Monday, January 30, 2012

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare: Othello (San Francisco Ballet, 2002)

The Ballet: Othello.
Directed by: Lar Lubovitch.  San Francisco Ballet, Music by Elliot Goldenthal.

Genre & Setting: This is a pretty major disclaimer: I don't get ballet.  I admire the athleticism and disciplined body movement involved, certainly, but I could get that plus a compelling narrative at a basketball game.  Putting stylized dance in the service of storytelling -- well, I can't just say it's a bad idea, because a huge variety of cultures have been doing it since time immemorial.  But the stock scoff about writing about music is that it's like "dancing about architecture," the implication being that you can't really dance effectively about architecture.  And if you can't dance about architecture, how can you dance about intrigue and deceit within the Venetian military, know what I'm sayin'?

So, the genre is: ballet.  And the setting is a spartan stage but with plenty of nifty lighting effects and use of projected images against the background.  Lots of flowy costumes and the like create an atmosphere that must be fairly enchanting when viewed in person.

The Gist, which will obviously involve spoilers: There is a man recognizable as Othello and a woman recognizable as Desdemona and a slick little bastard recognizable as Iago, plus another guy and a couple more people I didn't recognize.  I'm not especially familiar with Othello.  So what happens is, the men and the women dance with each other and with a large chorus in various configurations and at various emotional pitches for about an hour and a half.  We can tell that a scarf, or maybe a handkerchief, is a significant item; it changes hands several times.  Then, just as the clock is about to run out, Othello sudden kills Desdemona, then kills himself.  Curtain.

The Adaptation: I do not doubt that the San Francisco Ballet danced with consummate skill and grace, although I wouldn't necessarily notice if they didn't.  The musical score was effective and very dramatic, blending elements of minimalism and cinematic romanticism and occasional volleys of arresting percussion.  Yet one missed the Shakespearean language.

Clocks In At: An hour and a half.

Pros: The dancin'.

Cons: If you're looking for actual Shakespearean content, all you are going to find here is a crude miming of key plot points from the play.

Prognosis: If you like ballet, you might well enjoy Lar Lubovitch's Othello!


Michael5000 said...

What, no comments about ballet? I'm shocked, really I am!

UnwiseOwl said...

I...I am commenting...Yep, I am.
I just don't get ballet, I'm sorry, and your review does nothing to make me want to rectify that not insignificant gap of erudtion.
Who was you favourite dancy person, and was Iago protrayed sympathetically or as an out-and-out villain?

Michael5000 said...

My favorite dancy person was Desdemona, who conveyed the concept of "Gosh I like Othello an awful lot" very charmingly, the concept of "I am hurt and confused by this unexpected change in our relationship" kind of movingly, and "I am dead now" with appropriate pathos. Her name is Yuan Yuan Tan, but she isn't all about the money. [rimshot]

Iago was protrayed as a pretty much thoroughly evil, if graceful, villain.

Thanks for coming up with some questions.

UnwiseOwl said...

Ah, the graceful villain type rather than the bulmbling bulbous nosed type. The is really only the two options in opera, in my limited experience.
The rich fop can be either the one of the other.

Michael5000 said...

'Tweren't opera. Ballet.

UnwiseOwl said...

Even more so, then. Silly autopilot.