The night was billed as the premiere of “Two Othellos,” meaning, presumably, that Saturday’s performances at American Dance Institute in Rockville would also feature two Iagos. But just hours before curtain, choreographer Doug Elkins found himself facing a painful drama: Alexander Dones, the dancer who’d been preparing for the role for a year, tore his calf muscle in rehearsal. Elkins conferred with Adrienne Willis, ADI’s executive director, and they came to a time-honored conclusion:
The show must go on, with or without Iago.
And so it did, and the sold-out crowd saw snapshots of what will someday be an amazing performance. Without Dones, it looked more like a trio of talented dancers having a three-way with a handkerchief, but it was still worth seeing. Elkins, a New York-based choreographer, calls his “Othello” “Mo(or)town Redux.” The punctuation is a bit excessive, but it’s the tale of Shakespeare’s Moor set to Motown.
Kyle Marshall opens the piece as Othello, looking dapper in a suit and stroking a microphone while James Brown sings about a man who needs a woman, or a girl. Enter Desdemona, the very sexy Donnell Oakley, a woman in control of her swinging hips, yet who melts deeply at the knees after a mere caress. The movement and music were well chosen. Marshall brought a poignant touch of b-boy to Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (when he hears Desdemona’s been untrue), and it was hard to resist bopping along to “The Shoop Shoop Song.” When Othello came to his wife one last time, it was as Otis Redding crooned “Try A Little Tenderness.” Oakley stroked Marshall’s unresponsive cheek and his chest, but before the song was over, Marshall’s Othello had strangled Oakley’s Desdemona to death.
There was no asphyxiation in a brief Othello ballet that opened Saturday’s program. Former Washington Ballet dancer Runqiao Du also worked with a quartet, and if there was a common denominator, it was that both works featured complex Emilias. Margaret Kudirka’s solo as a conflicted servant was the most emotive thing about Du’s ballet. Cori Marquis, as Elkins’s Emilia, may have been missing her partner, but as she swaggered to “You Know I’m No Good” by Amy Winehouse, she was the hot girl dancing alone at a party, because apparently a man needs a woman, not the other way around.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.