Othello – Alberta Ballet

On Friday evening I had the privilege to see Alberta Ballet’s production of Othello. Now, I will state up front that while I really enjoy watching ballet, I have absolutely no technical knowledge. This post is less a review and more a discussion of how the play translates to the wordless medium of dance. And also a chance to talk about how gorgeous the whole production was.

As in the play, the ballet really pivots on Iago and the dancer in the role did not disappoint. I was a little concerned as Iago’s primary tool in his quest to bring down Othello is his words and I wasn’t sure how that would come across in dance. But the ballet did it brilliantly, giving Iago such sinuous movements, a costume that dripped villainy without being over the top, and the stage presence of Iago himself was truly brilliant. His opening solo was fascinating to watch and whether he was dancing or malevolently lurking at the edges of the stage his performance was riveting.


With my focus predominantly on Iago, I’ll simply say that Desdemona, Othello, and Emilia were all as they should be with lovely performances. In terms of performance, the highlights for me were, as mentioned above, anything that involved Iago and the great swordfight between Cassio and Roderigo. Ballet and swordfighting is always a good time.

Othello and Desdemona

Now on to the pretty. The costumes for production were amazing, with my particular favourites being Emilia’s great dress which reflects her marriage to Iago and yet also implies her innocence in all his plotting and Desdemona’s night gown (and that gorgeous robe). The stage design was beautiful, clearly evoking northern Africa. But the real show-stopper was the bedroom set for the final scenes. With a rich red curtain as the dominant backdrop that pooled on the floor beneath that fateful bed and beautiful lanterns hanging in the foreground, there couldn’t be a more fitting design for a death scene.

Iago on the bedroom set.

Impressively reflecting the narrative of the original text, Alberta Ballet’s production of Othello was a thoroughly enjoyable evening (even with the tragic ending).

The Tempest – Freewill Shakespeare Festival

As promised a couple weeks ago, here is the second of my reviews from the Freewill Shakespeare Festival in Hawrelak Park. Along with Julius Caesar, the festival is also doing a production of The Tempest, which was the first play I read for the blog (you can refresh your memory here).

As I’d guessed in my review for Julius Caesar, the blue stage works tremendously well for the play and adds that slightly strange atmosphere that the island requires. Thanks also go to mother nature who rained for the entire play and provided some nice ambiance (yay for the tent and rubber boots!). The rotating section of the stage is used very effectively throughout and the small piece of ship was a great (and impressive) touch.

The costumes were beautiful and visually interesting. Prospero’s cape was just the right level of unusual you’d expect of a sorcerer. Miranda’s costume was simple, functional, and reflected her innocent character. All of the shipwrecked royals were mild biker gang garb (leather jackets, dark jeans, big black boots) and I was particularly fond of Ferdinand’s jacket (I like clothes that lace up, what can I say).  Trinculo and Stefano were dressed just as you’d expect of fools. Caliban’s costume made him look a bit sea-monster-ish but it worked really well. But the most impressive costume was Ariel’s which was visually interesting, reflective of her unearthlyness, and just gorgeous. I particularly loved the feather mohawk on her head piece.

On to the production itself. The cast did an excellent job of making a play that can seem extremely weird on the page (or even in some film productions) thoroughly enchanting. They even added additonal moments of much-need humour even when Trinculo and Stefano aren’t around (special shout out to Mat Simpson as Ferdinand who really brought some subtle comedy to many of his scenes). John Wright is brilliant as Prospero and made a character who can come off as capricious and a bit crazy very sympathetic. His interactions with Miranda (played by Calyley Thomas-Haug) play a major role in this. As you’ll remember from my original encounter with the play, I’m very fond of Miranda and Ferdinand, whose courtship is just so innocent and endearing. Cayley Thomas-Haug and Mat Simpson did not disappoint and were thoroughly adorable. However, my favourite performance came from Amber Borotsik as Ariel. She made the character utterly fascinating to watch and I was always thrilled when she popped up.

Definitely a fun production to check out, even if it is raining. The Freewill Shakespeare Festival runs until 22 July 2012.

Julius Caesar – Freewill Shakespeare Festival

Julius Caesar Title Logo

Fair reader, you’re in for a treat today. I had the privilege of attending the opening night of the Freewill Shakespeare Festival’s production of Julius Caesar (otherwise known as Shakespeare in the Park) so now you get to reap the benefit of a review. However, I first need to give my thanks to @EJ_Extra on Twitter as I won my tickets from them.

I’ve been going to Shakespeare in the Park every year since high school and I’ve rarely had a bad experience and this year’s production of Julius Caesar was another great experience. The stage design for this year is really beautiful. While the initial impression of blue might seem an odd choice, it actually serves as a great contrast to the generally darker costumes the cast wear (I also have a feeling it works well for the Festival’s other play this year, The Tempest). There are also some great features built into the stage that work well, particularly in the second half, but I won’t go into detail as it’s much more fun to be surprised by them. A shout-out also to the lighting and sound. That fake lightning made me jump a time or two.

