A HAUNTING AND TIMELESS TALE
Theatre review of Alberta Ballet's Othello October 18-20, 2012 at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary, AB and November 2 - 3, 2012 at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton, AB
Alberta Ballet's Othello was an exotic, creative and passionate re-telling of Shakespeare's tragedy
During the past few weeks, Alberta Ballet presented its stunning interpretation of Shakespeare’s Othello in Calgary and Edmonton. To me, Othello is one of the more relevant plays that Shakespeare wrote, simply because it’s a story that audiences can still relate to. Domestic abuse and violence is still ever present and Othello really hits the nail on the head when it comes to depicting the common situations, emotions and thoughts that are involved with this issue. Therefore, I enjoyed Alberta Ballet’s production of Othello, not only for its magnificent dancing, choreography and visual presentation, but also for the haunting messages that it evoked.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this production was the North African theme that prevailed throughout. Having previously travelled to North Africa during my cruise ship dancing days, I immediately recognized the authentic North African designs in Sandra Woodall’s scenic design, brilliantly partnered with Pierre Lavoie’s wonderful lighting. The visual design of the show was genius; both my friend and myself gasped at the gorgeous bedroom scene near the end of the show – a dramatic presentation of the foreshadowing murder scene, highlighted by an eerie array of candles. Kirk Peterson’s choreography paired quite effectively with Jerry Goldsmith’s North African inspired score, adding to the authenticity of the presentation.
Othello is one of the harder Shakespearean plays to translate to ballet – while everyone already knows the beloved tale of Romeo and Juliet, Othello is a less familiar story to some. In addition, the conversations between characters in Othello are difficult to depict through dance, as the intricacies and sophistication of the dialogue and plot are quite challenging. Given this feat, Peterson has done an exceptional job choreographing and staging this work, allowing his dancers to really develop into larger than life characters through movement. Every character had a distinct style of movement that defined them, often supported by repeated choreographic phrases.
The hands-down star of the show on the night that I attended the performance was the great Kelley McKinlay, who brilliantly portrayed the role of the evil villain, Iago. McKinlay is truly the epitome of a principal dancer – yes, he possesses fabulous technique, but he is also a versatile actor. I think most audiences have become accustomed to seeing McKinlay in “Prince Charming” type roles such as the Prince in Cinderella, the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Prince, Romeo, and Elton John (another type of prince, but a prince nonetheless). What a treat it was then to see McKinlay portray such a dark, twisted, conniving character as Iago.
Right from the start of the show, McKinlay commanded the attention of the audience, with his eerie-like body mannerisms set to the mysterious musical score. As I mentioned, McKinlay’s technique continues to impress, especially his strong turning ability, both in the air and on the ground. However, I would like to see greater flexibility, especially in the extensions of his leaps.
As Othello, Elier Bourzac definitely had the whole jealous husband thing down pat. Paired with his excellent dance ability, he did his job well. Othello is a really difficult role, in the sense that no one in the audience ever sympathizes with him – yet he’s not a fun, interesting villain like Iago…Othello is just kind of like the character of Nate Archibald in Gossip Girl – he often gets taken advantage of and then gets really mad when he realizes what has happened. In addition, I was not a fan of Othello’s costuming in this production – from where I was sitting, Bourzac’s flesh coloured tights made it look like he wasn’t wearing tights at all, which could have made his costumes appear to be quite scandalous to audience members sitting in the balconies of the Jubilee Auditorium.
Mariko Kondo was absolutely stunning in the role of Desdemona. Her exquisite lines, pointe work, attention to detail and characterization of Desdemona were breathtaking. She evoked passion and sincerity in her role, making it believable as to why a woman would stay so committed to a man who doesn’t trust her, and who also frequently becomes enraged.
Colby Parsons was quite charming and dashing in the role of Cassio. I would also like to mention Hayna Gutierrez’s wonderful performance as Emilia, Iago’s wife. Gutierrez is really the whole package when it comes to being a dancer. While she is an amazing technician, she is also capable of portraying a wide range of characters, such as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cinderella. She really is a wonderful actress who can adapt her body movement and characterization to any role at the drop of a hat. Gutierrez’s stage presence also has a special quality that really stands out.
As always, the Alberta Ballet company dancers displayed world-class work. I especially enjoyed the fun themes that Peterson provided the ensemble dancers with. The male dancers were depicted as exotic desert men, while the female dancers had a fun Medusa-like theme to play with. This added a nice touch to the ballet.
While this production of Othello made excellent use of a medley of Goldsmith’s scores, I was not a fan of the overture or entr’acte. Sitting in a dark theatre and listening to music played by a live orchestra prior to the start of an act can be quite lovely – however, in this instance, there was no live orchestra. The show was performed to a recording (with less than stellar sound quality – it sounded like the recordings were produced decades ago). Therefore, sitting and listening to the overture and entr’acte before the first and second acts really re-enforced the fact that we were listening to an old recording, and it also seemed unnecessary and a little annoying.
Overall, Alberta Ballet’s production of Othello was a exquisite. Alberta Ballet effectively translated one of Shakespeare’s most treasured works into a ballet that flowed fluently, showcased a company of strong dancers who brilliantly depicted the characters, and was set against a stunning backdrop of scenic and lighting designs. The final moments of the ballet also leaves quite a haunting image that continues to resonate in my mind. Moreover, the compelling theme of domestic violence is one that still prevails in today’s society and reminds us that this is an issue that we need to continue to fight. Perhaps that is why Othello remains a timeless tale.
If you or someone you know is affected by domestic abuse or violence, please visit www.distresscentre.com or phone (403) 266-4357.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5