REVIEW: Midnight (APO and The Dust Palace)

Review by Tim Booth

[Ballet in the Sky]

It seemed an unlikely combination when this show was first announced. Dust Palace and the APO? What sort of arranged marriage was this?  Had both companies’ marketing departments recently been on a misguided training course on audience diversification?

It initially seemed my fears were confirmed at curtain up. A warm but minimal exchange between conductor and performer left me screaming in my head “do something cool!”- this is such a unique opportunity!!

Where was the smash bang opening number with evocative and flamboyant exuberance?  I’d anticipated a witty and amusing interplay between Auckland’s renowned symphony orchestra and the ever exotic and erotic Dust Palace circus performers. My heart sank slightly, but was soon buoyed by the sublime music coming from the APO.  Excerpts of crowd-pleasers and lesser known works alike, flawlessly delivered – Tchaikovsky, Mendelsohn, Dvorak, Debussy, Ravel, Beethoven, Chopin and more – all under the expert baton of David Kay.

Overhead and onstage a fantastical story was unfolding, with magical props for circus antics and breath-taking aerobatics – wonderfully skilful and daring.  Following the first piece, Geoff Gilson was confined to his luxurious 4 poster bed – which may have fulfilled the fantasies of many of the audience, but limited the opportunities for more interaction with the mostly solo performers overhead.

The gossamer storyline provided a thread for the circus performances – all of which were exuberant, amazing and superhuman. The performances melted, waxed and waned over extravagant props of ladders, chairs, cages and silk above the stage. Predominantly without a safety harness, one slip from the trapeze and they could easily have obliterated the 3rd violin, woodwind and percussion sections of the APO below in one foul swoop.

The first flush of romance shown between the companies crescendoed in the second half beautifully.  Right from curtain up the banter between movement and music was evident – every performer was having fun.  The audience were excited and were on tenterhooks at the more dangerous acts – including spinning, balancing, stilt-walking and clowning. No comparisons with other music/circus shows are needed in this case, as this was a crafty and a crafted performance in its own right. It was delightful to see the APO performers sneaking admiring peeks at the mesmerising and elegant contemporary dance above their heads.

The whole show is visually stunning – costumes flamboyantly portray royalty, faeries, pixies, doctors and clowns – adding to the modern A Midsummer Night’s Dream feeling.  The lighting and set artfully enhanced the spectacle, with the APO music synchronising beautifully with Eve Gordon’s wonderful choreography.  As the show was coming to a climax, I knew I was privileged to be a third wheel on this very first date.  I doubt many people have seen circus with symphony before – but for sure I would see it again.  A shame this was a one night show only because the obvious love, skill and craft that has gone into this show shines through.  Midnight pleases in a multitude of ways to many people, as the heartfelt and prolonged standing ovation from the capacity crowd testified. This show is hopelessly romantic, thrillingly dangerous, musically wonderful, fantasy escape – it draws the audience in and appeals to the playful naughtiness in all of us.

Midnight as a show is exquisite in its skill, grace and daring.  A true “ballet in the sky” I heard someone say.  Exactly right.

Midnight by APO and the Dust Palace played at the Aotea Centre on November 23rd. 

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Chloe Klein

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