The San Francisco Ballet's "Othello" is a spectacular production, rich in symbolism and loaded with drama. Choreographer Lar Lubovitch mixes classical ballet with a lot of Eastern influenced ritualistic modern dance. We open with a scrim with pagan symbols on it. Othello is visible in a haze behind it. There are mirrored glass panels that move from side to side and break up the space. He is reflected in one of these as he rises up to the musical crescendo. The haze clears and we move into the ballroom for the wedding. The ceiling is like Eugene Delacroix's "Gallery of Apollo" with an ornate gold frame enclosing the sweeping mural. The wall in the background is painted with figures. Desdemona dances with Cassio, and they are joined by several other couples. Even here Othello is mildly, but obviously disturbed, and the seed of jealousy is planted. He then dances with her in a beautifully sensuous pas de deux. Yuan Yuan Tan is like liquid as she reacts to Yuri Possokhov's Othello. She's almost Zen like in her reactions. She seems to have no mind of her own as she just follows his lead. There are a lot of upside down lifts and circles. He holds her and spins her around, It's some of the smoothest and most beautiful dancing I've ever seen, and has a remarkable freedom of movement. The corps de ballet enters from the rear in the ritualistic wedding scene. They have a big glowing cross, with the set turning into the interior of a cathedral. It's a somber wedding as all goes dark, except the cross, then it disappears. Nothing is smooth with Damian Smith's Iago. He's dressed in black with red and silver trim. His presence is sneering, his movements are rough and jerky. He's similar to a character from "The Cage," but more purely evil. The first act ends with a great centrally lit effect of dual couples, Othello and Desdemona in love in the rear, against Iago and Emilia in hate in the foreground.

The second act opens against a dark stormy sky. As dark clouds sweep across the back, dancers in gray flimsy dresses become almost like waves on the sea against it. Cassio and Desdemona dance as the ship pulls into port. Othello and Iago make their grand entrance and do a pas de cinque, with Othello and Desdemona, Iago and Emilia, and Cassio. The background turns blood red, with a full moon and dark clouds in a richly textured Middle- Eastern flavored ensemble. All scatter as Iago cuts an evil figure in his pas de deux with Emilia, to predominantly bassoons, oboes, and a contrabass clarinet. Iago gets Desdemona's handkerchief, with help from Bianca and plants it on Cassio. Othello pushes Desdemona away when she doesn't have the handkerchief. It's a dark and brooding but fluid ensemble as the corps becomes waves. Black clouds once again roll across the back, and Othello sees Bianca take the handkerchief from Cassio.

Othello sits on a glass throne to open Act 3, but the glass is cracked.Cassio dances in supplication, while Iago struts. Desdemona pleads for Casio. Othello twists convulsively, and Iago whispers more poison to him. A steaming platform appears beside the throne, as Desdemona and Cassio appear on it, as in a dream. This is a very stunning effect, and is repeated three or four times, to drive home the jealousy of Othello.

The background becomes rays of light for the bedroom scene. Emilia gives Desdemona a cross. They do a delicately sensitive pas de deux. Othello swings the nurse around and casts her out. He lifts Desdemona in a sensuously ecstatic dance. He lifts her, spins her around, holds her high in upside down lifts, and tightly embraces her as he draws his knife. It's not death, but the ritualistic culmination of his jealously and her devotion as we're swept to the devastating climax. This becomes almost like Siegfried and Brunnhilde as the world is too harsh of a place to hold their love, and they have to move to another level. The deception is revealed, and their love triumphs in death.

Scott Speck leads the orchestra in this riveting production of "Othello" at The San Francisco Ballet.

Berenson Gallery of Fine Art

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