Strangers on a train

A new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream sets the action in a sleeper car

After his recent successes with productions of Madame Butterfly, Wuthering Heights and Swan Lake, Northern Ballet Theatre's artistic director, David Nixon, dreamt up a three-act ballet inspired by A Midsummer Night's Dream - set on a sleeper train from London to Edinburgh.

The ballet was premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse last September; it transfers to Sadler's Wells on Wednesday. NBT tours almost continuously, out of financial necessity - often 200 performances a year. The pressure to produce a constantly evolving repertoire means that the company never runs out of steam in generating new ideas.

Nixon, formerly a dancer himself, has transported the action of Shakespeare's play into the world of a 1940s touring dance company, The dancers, dressed in Dior's New Look, board the train to Edinburgh to give a performance of Romeo and Juliet there. The set-up affords Nixon - co-directing the ballet with Patricia Doyle - the backdrop for conflict and messy love entanglements that need to be resolved.

"The nature of A Midsummer Night's Dream demands some sense of hierarchy," Nixon says. "This fits perfectly within a ballet company. There's the prima ballerina, Hippolyta, and the artistic director, Theseus, who has ultimate authority. As with the Duke in Shakespeare's original play, he has a tough job sorting everyone out."

The sleeper car, a cramped space to dance in, is the perfect location for the dream to take place. "We needed a place where everybody would go to sleep near one another, so that the dream is much more of a collective thought," Nixon says.

Since the second-act dream takes place in the mind, the set designer, Duncan Hayler, places the action behind a spectacular blue eye - in contrast to the monochrome sets of the first and third acts - while the ballet's score uses the music of Mendelssohn and Brahms, arranged by John Longstaff.

Nixon's career began at the National Ballet of Canada, where he quickly became the principal dancer - as Oberon in Ashton's Dream and Prince Siegfried in Erik Bruhn's staging of Swan Lake. In 1985 he joined the Deutsche Oper Ballet in Berlin. In 1994, BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio, offered him his first role as artistic director; there, he added 16 world premieres and 15 company premieres to the repertoire, including his productions of The Nutcracker and Dracula, before joining Northern Ballet Theatre in August 2001.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is performed by 25 dancers. "There are no tutus," Nixon says, "although the choreography stems from a classical vocabulary. But I mix it with some creative moves."

'A Midsummer Night's Dream', Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0870 737 7737; www.sadlers-wells.com) Wednesday to 27 March

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