I’ll go with…Ominously Sumptuous

21 Jan

It’s a slow January.  I don’t know what the deal is but my brain has gone all Eeyore (cue the trombone…wah-waaaaah).  Apologies if this ends up being a little lackluster.  I hate January.

Anyway, I had a chance to watch the DVD of the San Francisco’s production of Lar Lubovitch’s Othello the other day.  Apparently it’s a heavily requested item from the library because it took quite a bit of time to get it.  After a fantashtick review by Hilary with one L of the Joffrey’s production (that lucky ducky got to see it live), I’ve been excited to see it, albeit apprehensive because Shakespeare is not really my cup of tea.  I mean I get that his writing is genius and all, but consider what you’re reading here…I’m obviously no Shakespeare so to read his works is like reading a foreign language.  It’s difficult for me to understand and relate to.  Count me in as one of the (apparently?) few people who fail to see the romance in Romeo and Juliet.

Meanwhile, I have to say I really enjoyed Othello and didn’t find it difficult to follow at all.  As Hilary with one L mentioned, the ballet trims the story down to mostly the essentials (although I found the Act II tarantella to be quite long) and it goes down smoothly like a chocolate shake.  And like she also said, the modern aspects of the choreography really sold it…for me, the partnering was incredible.  Unusual partnering is probably what I love to see the most in modern dances as a whole and allowing for that in ballet just brings a whole new dimension to it.  It wasn’t just the partnering between Othello and Desdemona or Iago either, but there was intricate choreography amongst the corps dancers as well.  But as far as pas de deux are concerned, I absolutely loved Othello and Dedemona’s first pas de deux.  It’s pure poetry…after I finished watching the whole thing I had to watch just that pas de deux a good eight or ten more times.  In the DVD, the title character is danced by Desmond Richardson, with his Desdemona being the willowy and lithe Tan Yuan Yuan.  I believe it was during her variation where Othello gives her the handkerchief that she steps backwards into an arabesque and you can hear the angels singing “Hallelujah!”

I don’t know if it’s because I’m obsessed with variety or if it’s merely an open mind that seeks to find something interesting in all dance, but for whatever reason the juxtaposition of classical and modern in several different aspects of the ballet really maintained my interest throughout.  The set itself incorporated some period style backdrops, but then actual set elements like Othello’s throne or Desdemona’s bed are these stark, crystalline structures which part of me was trying to figure out while the other part thought “weird, but cool!”  The transparency effect gave it a sort of took away my sense of time and space.  I likened the sensation to something one might see in a dream or some kind of crazy vision you might see if you were time travelling through a wormhole.  Or something like in that one scene of the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where they take that boat into that psychedelic tunnel (a scene that still freaks the crap out of me).  Fortunately, Othello doesn’t have Gene Wilder singing some creepy song or epileptic strobe lights.

There is Iago though and he’s a serious creep.  I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of a dancer before, but Parrish Maynard’s performance as Iago was so sinister and insane that I didn’t really get a good night’s sleep.  Given the jarring score and ominous melodies, I almost felt like the ballet was grounded more in Iago’s perspective.  Rather than telling Othello’s story, the music seemed to favor Iago’s madness, jealousy, manipulation and eventual betrayal.  It seems like Iago is always lurking on stage and it’s almost as if the music accordingly never lets the audience really settle their nerves.  He’s a fascinating and intense character and I can only imagine that it would take some serious acting chops to pull that psycho-stalker vibe off.  Scarred for life, yes, but I was quite impressed with Maynard’s acting.

Desmond Richardson was also amazing, especially when Iago’s influence on him really starts to poison his mind and he succumbs to believing that Desdemona betrayed him.  Lubovitch gives you that gorgeous pas de deux in the first act but when Othello gets mad the choreography gets really volatile and it’s both unsettling and breathtaking.  Richardson displays great modern and ballet technique, which makes sense because I think I read that he was a graduate of the Ailey school (and Ailey men can dance…amplitudinous jumps and Ailey boys are famous for their “tilts.”  In fact, in order to audition for Ailey, the men have to submit a photo of themselves performing a tilt!).  He was greatly helped though, by the fact that Tan Yuan Yuan displayed an amazing range of emotion from her desperate pleadings of innocence to Othello to her resoluteness in the end when she has resigned herself to death.  They were stunning together and I’m feeling on the verge of desperate to see either of them live someday.

At any rate, great DVD…highly recommended and definitely gritty.  Apparently it aired on PBS many years ago and was even nominated for an Emmy.  This is the kind of exposure American ballet companies (and dance in general) could really use more of today.  Anyway, I almost hate to post this clip because this is the penultimate scene and kind of spoils it in a way…but assuming you’re slightly more well read than I am (which is highly likely) you probably already knew that Desdemona dies at Othello’s hands.

You really should buy or rent the DVD for that first pas de deux though…I would.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: