In March, Chicago Repertory Ballet revives its acclaimed 2016 original adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth by Founder and Artistic Director Wade Schaaf. CRB’s reworking of the Scottish tragedy is a hightech, streamlined, wordless adaptation of Shakespeare’s original story of greed, ambition, and an insatiable lust for power. The audience can connect with the characters on a visceral level through the choreography and its presentation.
Featuring projections by John Pobojewski of THIRST designs, lighting by Sarah Lackner, and costumes by Nathan Rohrer, this full-length ballet depicts a sleek world where political intrigue meets power-hungry egos. Schaaf’s choreography features strong classical technique, but also leans into CRB's mission of choreographic innovation, which challenges the genre of contemporary ballet. Is it contemporary ballet? Is it modern dance, or even performance art? It is the intersectionality of these genres and how they may relate, or even work together synergistically to convey a message, that gives this work a unique voice.
In Chicago, very few organizations of CRB’s size and stature are producing work of this nature. While CRB has always been am bitious in the creation of works, it is this very ambition that has made this ballet and many like it in the repertoire so enjoyable.
Ballets of Macbeth are few and far between. Unlike Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there is no codified score for this ballet—Verdi wrote it as an opera—and only a few choreographers have tackled it. The ballet takes place in a somewhat unknowable time, but the audience is able to be in the story with the dancers as they go on their journey, guided by Shakespeare’s text. The choreography is there to take the audience on a journey along with the characters.
All the usual suspects are there: Lord and Lady Macbeth, Banquo, King Duncan, the witches, all the way down to the MacDuff children. However, the format of a wordless production has created a unique position for the audience: they need to be shown the action. So often in the original text, the audience hears about events that have happened off stage after they’ve transpired, which doesn’t translate well in a ballet. How can the audience be present in a story when the story isn’t unfolding in front of them? So the genius of this work is that Schaaf brings the events to the audience. Rather than learning Lady Macbeth has died after the fact, the audience is with her in those final moments. Instead of hearing that unknown killers completed Banquo’s assassination, we watch the event unfold. It’s this tactic of storytelling that makes the ballet much more real, relatable, and thrilling.
Certainly, there are moments of supreme technique, choreographic innovation, and contemporary juxtapositions against classical work, but it's all there to help further the storyline and take the audience on a journey. This ballet is truly for the people of this city: it was made in Chicago by a Chicago company and a choreographer who has created work in this city for more than 10 years. CRB is a hometown company creating unique work with a special voice and a desire to showcase its work to the people of Chicago!
Chicago Repertory Ballet performs Macbeth March 29-31 at the Athenaeum Theatre.