Keeping current in wellness, in and out of the water
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I was at the Metropolitan Opera on the 4th of July, 1986, the day after Misha became an American citizen. He danced in the ballet Giselle, and leapt into the air with what appeared to be the greatest of ease, but was the result of a lifetime of training. He was young and stunningly talented. American Ballet Theater gave the people an outstanding show, starring the rock star, movie star, ballet star who came to us as a gift from Russia “with love”. The crowd went wild and threw hundreds of roses while giving a standing ovation after the performance. The audience showed how deeply his presence, and now his citizenship, was appreciated in New York. It was an exquisite moment in history to witness. He made his stage debut at the Mariinsky Theatre in 1967, featuring in a production of Giselle. He was born in Riga, present day Latvia. He was trained in ballet in Riga and St. Petersburg in his youth. He defected from the Soviet Union in 1974 after a performance of the Kirov Ballet in Toronto. He moved to New York and became the director of American Ballet Theater.
I was also lucky enough to see him on stage in Paris in the 1990’s when he was dancing to his own choreography in the White Oak Project. His leaping had been somewhat subdued, but he chose younger dancers for his company who could still hit the very high leaps. His own style had only mellowed and perfected itself then dancing his own creations. He has performed around the world with many different troupes. His talents and achievements are legendary. His training by and defection from the former Soviet Union made his gift even sweeter. Now his birth land of Latvia is voting to confer Latvian citizenship on their famous son. He has applied for it and the parliament is scheduled to take it under consideration. It would be ironic and odd if he were to need to defect to Latvia once his dual citizenship has been conferred.
Last week it was Prince Charles of the British monarchy warning us that he feels a 1930’s vibe. Now Misha tells us he is feeling a cold war. We should take heed, gentle readers. Experience and history are talking to us.
In Shakespeare’s Othello the protagonist Moor is a military commander and the action takes place during a time of war. The twists and turns of the story are typical of a tragedy written by The Bard. There is much misunderstanding and treachery leading to the deeply tragic ending. The play has been performed in all kinds of settings and time frames because it has eternal themes that work well for any time or place in history. Racism, betrayal, jealousy, and war are always in style, sadly enough. It has been adapted into movie and opera in the past, and now it is being presented as a modern fusion of the latest technology possible combined with an ancient story.
The star and creator in this new production is from Salvador do Bahia, Brazil and has deep cultural and artistic roots in that city. He has been fascinated with this play for many years. Elisio Pitta wanted to use his talent and experience as a dancer and artist to produce a sharp protest against domestic violence, a worldwide problem. He created a working collaboration of the most artistically gifted people he knew for this project. Working as a team, they focused on the ideas they wanted to portray. This new version of Othello has been merged with the cultural treasures and foundations of Bahia. Slavery, racism, liberation, and natural magic are strong themes in the artistic backgrounds of these artists. They intentionally explored the similarities and dramatic meaning present in Shakespeare’s drama, and adapted it to their own time and place to send a message and make an emphatic statement. They worked on it for over 3 years, and were ironically interrupted during rehearsal when Mr Pitta was badly injured in an incident of violence last August in his home city. Elisio is a master martial artist in capoeira, but 10 large young angry men were more than he could handle. This attack only strengthened his resolve to present his artistic response to violence, which is too common today. In this show, since it is based on modern issues, Othello kills himself in the end with a gun rather than a sword. It is fortunate for everyone that the young punks who beat him up did not have guns during that fight.
Now the show has opened in Brazil to sold out theaters and will be opening next week in Liverpool, England for an engagement. A giant celebration is planned all year for the 450th anniversary of the birth of the most famous poet of all time. I believe that William Shakespeare will be impressed with all the creative energy honoring his work and keeping it alive. If you want to know more the largest festival ever honoring him, check out The Year of Shakespeare. You can follow it on twitter and like it on Facebook to read and write reviews all year. Enjoy!
I met Elisio Pitta 20 years ago when he visited Rancho la Puerta to teach and do a capoeira demonstration. I had never seen capoeira before and was fascinated by the grace and power of the movements. He taught us some Brazilian folkloric dance also. We were all beginners, but he managed to get us all moving and enthusiastic in the few days he was our teacher. I have had the opportunity to learn from excellent teachers, but his talent to both teach and move was beyond compare. I never really attempted to learn the form, but I never forgot it either.
His career in dance has taken him around the world from his hometown, Bahia. He lives on a hill with a fantastic view of the Atlantic and has very deep cultural roots in the city. He has been performing a new dance of his own creation there this week, and soon will take the show on the road. Next month he will perform Othello in Shakespeare’s own country, in Liverpool England. Using Brazilian music and original choreography by Elisio he interprets the classic story of jealousy and regret. He dances the part of Othello and projects the other characters onto the stage in preproduced segments to tell the story of Desdemona’s ill fated murder and his subsequent remorse. He is using contemporary props and costuming in the production to go with his digital cast members. I asked him why he decided to be Othello and he told me that it is the Year of Shakespeare and he always wanted to do it. Classy.
I admire his extreme creativity and dedication to the art of dance. His natural talent is obvious, but he has used his talents and his strong cultural lineage to transcend boundaries. I think Shakespeare is proud of him. I am pleased to know such a talented and artistically ambitious man.