In the San Francisco Ballet Program Notes for his "Othello," Lar Lubovitch says it's about innocence. "It's about the fact that the world contrives to destroy innocence. Othello is completely innocent, and innocence will not be tolerated in the world such as we know it." However true that thought is, I don't see it in this or any other "Othello." Othello knows racism, it's here, and that always ends any pretext of innocence.

The ballet opens with projections of menacing shapes of hieroglyphs on a dark scrim. Othello kneels behind it, contorted, thrusting out, up, down, stretching back, and around. The Chorus comes out in sharp staccato movements with a glowing white cross like a dark dream. Desdemona enters through the Chorus and he completely enfolds her. Although there's no explicit racism here, it sets the stage and mood like with the other nobles taking their jabs in Shakespeare's play.

Next, the stage lightens, there are glass towers at the side and an ornate gold ceiling framing a painting that has the look and compositional lines of Delacroix's "Peace Recalling Abundance" ceiling. The court dancers do a lively modern/classical ensemble with elements of the shimmy and Charleston. Desdemona and Cassio do a beautiful pas de deux as the ensemble dances around them, but, Othello even seems troubled here.

In Othello and Desdemona's pas de deux all part as she approaches and he enfolds her. He rapturously lifts her; she fully extends her legs above her head on his shoulders. He rolls her around his torso and her legs go straight out, down to the floor. He lifts her and carries her triumphantly before they tenderly kiss. Lubovitch presents a steady stream of lifts in "Othello." They're all different, passionate, and quite erotic. There are more upside down lifts here than I've ever seen in an evening. They carry the action and are absolutely beautiful.

The Court dancers are like mechanical toys as they present the scarf to Desdemona. She's purity and innocence as Othello spins her on pointe and does grand sweeping lifts.

Iago's solo is pure evil in dance. He's contorted and twisted with sweeping leg kicks and thrusts. Emelia comes to him, but he rips her away. He pushes her to the floor, picks her up, enfolds her in his cape, and throws her back down. Damian Smith's Iago is hatred personified as he clutches at himself, ripping and twisting.

Act 2 has a backdrop of the storm moving across the ocean. A dozen or so ballerinas make rowing motions for the ship. As the sea is projected on the back, they lie down and their legs churn like waves. All hail Othello's ship, and he makes an extremely grand entrance as he stands like a statue of a Greek God on the bow of the ship. Cyril Pierre has a commanding presence everywhere as Othello and his partnering with the exquisitely feminine Lucia Lucarra's Desdemona wrings every bit of passion out of this most dramatic of ballets. They do a delightful pas de deux. She dances with Cassio, but when Iago tries, she shrinks from his touch.

The crowd scenes get more crazed. Othello's jealousy is very visible now in his pas de deux with Iago. His kicks have a disjointed dissonance as Cassio and Desdemona do a lyrical, spritely pas de deux. He lifts her and carries her off, as Iago stands on Othello, with one foot on his thigh, the other on his shoulder. Cassio, Iago, and Bianca do a lewd pas de troix. They lift her and pass her between them. She stuffs the scarf in Cassio's belt. Desdemona glides to Othello. He stands cold, then pushes her away. Bianca pulls the scarf from Cassio's belt, and Iago thrusts his fist in the air in a final grand gesture.

I don't think I have ever seen anyone create such a totally commanding presence and project so much passion without moving a muscle as Cyril Pierre's Othello. If God, himself was on that stage, you would have to look at Othello hunched up, motionless on that throne. To open up Act 3, he just drips emotion. Cassio is brought in with his hands chained, but it's Iago who pushes him around. Desdemona pleads for him, and Othello softens. He lifts her over his head, and dumps her on Iago.

I don't recall ever seeing such dazzling choreography for two men as Lubovitch for Othello and Iago. They do a riveting pas de deux. It's tormented jumps as Othello pushes him off. Iago carries him on his back. A vision of Desdemona and Cassio appears above, then another. Othello's flying in twisted, staccato motion now, and then the third vision where Cassio removes her cloak. Iago falls back on the throne and Othello jumps up and stands on him. Iago pulls out the scarf.

The hieroglyphs appear on the curtain again. Emelia and Desdemona do a touching pas de deux, and pass the cross between them. Desdemona is scared, but resigned. Her fateis here. Othello lifts her straight up and she wraps her legs around him behind her. It's lovingly tender emotion personified as he holds her straight out, lifts her upside down straight over his head, brings her down, slips the scarf around her neck and spins her around killing her.

Lar Lubovitch's "Othello" at The San Francisco Ballet is searing passion and high drama everywhere, and is probably the most theatrical ballet I've seen. These performances are being filmed for broadcast on PBS.



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