George Balanchine. Born Giorgi Balanchivadze in Georgia in 1904, he designed his first dance when he was sixteen—again, what have you done lately?—but didn't create a full-length ballet until over four decades later, after a career that had made him arguably the world's most famous choreographer. He designed his two-act Midsummer Night's Dream in 1962 for the New York City Ballet, using Mendelssohn's incidental music as well as a number of other Mendelssohn works. Balanchine was a skilled pianist and composer and arranged the music himself.
Suzanne Farrell as Titania

A film exists of the New York City Ballet's 1969 performance with Suzanne Farrell as Titania, but it's unavailable on DVD. You can find other performances on the web, including this one by La Scala Theatre Ballet.


I love Balanchine

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