Ashley Wheater on Othello

by Karen Krolak
As I mentioned in the post on Peter Carpenter, Chicago is chock full of tempting dance concerts this month. I was especially intrigued by the Joffrey Ballet's production of Lar Lubovitch's Othello as I will be Assistant Directing Othello in March for Actors' Shakespeare Project in Boston.

Fortunately, Eric Eatherly, one of my first dance students from the National High School Institute at Northwestern University now works for the Silverman Group who manage public relations for the Joffrey Ballet. Thanks to Eric and Farrah Malik at the Silverman Group, I was able to email a few quick questions out to the Joffrey's Artistic Director Ashley Wheater who graciously found time to answer them for us.

karen Krolak: Presenting the Midwest premiere of Othello is an enormous project involving 42 dancers, sets by George Tsypin, costumes by Ann
Hould-Ward, recreated projections by Wendall K. Harrington, and a score by Academy Award® winner Elliot Goldenthal. What drew you to this piece and why did lanch your season of Legends with it?

Ashley Wheater: For me it is a profound piece of dance. There are very few contemporary full length ballets at this same level in terms of technique, choreographic content and such creative collaborations. I worked with Lar Lubovitch from the birth of this work with the joint venture between American Ballet Theater (ABT) and San Francisco Ballet (SFB). I looked after it at SFB through various seasons and was very involved with televising of the work on PBS. I wanted to bring this to the Joffrey, but knew that I would wait a few years to do it. I wanted the dancers to really have an understanding the movement and why this full length should be seen in and should, of course, be presented by The Joffrey Ballet.

kK: How have you liked working with Lar Lubovitch?

AW: I have of course enjoyed it very much! Lar and I have a great understanding and respect for each other’s creativity. He has trusted me with his work many times. I feel we have a fantastic working relationship. Both Lar and I have the same high expectations.

kK: What have you enjoyed as you have watched your company rehearse with him?

AW: For me it was watching the full company work with Lar and let everyone take in his vast knowledge of dance and his connection with this story. Experiencing the dancers learn about themselves and really challenge themselves was most exciting. I feel they have exceeded even their own expectations, which as an artistic director is what one can only hope for.

kK: That's wonderful. Now, what are some of the challenges from your end when you re-created this massive production?

AW: The challenges are mostly on a technical level - especially with Othello using back projection video. It was also important that the Joffrey did not try to recreate what ABT or San Francisco Ballet did with Othello, but instead makes it unique to the Joffrey without losing the integrity of the piece. We had to recreate the back projection for the stage that we dance on, which of course was a huge undertaking, but I can always overcome a challenge and here we are!

kK: So, I have never heard anyone talk about why a company chooses to present an existing work instead of commissioning a new piece. Can you explain that process?

AW: This is a good question for many reasons, some of which I have explained above. As an Artistic Director I am of course very interested in new works. I have brought many new works to the Joffrey over the past two years, will be doing so again in the spring, and will continue to in the company's future! The risk involved in staging new work is that it can be very, very expensive so if you are going to do a new work you must be sure that you are able to deliver the highest artistic qualities and that it will be a success. I have sat through many new works and have been disappointed and wonder how a company recuperates from that. In this day and age, we should not shy away from new work, but need to understand the risk involved and be ready to take it on. As I mentioned above, we are bring two world premiere works to Chicago in the Spring, one by Jessica Lang and the other by James Kudelka, which I am thrilled about. This will be our only mixed repertory performance of the season and is sure to be just as captivating as our production of Othello.







Single tickets, priced from $25 to $145, are available for purchase at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office, located in the lobby of 10 E. Randolph Street, as well as the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University box office, all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers, by telephone at (800) 982-2787 or online at www.ticketmaster.com.


packasj said...

I know I'm biased, and all might be surprised to hear me say it, but I love how you ask questions (even if I'm not so good at answering ;).

Such interesting insights come out through Ashley's responses. Questions on risk-taking in culture-concerns do seem to bring out somewhat pat answers ("well, of course, we jump!") but the subtext and style of the answers really says a lot about how and why we mix the old with the new.

Thanks for ever-engaging the dialouge machine!

k said...

Thanks for the encouragement. Honestly, I love doing these interviews because they illuminate all these lesser known aspects of the dance world.

By the way, feel free to let Monkeyhouse know about any specific questions that you might want answered. Or, for that matter, let us know about topics that you would like to see covered or choreographers that you are curious about.


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