From Great Literature to Dance | WBEZ
Skip to main content

Eight Forty-Eight

From Great Literature to Dance

Great literature has inspired countless movies and plays, but dance? Well, two upcoming dance performances – Winifred Haun's Promise and Lar Lubovitch's Othello – show that classic writings continue to serve as a catalyst for intense psychologically driven movement. For WBEZ, Dance Critic Lucia Mauro shares the details.

October 9 and 10
Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St.

October 14-25
Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.

For the past three years, Chicago modern choreographer Winifred Haun has been consumed by the epic themes of good, evil and redemption found in John Steinbeck's 1952 novel, East of Eden. But rather than attempting to recreate the book in movement, she distilled it down to its more universal themes of human nature, rebellion and conformity. Her new full-length work, titled Promise, debuts Oct. 9 and 10 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts.

Steinbeck's autobiographical novel spans two American farm families from the Civil War to World War I. It draws from the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible's Book of Genesis, especially in relation to two brothers: one predatory; the other compliant. Also memorable is Cathy Ames, the author's villainous opportunist who resorts to murder and blackmail to get her way. Haun loosely bases her dance around these characters.

Promise is a stark ensemble work that incorporates aerial straps into ritualistic group formations, ominous solos and competitive duets. The straps, which remain on stage at all times, become outgrowths of the characters' personalities. Left hanging, they symbolize abandonment. When utilized, they become objects meant to control and manipulate. The brothers spar with them. Cathy uses them to seduce and dominate her lover. The whole piece takes on a tone of struggle – from Cathy's claw-like clenching of her fingers at her wedding ceremony to the townspeople's feverish runs and spins as if they are purging themselves of original sin. Haun aims to show in movement what she believes is Steinbeck's main theme: that human beings are capable of redemption by virtue of their free will.

Winifred Haun and Dancers performs Promise Oct. 9 and 10 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St.

Chicago-born choreographer Lar Lubovitch also was drawn to an epic piece of writing: William Shakespeare's tragedy, Othello: The Moor of Venice. His full-length contemporary-classical ballet, titled Othello: A Dance in Three Acts, will receive its Midwest premiere by the Joffrey Ballet Oct. 14 through 25 at the Auditorium Theatre. Jealousy and betrayal are the driving forces behind the play, which centers on a Moorish general, his wife Desdemona, his envious ensign Iago and Othello's lieutenant Cassio. In it, Iago schemes to incite Othello's own jealousy by planting Desdemona's handkerchief on Cassio.

Choreographer Lubovitch wanted to show this charged emotional conflict solely through dance – minus the silent movie-style pantomime often associated with story ballets. He has taken artistic license by devoting Act One to Othello's and Desdemona's wedding celebration. Throughout, Iago performs a series of sequestered solos in which he visibly portrays his inner and outer conflict through intense isolations of his limbs, pelvis, torso and neck. He appears to vivisect himself, struggling to conceal diabolical motives beneath a cordial exterior. Elliot Goldenthal's pulsating original score drives Lubovitch's swirling, slicing and refracted movement, including a tidal wave of tarantellas. It's classical ballet seen through a broken glass…Venetian glass, to be precise.

The Joffrey Ballet performs Othello Oct. 14 through 25 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.

Through their bold choreographic visions, Winifred Haun's Promise and Lar Lubovitch's Othello unpeel fresh layers from the pages of classic literature.

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.