The costumes are an intriguing mix of mob chic with lots of dark suits, shiny metallic leggings for the ladies under some pretty awesome, Caesar in long shirts and matching pants, and, my personal favourite, Marc Antony making his entrance in a red tracksuit (he does change into a proper suit later on). Of course, for the second half of the play there’s military jackets, pith helmets, berets, and combat boots galore. Possibly the most interesting choice though is the actors’ make-up, which is extremely pronounced with most faces being painted white, heavy black eyeliner, and black or metallic shades underlining cheekbones (also, Marc Antony has a bit of the game-maker from Hunger Games beard going on for the first half). It’s a very striking look and tends to accentuate facial expressions and the look grew on me once I got past my initial impression that everyone had the face make-up of a French mime.

The cast does an excellent job with the play and although tragedies tend to be far more sombre there are some moments of levity, particularly at the beginning. The two stand out performances for me though were by from Belinda Cornish as Portia and Chris Bullough as Brutus. Cornish brings so much passion to Portia that her performance is riveting, particularly during the scene in which she demands Brutus share his secrets with her. Although the character’s presence in the play is relatively small, she leaves such a tremendous impact that you thoroughly understand Brutus’ later grief over her death. And speaking of Brutus, the play may have Caesar’s name on it, but it’s really all about Brutus. Bullough makes him an amazingly sympathetic character in all of his striving to preserve the freedom of his fellow Romans and you cannot help but feel regret at his inevitable downfall.

A thoroughly enjoyable production even for those who aren’t a fan of the play itself like my theatre buddy, Argenplath. As mentioned above, the Festival is also doing The Tempest which I will also be seeing some time in July, so look forward to that review in the next few weeks. The Freewill Shakespeare Festival is in Hawrelak Park and runs until 22 July 2012.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Citadel Theatre

Extra special bonus feature time, readers! I went to see the Citadel Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream last night (with my good friend, Argenplath, whose blog you should definitely check out) so now you get the benefit of a review (please note, all production photos are from the Citadel’s website). If the plot of the play is a little fuzzy for you, you can refresh your memory with my previous post about it.

From the moment I walked into the Maclab Theatre, I knew I was going to love the play. The set design is absolutely gorgeous and sets the stage (sorry for the bad puns, I couldn’t help it) for all of the magic. It really allows for flexibility which gives the fairies and elves the opportunity to really appear and disappear as quickly as you would expect of such creatures.

The actors all do a brilliant job. My favourite characters were all played really well and Julien Arnold as Bottom really knocked it out of the park. Also, the small kid playing the Indian changeling boy is absolutely adorable. Before talking about some of the highlights of the play for me, I just want to mention the costumes briefly. They are gorgeous. All the upper-class Athenians have very Greek dresses and tunics, which take definite advantage of how muscular/pretty the entire cast is. The costumes for Oberon and Titania also take full advantage of how good-looking those two are, although they’re far more scantily clad which makes their roles as natural fairy creatures all the more believable. And amazingly, Oberon really manages to rock his headdress. Being my favourite character, I was pleased with Puck’s costume as well. Of course, some of that may have something to do with his being topless the entire play.

Oberon (Michael Antonakos) rocking the headdress while Demetrius (Patrick Lundeen) sleeps.

I’m going to attempt to avoid any production spoilers as there are some details that are far more fun if you’re surprised by them, but I will just mention some of my personal highlights. Despite the fact that she’s a total doormat (“Let me be your spaniel”? REALLY? I feel like she could go for a dose of Sassy Gay Friend), I’ve always been really fond of Helena and I was very pleased with Shannon Taylor’s portrayal who made her a very likable character despite her slightly embarrasssing level of infatuation with Demetrius. In fact, all four actors playing the young lovers very brilliantly portrayed all of the mad confusion that results from Puck and Oberon’s interference, with the scene in which all four of them get into a tussle being very impressive.

Are you ready to rumble?

 As I’ve mentioned before, Puck is one of my favourite characters and Jonathan Purvis very brilliantly brings him to life. He is sweet and charming and his athletic ability is just fantastic to watch. His gymnastic antics are very impressive and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him frolic across the stage.

Oberon and Puck.

However, the greatest moment in the entire play is Bottom and company’s play about Pyramus and Thisbe. The group of men that put together this ridiculous production are just fantastic, fun to watch, and left the entire theatre, myself included, laughing uproariously. I won’t spoil all the delights of their slapstick, but I will give you the head’s up to keep an eye on Moonshine’s dog if you get a chance to see the production.

The would-be acting troupe.

Of course, Puck’s final speech is utterly charming and you’ll definitely be left wanting to accept his offer of friendship. If you have the chance, I highly encourage you to check out this production which runs until 29 April 2012.