artandculture Ballet

Not Exactly Disney — Hamburg Ballet's Othello

Friday, February 26, 2016 tgoandco

Profoundly different than any production currently out in the world, Hamburg Ballet is more modern and thought provoking than most presentations by modern dance companies. While the company has roots in traditional ballet, it breaks the mold with what one considers ballet by providing some very original adaptations of traditional story. Shakespeare's Othello has rarely seen such a facelift to be made so current/relevant and the company does much to get people involved... and in there face. This is not pink little ballerinas running around in tutus. This is adult ballet about adult subject matter. There is no sugar coating. One gets that fact instantly out of their minds from the jarring beginning. An unorthodox story opener has the cast running through the auditorium as terrorist soldiers. The stage — less of a backdrop than ballets is more a part of the story as it becomes almost a character in the ballet.

This version of the Othello takes the military aspect of Othello's character and positions it front and center. There are nods to the original Renaissance time period from when the story was first written. Part of that entails the whole ballet company and brings them forward to highlight their skills in more traditional folk type dance but much of that is an artistic backdrop to reflect the more gritty, violent acts of war and show the contrast of feelings of the characters. Othello is a military man with lots of skill and prowess on the battlefield. He is portrayed as someone who surrounds himself with military men who are trained to dissect people in a time of war and understand their weak points. One of these soldiers, Iago (with an amazing violent streak) uses Othello's weak points (his love and trust of Desdemona) as a knife to twist in and bring Othello down after being overlooked for a promotion. Yes - this version of Othello is more dark, sinister and more war driven than any version out there. Most tend to sanitize the military aspects and view Othello as more a ceremonial spokesperson or portray Othello more/less as a politician to soften much of the military facets of the story. John Nuemeier, director of the Hamburg Ballet chooses not to shy away from the violence of war but instead uses it to amplify the emotions. This ballet is more war and violence based than what people typically expect but John Newmeier is not your typical director.

The creative mind behind Hamburg Ballet

Milwaukee born Neumeier received training at the Marquette University in Milwaukee. He later moved on to Copenhagen and onto the Royal Ballet School in London. In 1969, he was made director of Ballet Frankfurt and started wowing people with new interpretations of The Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet. In 1973, he became the director of the Hamburg Ballet and put the Hamburg Ballet on the map for innovation. Today, he holds the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the French Order of Arts and Letters and the Legion of Honour, has received the Nijinsky Award for Lifetime Achievement and accepted the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation as well as the Kyoto Prize for contributions to the Arts and Philosophy. His craft shines in his interpretation of making ballet current and relevant.

When asked about Othello, Nuemeier responded "Othello is about the impossibly of totally knowing another person. The play deals with the impossibility of totally comprehending the intimate thoughts and secret desires of another person, and the consequent suspicion, doubt or even torment which can result from the uncertainty. The play explores human vulnerability... our insecurity in the face of the loved one."

Tonight's performance of Othello had many notable performances - not just for dance but also from the emotions that were portrayed on stage. Many of the dancers are not only seasoned performers but in many instances been performing with the Hamburg Ballet for over 20 years. Tonight's Desdemona, Héléne Bouchet has been with the Hamburg Ballet since 1998 and a principal since 2005.  Othello was played by Amilcar Moret Gonzalez. From Havana and trained with the National Ballet School of Cuba, he is a former dancer with the Ballets de Monte-Carlo and Zurich Ballet. He has been a soloist with the Hamburg Ballet since 2006. The chemistry and passion of the two principals was palpable if not overtly sensual. This was a very sexual dance interpretation and probably not exactly what one would take their 10 year old to see. The performance of the immensely vulnerable and manipulated Emilia was at times a little hard to watch as Carolina Agüero as Emilia as she danced with fellow dancer Ivan Urban as he portrayed Iago. This dance portrayed the subjugation of women during war. It was about as real, gritty and intense as I have seen in ballet. Carolina Agüero did an amazing job dancing with Ivan Urban he was powerful and terrifying. Urban has been with the Hamburg Ballet since 1994 and soloist/principal since 1998 was ruthless and cold as Iago. Both nailed the motivation of the characters in roles that were chilling. It is rare that one sees “terrifying” in ballet — but this is not one's typical ballet company.

Hamburg Ballet will be performing a second performance — The Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler. Hamburg Ballet part of Harris Theater's dance season. During the season, Harris will also play host to violinist Joshua Bell, Lucky Plush Production's world premiere of Trip the Light Fantastic: The Making of SuperStrip as well as the Hubbard Street Dance Company. 

For more information on upcoming performances, tickets or location times, dates, go to

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