Joffrey’s Othello: A ballet that ends just as it’s starting to get interesting

So I went to the ballet with a boxer…Othello

It sounds like the set-up for a bad joke, but it’s true.  My colleague Dr. John Coumbe-Lilley  is a former boxer, Sports Psychologist, and Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach – and he happens to have recently developed an interest in learning about dance.

It was his first ballet, and it was my first full-length story ballet as a patron since, like, 1997.

I tried hard to channel my 16-year-old self and see the ballet how I imagine John was seeing it.  Sitting in the first row balcony at the beautiful Auditorium Theatre (ironically, where I saw Paloma Herrera’s Juliet all those years ago), I pretty much succeeded at letting go of my critical eye and simply enjoying a night at the ballet.

In light of this, initial thoughts were: entertaining, aesthetically stunning, and virtuoso.

Even in the context of my better (or at least more informed) judgement, this looked like a different Joffrey.  I sometimes hold the big guys to a higher standard than other companies… not to be unfair, but rather because I expect a lot more out of a multi-million dollar company that rehearses 30-some hours a week.  I expect them to be impeccably rehearsed and tightly produced because, if for no other reason, they have the resources to do it.

And, this time, Joffrey didn’t disappoint.

The strong performances of the soloists and impressively solid corps de ballet were complemented by George Tsypin’s minimal but gorgeous glass set.  LED projections rather than canvas painted backdrops framed the stage, and, as the program reads, “All of these elements combine to give this Othello a visual impact rarely seen in ballet.”  I didn’t always understand what was happening in Othello, but then, I don’t typically understand Shakespeare all that well either.  The influence of contemporary shapes and movements in Lar Lubovitch’s choreography aren’t really evident until Act 3, leaving Othello short of the cutting-edge breakthrough it might have been hoping for.  It’s a great addition to ballet’s contemporary history, nonetheless.

Othello might not be pushing any boundaries, but it doesn’t really matter.

If I had one complaint (aside from one slightly off follow-spot operator), it would be the abrupt ending.  I was just starting to get into it.  I had made it through the program notes after two pleasant intermissions and was finally following the plot.  I was just getting behind the characters and investing in them, and then:





I guess that’s Shakespeare for you.

A night at the ballet should be something special.  For me, an evening in a palatial theater with an inspired new patron, a glass of wine, and a full-length story ballet reminded me of all those things that make it special.  Thanks for that, Joffrey.

Othello runs through May 5 at the Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Pkwy). For tickets or more information, visit

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a freelance dance critic, contributing to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Magazine. She is senior editor of See Chicago Dance. Lauren covers dance across the Midwest and writes regularly for Dance Magazine and Pointe with additional bylines in Milwaukee Magazine, St. Louis Magazine and Dance Teacher. Forthcoming publications include essays on ballet training in Chicago (University of Illinois Press) and Shirley Mordine (University of Akron Press). In 2020, Lauren published an opinion piece on the impact of COVID-19 on the arts in the South African journal Agenda. Lauren holds degrees in dance and kinesiology and has presented research on dance training practices at the National Dance Education Organization and the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. She has co-facilitated critical dance writing intensives in Chicago and Durban, South Africa, and participated in writing residencies at the National Center for Choreography, Bates Dance Festival and JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience. Lauren teaches dance history and kinesiology for dancers, with part-time appointments at Loyola University Chicago and Illinois Wesleyan University.

2 thoughts on “Joffrey’s Othello: A ballet that ends just as it’s starting to get interesting

  1. Right on point Lauren. I agree about the ending, but…with the story you have, what more can you really do? 🙂 I enjoyed it very much as well!

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