There is something indescribable about experiencing Shakespeare without language. Ballet dancers are expected to accomplish the difficult task of conveying a story using dance as a medium, sans words, and to achieve that task using one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays is no easy feat. Performed at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary on October 18-20, and in Edmonton on November 2-3, the Alberta Ballet’s production of Othello managed to successfully intertwine the passion behind the lines of Shakespeare with the aesthetically pleasing choreography of Kirk Peterson, who has been nominated for the prestigious Benois de la Danse.
As a student, I purchased a third row ticket for $20, allowing me to experience the ballet closer than I ever had before. Having studied Othello in the eleventh grade, and having danced Ballet from the age of five, I was extremely excited to see the two unite. The tragedy presents a plethora of passionate emotions – love, trust, prejudice, and most eminently, jealousy. The story of Othello, an African Moor, and his doomed marriage to the innocent Desdemona, is driven by the manipulations of Iago, perhaps one of the most villainous characters in literary history. The exact motives for Iago’s duplicity are ambiguous in the play, rendering his character remarkably intriguing, and the ballet also thrives on Iago’s various façades.
From the beginning of the ballet, the presence of Iago, played by Kelley McKinlay, is firmly established. Othello opens with a powerful solo by McKinlay, who manages to express the character’s cunning through his shifting agility, and his malevolence through powerful expressions directed towards the audience. Desdemona, played by Mariko Kondo, is then introduced, and instantly Kondo’s impeccable musicality and elegant fluidity lend a captivating and delicate quality to her character. Upon the introduction of Othello, played by Elier Bourzac, it is clear that the two are subjected to a passionate, but idealized, type of love. Although Othello is visibly in a significant position of power, Bourzac subtly appears to be uncertain from the time his character is introduced, a quality wrought by Iago to unlock Othello’s mind.
Scheming incessantly, Iago stops at nothing, including tarnishing the savoir-faire of nobleman Cassio, to achieve his goal of turning Othello against Desdemona. Planting completely false seeds of jealousy into Othello’s ear, suggesting that Desdemona and Cassio are engaging in an affair, McKinlay so excellently executes Iago’s deceitfulness that one can understand why Othello trusts Iago’s judgment over that of his own wife. Kondo conveys the compassion of Desdemona’s character exceptionally well, which poses a poignant juxtaposition to the unwilling rage of Bourzac’s Othello.
A brilliant artistic choice was the incorporation of a chorus of ballet dancers, dressed in green, symbolizing the jealousy, and eventual fall, of Othello. The chorus encapsulated Iago’s famed ironic warning: “O! beware, my lord, of jealousy! / It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock / The meat it feeds on.” Some synchronicity issues were present, yet the chorus’ purpose was artistically successful. The chorus surrounded Othello whenever he had been affected by Iago’s lies, thereby suggesting Othello’s loss of control and the dangerously feeble nature of his marriage.
Throughout the ballet, I was particularly struck by how strongly the music, composed by Academy-award winning Jerry Goldsmith, resonated with the themes of Shakespeare’s play. Powerful, sweeping, and in some cases dominating, the music continuously paralleled the emotions conveyed by the characters. Furthermore, the richly decorated costumes were stunning, and, in most cases, exemplary of the characters on which they were adorned. The only objection I had was that Desdemona’s costume, a plain pink dress, was in no way representative of her noblewoman character. It appeared as though the dress was intended to highlight Desdemona’s innocence, although this goal could have been accomplished with a more striking costume. The exotic setting was conclusively established, significantly enhancing the atmosphere of the performance.
Overall, the Alberta Ballet’s production of Othello was exceptionally creative, appropriately dramatic, and distinctly profound. For all those reasons, I give Othello 4.5 stars out of 5. I would highly recommend that everyone experience dance with the Alberta Ballet. For more information about the Alberta Ballet’s 2012/2013 season, visit here.