There is just something about the ballet; the people watching (it’s a very entertaining crowd), the glass of bubbly before the show starts, the curtain rising, the live orchestra playing, and of course the ballet dancers that make the most difficult of feats seem effortless. Unfortunately, like previous performances I’ve seen at the Joffrey, the most recent performance of “Othello” left me wanting more.
Once again, Joffrey loyalists will roll their eyes when I tell them I was disappointed by the “Othello” performance. This was a completely original ballet based off of a great Shakespearean tragedy and it should have been amazing. The short teaser trailer of the performance on the Joffrey’s website was dramatic and foreboding. On the other hand, as the show began, I knew immediately that I would be left wanting. Let me first say that the dancing was beautiful. The main dancers, Othello played by Fabrice Calmels and Desdemona played by April Daly, were graceful, strong, and fluid, and exactly what you’d expect in the principal dancers. Sadly, great dancers can only do so much with what they are given, and I don’t think they were learnt much in the ways of choreography and music. The music alone was enough to make someone dislike the show. Imagine an entire 2 hour performance with drums and strings building and building and taking forever to reach a crescendo and when it does nothing happens on stage to match the power behind those notes. I equate it to sitting in a scary movie, the music building your expectations to a state of uncontrollable suspense, just waiting for the killer to jump out and attack, only to have the loud crash usually tied to a scary moment to be someone yawning on screen. What a letdown, right?
Also, the choreography was a bit too in-your-face-foreshadowing of the tumultuous and ultimately grim lover’s tale. If you went through high school and college never having read Othello or seeing the movie O, then perhaps the references weren’t so easy to pick up on, but for those of us who know the story it was about as blunt as an axe to the head. At times the duets between Othello and Desdemona just consisted of him lifting her and tossing her around like a gracefully beautiful sack of potatoes, his hands and arms lingering around her neck for an awkwardly long time. Outside of those dancers, the solos of Cassio and Iago, played by Aaron Rogers and Matthew Adamcyzk respectfully, were beautiful, but the jealousy that eventually drives Iago to his dastardly acts was so jagged and rough that it took away from the grace of a great dancer. The character of Iago seethes with jealousy, hatred, and envy but it didn’t translate as powerfully as it could have in the dancing and he ended up looking like a petulant child. All in all, the entire ballet performance was lukewarm for such a heated storyline.
So why go back? Why keep going to the ballet if I’m not going to enjoy it? It’s because I believe in this art and want to be blown away each and every time. Some of the dance companies in Chicago without nearly the endowment the Joffrey has, have left me speechless and simply blown away by their performances. I suppose I just expect the same from a company with such amazing talent as the Joffrey. So I will still go, and still hope for a performance that takes my breath away and leaves me saying ‘O.’
I’ve never been to Havana, Cuba. I never even saw Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. But after seeing the world premiere of River North Dance Chicago and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s performance of “Havana Blue,” Havana is definitely a place that I would hop on a plane and visit in a heartbeat. I am of course basing this decision entirely upon the hope that everyone breaks out into expertly choreographed dances to express emotions and feelings for the city they reside in. Regardless, the premiere of “Havana Blue” was a wonderful and entertaining surprise.
“Havana Blue” was created and collaborated on by choreographer Frank Chaves and jazz trumpeter Orbert Davis. They traveled the streets of Cuba, immersing themselves into the culture, the nightlife, exploring the country’s musical routes. What they came back with was a beautiful ensemble that celebrates the life and exuberance that is Havana.
Entering the theater and the show, I was far from the most knowledgeable about Jazz or Cuban life and culture. Jazz lovers and dance lovers alike flocked to see “Havana Blue” to make it a nearly sold-out performance, a feat I had never seen at the Auditorium Theater. The crowd was energetic and lively, freely swaying back and forth to the music and even jumping up in the aisles to dance. Everyone in the audience, including my friend who accompanied me, knew when Orbert Davis said ‘Dizzy,’ knew to respond with ‘Gillespie.’ But I soon discovered, when the curtain went up and the music started to play, I didn’t need to know a great deal about the show, or jazz history, to appreciate the art forms performing in front of me.
The curtains rose to reveal a brass jazz band, the brass twinkling under the bright stage lights, set against a dark brick wall. It was an impressive sight, and just as visually stunning as the gorgeous dance pairs of River North Dance Chicago that opened the show, the women in flowing blue dresses, the men in sexy-tight pants and open shirts, muy caliente.
“Havana Blue” is comprised of a several sultry and powerful dance segments, each representing a mood that you could find in the life-pulse of the Cuban city. One of the more notable dances was “Solteras" ("Single Ladies"), which many found to be a sad(ish) dance in which one woman was not being coupled up to dance with male partners. But the solo woman did not dance with a dejected rhythm but a “que sera sera” style, retaining a sexiness and comfortableness with dancing alone. Indeed, the women shifted partners, each woman getting a chance to dance solo while the couples danced around them. As the “Solteras” danced, there were smiles on their faces, not longing. I viewed the dance as empowerment for women, not romantic yearning because they weren’t coupled up. The women danced in spite of not having a partner and danced beautifully and strong, not slumped and saddened. (Cue female empowerment music: 'All the solteras, all the solteras,' kidding). Shortly after that performance was another notable dance segment "Lo Masculino" ("The Masculine"). To sum up the performance in one word: steamy. The males of River North Dance Chicago performed shirtless to a powerhouse number filled with masculinity, sweaty six-pack abs, and moves that would have made Baryshnikov proud. It was the perfect blend of power and rhythm that really made "Havana Blue" pop and sizzle.
“Havana Blue” completely embodied the sensual, powerful, and allure of the Havana culture. The artistic direction of Frank Chaves with River North Dance Chicago and the artistic direction of Orbert Davis was a match made in the streets of Havana. These two men created a show that will surely be enjoyed for years to come. Should you see “Havana Blue” coming to a city near you, or to our very own Chicago again, be sure to samba your way to see this show, you will not be decepcionado.