As always, you ask very important questions about the ballet, Basheva. Questions, I’m sure that can be discussed as endlessly as they discuss the Shakespeare – with as many answers as there are performances and performers’ interpretations to help answer them. One only has to look at the different comments posted about it in its reviews here and in San Francisco.
I can only provide my 2 cents worth... My own take is that the ballet “Othello” only utilizes the play “Othello” as a starting place. I think its interest in the gender of violence is not only its theme but its form. Its interest isn’t so much in that it makes a statement as it is
a statement. (If you like critical phraseology, “Othello”’s constative dimension is contingent upon its performative dimension ... ok back to reality...)
“Othello,” I think, seeks to realize a theater that subjects us to a kind of violence in order to make us see better and on more levels.
I was taught that theatrical interpretations of the Shakespeare often emphasize the universal nature of evil, often by drawing attention to how quickly Othello is duped by Iago, as if Othello already half believed in Desdemona’s infidelities … as if the evil was always latent inside Othello (and by extension us, too, if we identify with him) for Iago to bring out.
Other interpretations play outwards towards the audience. Iago in these productions isn’t given over to a special kind of evil; rather, his is the agency of power in the transitional world of the tragedy, situated midway between the medieval world of certainties and the Elizabethan or modern world of realpolitik
. In this world, dreamers and innocents will and must be destroyed (what is it they say about the fate of children, fools, and madmen?). In these sort of stagings, “Othello” says, this is the real world and Iago is us.
Perhaps what I’m getting at (if I’m getting at anything
), is that the ballet catches us up in it. Its pervasive web imagery isn’t any less deliberate than its design’s emphasis on crystal fissures and cracks. Or even its insistence upon transparent visual elements where other productions might have picked opaque materials.
I think the ballet asks us not only to “see” it, but to “see through” it … to see its theatricality – a theater of cruelty where on every level we are engaged in its workings. We derive a certain pleasure (or not) from “Othello” but that shouldn’t mean that we don’t see its many messages, one of which is the way in which our pleasure is contingent upon Othello’s and Desdemona’s torments … in a sense repeating the way that Iago’s mind works as well, an act of subversion, really. To see, to understand the quality of evil Iago does to Othello in the Act III Temptation scene is also to understand how merely being placed at a certain point on the axes of gender and power is an act of violence. I think the ballet wants to remind us that we, too, are placed at a certain point and in a certain relationship to it, to the theater, and to each other.
Perhaps, its silly of me, but I caught myself wondering whether ole’ Will would have approved or not approved of Lubovitch’s “Othello.” I’m not sure I decided yes or no. Votes, CD friends?