The Australian Ballet

Bottom's Dream: A rustic turned dancing donkey

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The Dream (Ashton) 2015
Photo Lisa Tomasseti

How the 'unremarkable' character of Bottom became a comedic star in the scene-stealing role.

Compared to the commanding Oberon or the ethereal Titania, the character of Bottom seems rather unassuming. Yet this rustic turned dancing donkey has one of the most interesting stories of all.

Bottom is minding his own business with his fellow rustics (a band of country citizens), when the mischievous sprite, Puck, appears. Helping Oberon seek revenge on Titania, he has fetched a magic flower which will make someone fall in love with the first living creature they see. Escalating the trick, Puck transforms Bottom into a donkey before the sleeping Titania wakes and sees him.

The rustics flee as Bottom, unrecognisable with his hooves and enormous donkey head gallops towards them. Unphased, Bottom performs intricate échappés and hops en pointe, culminating in an effortless piqué en tournant en dehors, (better known as a ‘double lame duck’). Worn out from his newfound strength, he leans against a tree to scratch his back.

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Christopher Rodgers-Wilson and Lana Jones, The Dream (Ashton) 2015
Photo Daniel Boud

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Madeline Eastoe and Bottom, The Dream (Ashton) 2015
Photo Daniel Boud

Titania wakes and falls madly in love with Bottom. The pair perform an affectionate pas de deux where the contrast between the graceful, lithe Titania and the towering, clumsy Bottom creates a comical spectacle. Besotted with affection, Titania commands the fairies to shower Bottom with gifts. Bottom’s bliss is short-lived, when Puck is commanded to restore peace to the forest having caused havoc in the lives of a group of mortals.

As a magical fog envelops the forest, the spell is broken and Bottom is restored to his rustic form. Confused and alone, he paces the forest, mimicking the movements his donkey form once allowed, left with only phantom sensations and dream-like memories of his time as a donkey.

Tackling the role of Bottom for the upcoming seasons is Luke Marchant, who made his debut in the 2015 season of The Dream. He shares his perspective on what it’s like dancing en pointe, navigating the donkey head, and his dream en pointe role.

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Luke Marchant, The Dream 2015
Photo Kate Longley

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Luke Marchant and Cameron Hunter rehearsing The Dream (Ashton) 2015
Photo Lynette Wills

“I will get Peter Quince to write a ballet of this dream. It shall be called Bottom’s Dream.” — A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream, Act IV
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Luke Marchant, The Dream (Ashton) 2015
Photo Kate Longley

What pointe shoes do you wear?

I wear a Sonata 7E, the same style as Amy Harris!

Any unique rituals for breaking them in?

I stand on the vamp of the shoe to flatten it and give my toes more room. After that I just put them on and go. There’s so much sewing involved, so the less I have to do to the shoes, the better.

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Madeleine Eastoe with Bottom, The Dream (Ashton) 2015
Photo Lisa Tomasetti

What’s it like coming back to the role?

I always like coming back to a role because I usually remember the choreography, even if it’s been years. There’s a comfortability in that. I’ve found that same feeling with this role, but I totally forgot about how painful it is to be en pointe. My toes are completely bruised at the moment, and the blisters are no fun at all. I just try to remember that beauty is pain!

How long do you have to prepare for the role? What do you find the most challenging?

We started learning the choreography about a month before the shows, but we’ve been doing some basic pointe work before that. The pointe work is hard, but the most challenging part of the role is doing it whilst wearing a massive donkey head.

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The Dream, (Ashton) 2015
Photo Daniel Boud

Speaking of, how do you navigate the humongous donkey head?

It’s so hard. You have two little holes that you can see through, which are the donkey's nostrils. Last time I did a lot of proprioception work with my eyes closed, just to make sure I stayed upright. I remember being scared I’d fall into the orchestra pit because I couldn’t see where I was going. I might give prayer a go this time around.

Is it difficult to get your character across from underneath the horse head?

Since we can’t emote with our face, we have to really make our body tell the story. There’s lots of characteristics you can play with to convey a sense of ‘donkey’ through your upper body, and it helps that we have mittens that look like hoofs. The Dream is a very team-like ballet. I think it relies on every character doing an impeccable job of storytelling. Within context, the audience should understand what’s going on, even with the big head on.

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Amy Harris, Swan Lake (Murphy) 2013
Photo Lynette Wills

If you could pick any other en pointe role in the ballet repertoire to perform, what would it be?

None, pointe is too hard! If I had to pick though, I’d choose the Baroness from Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake. His version is iconic, and the Baroness is so commanding and in charge, both choreographically and stylistically. There’s lots of parts danced on a contracted foot, which is the same for Bottom, so I think I’d be good.

You can see Luke en pointe as Bottom in the The Dream

The Dream / Marguerite and Armand