Asheville Ballet presents Shakespeare in Ballet

“I wanted to combine the passions, characters, tragedies, joys and comedies of Shakespeare’s fantastic creations and express them through movement, through a different and enriching vocabulary,” says Ann Dunn, describing Asheville Ballet’s debut performance of Shakespeare in Ballet.

Fulfilling the prophesy: Sarah McGinnis as the devious Lady Macbeth. Photo courtesy Asheville Ballet

Determined to bring new innovations to Shakespeare’s works, Dunn, the director of The Asheville Ballet, is collaborating with Lyle Laney, a principal dancer and choreographer with the company. Together, Dunn and Laney delve into Shakespeare’s eccentric characters in a concert that fuses contemporary with classical styles of ballet.

Featuring scenes from Othello, Macbeth, King LearHamlet and The Tempest, Shakespeare in Ballet hopes to pull out the sexy, divisive and lyrical qualities concealed within Shakespeare’s great plays.

In the dance Othello, Dunn and Laney concentrate on the passion between Othello and Desdemona instead of the uncontrollable jealousy that leads Othello to murder his wife. “Everyone thinks of Othello as a tragedy, but I wanted to show, through movement, the sexy friendship and intimate love between these characters: So we’ve choreographed a love pas de deux,” Dunn says.

The duet explores “the burning love and great admiration Othello has for his wife,” explains Laney, who will perform the part of Othello. The duet also aims to portray Othello’s wife in a more empowering light.

“Desdemona is a strong woman who defies her father, marries a black man and is (referred to) as the ‘fair warrior,’” Dunn says. “Shakespeare does not write wimpy women, and we want to show Desdemona’s strength through choreography.”

To add texture to the scene, the dancers will be performing on a contemporary set—a tall metal structure, which functions as both a bed frame and a pier looking out over the isle of Cyprus. Desdemona will be dressed in a nightgown, with a white, transparent negligee. Othello will be dressed in black.

When choreographing the dance Macbeth, The Asheville Ballet chose to focus on the underlying influence of Lady Macbeth in the plot to murder King Duncan.

“Lady Macbeth’s solo is about ambition and an uncontrollable desire for power and authority,” says Dunn. The solo begins when Lady Macbeth receives a letter from her husband saying that he’s encountered three mysterious witches with a deadly prophecy: that Macbeth will become king. “After receiving this letter, (Lady Macbeth) thinks, ‘Yes, you have the ambition to be king, but do you have the wickedness to get there?’” Dunn says. “Lady Macbeth gets rid of everything female and human within her, so she can support the killing that her husband must prepare for.”

Sarah McGinnis, performing the role of Lady Macbeth, will be dressed in a post-modern costume: black briefs, a black top and red satin gloves, symbolizing the blood of King Duncan on her hands. Members of the Asheville Lyric Opera will perform music from the opera Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi.

To add a contemporary edge to the concert, the dance Hamlet will be performed to a spoken-word compilation while multimedia projections illuminate the stage. “I’ve chosen to work with the language of Shakespeare itself, taking snippets of dialogue (from Hamlet), manipulating and augmenting them to create a spoken-word recording,” Laney says. During this solo, Hamlet emotionally confronts his relationships with each member of his family, his mother the queen, his father the king and his sweetheart, Ophelia. “Through the solo, you see Hamlet’s sanity unravel,” Laney says.

The final performance in Shakespeare in Ballet will be a group piece performed by all 10 members of the dance company. “The Tempest is the grand finale,” says Dunn. The Tempest begins with soft movements that evoke the image of “the ocean before a storm” and quickly speeds up, “churning and turning to a wild crazy tempest on stage,” Dunn says. The company will be clad in blue-gray skirts, with classical bodices, lending to the oceanic atmosphere. Pianist John Cobb and members of The Asheville Lyric Opera will be performing a score by Samuel Barber.

Capturing the dynamic and complicated characters of Shakespeare through dance is an ambitious undertaking. However, Dunn is confident that her company is up to the challenge. “This isn’t just about dance,” Dunn says. “Shakespeare in Ballet is about using choreography—the simplicity of line and classical movement—to communicate the passions of these characters.”

[Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt can be reached at]

who: The Asheville Ballet presents Shakespeare in Ballet
what: Shakespeare’s great tragedies revisited in a concert of classical ballet
where: Diana Wortham Theatre
when: Friday, Sept. 26, and Saturday, Sept. 27 (7:30 p.m. $28-49., or 257-4530)


About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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