Othello Review – Joffrey Ballet’s Midwest Premiere is a Gift to Chicago

Entertaining the bride and groom

Curious to learn how a theme using words to convey its message –in a book and as a play-can carry its message via dance and movement, my companion and I went to see Othello in its Midwest premiere by the Joffrey Ballet at the Auditorium TheatreLar Lubovitch, we learned, can convey the deep emotions and passions,
associated with this play, by evoking these deep feelings and emotions through the medium of dance.  We were mesmerized and moved watching the full-length, three-act dance, which opened Joffrey Ballet’s 2009-2010 season.

About to present the handkerchief

Joffrey Ballet Artistic Director, Ashley C. Wheater, (who danced in the original production with the San Francisco company) stated, “We are expanding the company’s capacity this season by presenting the powerful and emotional depth of contemporary dance with Lar Lubovitch’s stunning full length ballet, Othello.” He goes on to say,” With the Midwest Premiere of a work that has been presented on the East and West coasts, The Joffrey looks forward to giving Chicago the opportunity to be swept along in this perfect blend of classical and contemporary dance; through a story that we can all relate to on so many different levels.”  One can only wonder what took so long.

Tarentella,lead by Bianca (Allison Walsh) where the handkerchief drops

Othello was commissioned by the American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet and first performed in New York City in 1997 by American Ballet Theatre and in 1998 by the San Francisco BalletLar Lubovitch is one of America’s most versatile, popular and highly acclaimed choreographers.  He was born in Chicago, grew up on Maxwell Street and later moved to Roger’s Park.  He attended the University of Iowa and Juilliard School in New York.  Watching the amazing blend of movement in this production, you can experience the influence of those with whom he studied including Antony Tudor, Jose Limon, Anna Sokolow and Martha Graham.

Othello(Fabrice Calmels)

Lubovitch is one of the most prolific choreographers on the modern scene, creating more than 100 dances for his New York-based company, which has performed in all 50 states and more than 30 countries. He has choreographed for Broadway ("Into the Woods" and the revival of "The King and I," among others), created dances for Olympic ice skaters and ice dancers including Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill, founded the Chicago Dancing Company festival of dance in 2007 and had his work performed by numerous companies besides his own, including the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey's American Dance Theater, and numerous others.

Othello(Fabrice Calmels) and Desdemona (April Daly)

The story of Othello was adapted from a story originated by Goraldo Cintio in the Hecatommithi (Hindred Tales) published in Venice in 1566 and this was adapted by Shakespeare for his play, Othello the Moor of Venice, around 1602.  Othello, the ballet, relates to the legend of the Moor, Othello, using the passage of images in movement, which capture the essence of the characters and their story, through dance.

Iago (Matthew Adamczyk) picks up the handkerchief

This approach was even more effective because it was enhanced and intensified by the music especially written for this work by Academy Award winner Elliot Goldenthal and the newly recreated projections by Wendall K. Harrington using still photographs taken in Venice.  Reformatted for this Midwest Premiere, these projections are considered elaborate, digital, works of art that lend power and realism to the sets.  The sets by George Tsypin and costumes by Ann Hould-Ward and staging by Lar Lebovitch, himself, required only one more element for perfection-the dancers.  And the dancing was amazing.

The live orchestral accompaniment by the Chicago Sinfonietta (the nations most diverse orchestra) with Conductor Scott Speck is a special treat at all Joffrey Ballet performances, but its role seemed especially importantin this performance, as the music for Othello ranged widely from lyrical to jazz to percussive always intensifying the dance experience.

Desdemona (April Daly) and Emilia (Valerie Robin)

My companion commented to me that she was moved by symbolic elements that enhanced the performance for her including the opening scene reminiscent of Carvagio’s “Dante’s Inferno”, possibly some fairy tales in the dances for the bride and groom, and dance the was reminiscent of “The Rite of Spring”.  I was impressed by the way in which Iago’s whisper lies could be conveyed without words.

With a less skilled company, this production could not have worked so well.  Given the contribution of live orchestra, projected pictures, fabulous costumes and sets and 42 perfectly trained dancers, the pieces fell into place perfectly.  Powerful, haunting, surreal, and complex, the performance was outstanding.  It took long enough for Chicago to receive this treat-go see it and find out how a play becomes a dance.

Othello(Fabrice Calmels) and Desdemona (April Daly)

Othello continues through Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago.  For show times and tickets, ranging from $25-$145, visit the Joffrey Ballet box office, 10 E. Randolph St., Chicago, or call (800) 982-2787 or go to www.ticketmaster.com. or the  Chicago Splash Magazine calendar.

Watch for Robert Joffrey's "The Nutcracker" December 11-27, 2009.

Photos: Herbert Migdoll

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