Joffrey Ballet’s Othello 2.0

Joffrey dancers April Daly and Fabrice Calmels in "Othello". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!

It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock

The meat it feeds on.

Othello: Act III, scene iii

Nobody does drama like Shakespeare. The Bard, who had a birthday this week, adapted the story Othello from a 1566 work by Geraldo Cintio and in turn, Lar Lubovitch, who just turned 70, adapted the tale into movement for the dance stage. Add in an original, chilling score by Oscar-winning composer Elliot Goldenthal and the incomparable opening night cast of Joffrey Ballet principals and you have something extraordinary. Last night, Othello: A Dance In Three Acts, the story, the choreography, the music and the cast all came together in a perfect spiral of love, deceit, beauty, betrayal and death. Joffrey performed this ballet in 2009 to great reviews, but the second time around is even better.

The story. Although Lubovitch doesn’t directly follow Cintio or Shakespeare’s versions, the essence of the story is embedded in his movement. Ballet steps get a contemporary twist with a flexed foot, bent arm or parallel leg. Corps scenes take an ominous edge with twitchy, staccato moves. Each principal’s character is revealed in everything they do. The simple turn of a head or placement of a hand relates the intention in a second. The dancers don’t have to act for the story to be told, yet this cast acted their roles to perfection.

The choreography. For me, Lubovitch’s genius lies in the intuitiveness of his partnering. Sweeping, circular lifts with unexpected holds float to the floor and back up again with amazing fluidity. The strength required for most of his partnering is immense, yet the dancers never look taxed.

The music. Dark and dangerous like the plot, this music isn’t your typical ballet score. Loud timpani drums, saxophone, and oboe punctuate the lighter notes of the marriage pas de deux. Iago’s sharp, thrashing solo is all but dictated by the angry horn section’s shouts. The Act II tarantella speeds to its conclusion carrying the storyline along with its pace. A few Psycho-esque moments let us in a fracturing mind that’s ready to kill. The difficult score was beautifully played by the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra led by Scott Speck.

Joffrey dancers Fabrice Calmels and April Daly in "Othello". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The cast. This cast. The originals. Bravo for bringing back the five original principal dancers. Fabrice Calmels (Othello), April Daly (Desdemona), Matthew Adamczyk (Iago), Valerie Robin (Emilia), and Aaron Rogers (Cassio) were completely committed to their characters as if letting them simmer and age for four years made them exquisitely ripe. Calmels was strong, fierce and frightening, cutting an imposing, yet ultimately fragile figure on the stage, his solos impassioned and impressive. Daly made an impression with her first solo (the “Look, he gave me a hankie!” dance) with her bourrees as fast and light as butterflies and beveled extensions to the skies. The two together created something magical with her tiny, delicate, light frame next to his tall, chiseled and dark body. I really can’t say enough about how beautifully these two dance together. Adamczyk personified evil, lurking on the edges spider-like, then creeping in to weave his tragic web with one raised eyebrow revealing the murderous thought in his head.  Robin, a seriously strong dancer, played the battered wife role with aplomb. You have to be that strong to be thrown around like that and make it look easy. Rogers, always delightful, brought his precise technique and ballon to his wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time role. Stacia Holden stood out as the sassy Bianca and special shout outs to Mahallia Ward, Amber Neumann and Michael Smith for their extra reckless abandon in the tarantella.

Cast, composer, conductor and choreographer were all on stage for the ovations and applause, recognition for a job more than well done. This is your last chance to see Lubovitch’s Othello, as it is being retired from Joffrey’s active rep. There are nine performances left. You should get your tickets NOW.

Joffrey Ballet presents Lar Lubovitch’s Othello at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. through Sunday, May 5. Performance times vary. Tickets are $31-$152; call 800.982.2787 or visit

A New Movement 2012

Joffrey dancers Derrick Agnoletti and Anastacia Holden.

This Thursday, November 1, Embarc teams up with The Joffrey Ballet for a night of dancing, food and fun for a great cause. Embarc Chicago takes students from the city’s most forgotten (and dangerous) communities and gives them firsthand, real-world experiences through workshops, seminars and field trips to downtown theater and restaurants. According to Embarc Executive Director, Imran Khan, most of these kids have never been outside a four block radius of where they live. “We’re creating networks with businesses to build a bridge into communities, so that everyone has access to opportunity,” says Khan.

Working with Joffrey came organically, with dancers Anastacia Holden (Business Coordinator) and Derrick Agnoletti (Board Member) already associated with the non-profit. Khan also gives credit to Joffrey artistic director Ashley Wheater. “Ashley believes in the power and purpose of art to change lives and make the world better,” he says. The dancers follow his lead and were eager to give up their time and talent again this year for the benefit. Seven works – including six world premieres – of in-house choreography from Joffrey dancers and staff will be performed on Thursday night. (*Links to the artist’s statements below.) A piece choreographed for last year’s event by dancer Michael Smith ended up being reworked and performed at Dance For Life this past August.

Good news (for them) is the event this year has exceeded expectations and is already SOLD OUT. Khan hopes to expand next year with a bigger venue and possibly inviting other companies to join in the performance.

For more information on their program or to donate, go to

ANM Artist board NB

ANM Artist board MA

ANM Artist board SU

ANM Artist board EE1

ANM Artist board CM

ANM Artist board MS



Joffrey Embarcs on A New Movement

Tonight at the Joffrey Tower, Joffrey Ballet dancers will premiere in-house works benefitting a local charity.  EMBARC, co-founded by Joffrey dancer Anastacia “Stacia” Holden and two teachers at Harper High School in Englewood Imran Khan and January Miller, works to empower underprivileged youth by expanding their education to outside of school activities and cultural experiences.  Through mentoring programs, field trips to shows or participating at a local garden, EMBARC strives to empower with skills to improve the students’ future.  A quote by Antoine de Saint Exupery on the charity’s homepage reflects the core of their mission:  “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders.  Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea”.

Joffrey dancer Derrick Agnoletti (Holden’s bff) is also on the board of directors and will participating in tonight’s event as a performer and choreographer.  “I like the fact that EMBARC is providing a space for choreographers of a world-class company to deliver in-house work all for a good cause,” says Agnoletti.  “I’m grateful for the Joffrey being so passionate about taking part in this.”  Everyone has been hard at work, some since this summer, creating works and the environment for a special, intimate evening of dance.  Agnoletti and Holden will dance a duet by Joffrey Ballet Master Nicolas Blanc and Agnoletti has created a solo for fellow dancer Erica Lynette Edwards set to Strange Fruit by Nina Simone.    “Erica dances with her heart,” he says.  “She exudes a quality that i feel is very rare in dancers today.  She is able to touch an audience with her movement.  She can pull people in and drive them to feel something.”

Go see the Joffrey dancers strut their creative stuff for a great cause.  A reception will follow the performance.  For more information, please visit:

Joffrey Ballet & EMBARC present A New Movement

Nov 3 at 630pm, $100, Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph, 4th fl