It is hard to believe the same playwright who wrote Hamlet and Richard III also scripted a farcical fantasy like A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in 1595.
It is even harder to imagine that it was not until 1962 that the comedic play was turned into a magical ballet by George Ballanchine, complete with a delicious musical score by Felix Mendelsohn. It was not made into a Hollywood movie until 1999.
It was only this past weekend that A Midsummer Night’s Dream premiered in Nairobi at the Kenya National Theatre, courtesy of Dance Centre Kenya.
Featuring more than 60 dancers (aged between eight and 28), DCK’s artistic director Cooper Rust once again produced and directed a first-class play.
She had some help from her many friends (including a few who came in especially from the US to assist with technical features like lighting and sound) and new-found sponsors like Barclays Bank and Yaya Centre.
She also credits DCK parents for creating graceful costumes and Nathalie Fusillo’s Palacina Interiors for constructing the sets.
But it is Naomi Wambui who actually painted the two beautiful backdrops. One is the Royal Greek garden where the story begins with the Duke of Athens (Francis Waweru) determined his son Demetrius (Antony Nduva) will marry the unwilling Hermia (Nifa Omondi), who only has eyes for Lysander (Henry Mwaniki). The other lusterous set Wambui painted is the enchanted woodland where the dream comes alive as Hermia and Lysander run away, followed by Demetrius who’s sought after by Helena (Liana Eising) who cannot bear his rejection.
If the romantic entanglements sound complex, they get more so once Oberon (Lawrence Ogina), King of the Fairies, puts his court jester on the case.
Puck (Silas Ouma) is set loose to spray magic love potion on the sleeping sweethearts, including the King’s devoted Queen Titiana (Kayla Hotz) who falls for the buffoonish Nick Bottom (George Okoth) after he is been turned into a donkey by the mischievous Puck.
The trick about the potion is that it works after Puck splashes it on sleepers who, upon waking up, fall in love with the first one they meet. This causes immense mayhem.
Fortunately, the king finally has Puck reverse the magic spell, leaving the two pairs of young lovers resolved and the Duke prepared to relent.
The ‘Dream’ is a fantastical comedy and big credits go to the young dancers as well as to Cooper whose choreography included not just dance but also dramatic acting, physical comedy and mime.
The language of dance had to persuade us that Hermia and Lysander are seriously in love, that Demetrius initially does not want to be bothered by the impassioned Helena, and that Puck is as mischievous a merry prankster as Shakespeare meant him to be. This they did with conviction and grace.
And while there was an occasional wobbly dancer on toe and one who was half-a-beat behind Mendelsohn’s lovely music, those details didn’t detract from the overall professionalism of the ballet.
Indeed, Cooper trains her dancers to meet the high standards set by the Royal Academy of Dance. In the four short years that this professional ballerina has been teaching at DCK, she’s seen her advanced students go on to study dance in France, UK, US and soon in South Africa.
In addition to teaching in all three DCK outposts, in Hardy, Lavington and Rosslyn Riviera, she runs classes everywhere from ISK and Brookhouse to St Austin’s and several schools in Kibera and Kuwinda slums.
Kuwinda is where both Silas Ouma (Puck) and Lawrence Ogina (Oberon) met Joel Kioko, Cooper’s first scholarship student to be admitted to the prestigious English National Ballet School. Joel escorted both young men to DCK where they’ve rapidly excelled and seen ballet transform their lives.
Lawrence, who was orphaned at age 10, is soon to attend University of South Carolina where, if he raises the funds required, will study civil engineering as well as dance.
Cooper’s NGO, Artists for Africa, has already assisted scores of young Kenyan dancers. But AFA will need to raise substantial funds to get Lawrence there.
Meanwhile, Silas, who also comes from an underprivileged background, has an anonymous donor who’s helped him start work on a teaching certificate through the Royal Academy of Dance. DCK does not just teach ballet. It also teaches hip hop, tap, and musical.