Verdi on Middle Road? You wouldn’t think anything almost subversively original in the arts could possibly be percolating up this country road. You think you might come upon a corn patch or a pen of prized goats, but not a synthesis of dance, theatre and opera combining Broadway actors, celebrated choreographers and, well, Verdi.
It is, of course, The Yard dance conservatory and its artistic director Wendy Taucher that once again are putting on a surprising, sophisticated program in Chilmark. This coming weekend, The Othello Project — which premiered in May on the Queen Mary — will feature The Limón Dance Company and Broadway star (The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’) Andre De Shields.
Ms. Taucher explained to the Gazette: “Two years ago we had the Limón Company at The Yard performing [the late JoseLimón’s masterwork] The Moor’s Pavane [or Variations on Theme of Othello]. Their costumes were supposed to arrive at the same time the dancers did, on that Friday, but they got lost in transit.
“Some actors were here on another project and they were stunned to see how gorgeous the rehearsals looked even without costumes. Well, I was at the UPS office at 7 a.m. sharp on Monday morning tracking down those costumes, but I remember thinking how great it would be to perform the show twice, with and without costumes.”
Something clicked in Ms. Taucher’s mind that let her see how the Othello story could be served up every which way, the better to illuminate The Moor’s Pavane. She pointed out that often when people observe dance by itself, they’re in the dark about the story unfolding. She had the wild notion that with a pastiche of scenes from Shakespeare’s Othello and key arias from Verdi’s opera Otello, not only would the material be rich and wonderful to behold, but with the added information, audiences could come to the Moor’s Pavane with heightened appreciation and understanding.
On Tuesday the Gazette caught up with rehearsals for the Shakespeare part of the program. As this reporter walked through the sylvan setting leading up to The Yard’s barn-sized theatre, she spotted Vineyard actress, Chelsea McCarthy in jeans and green T-shirt, waist-length brown hair flowing, as she silently mouthed her lines, script in hand, treading back and forth on a long bench, summoning up images of Elvira Madigan walking her makeshift tightrope in a field of wildflowers.
Inside the theatre, doors and windows were open to admit streams of afternoon light. Vineyard actress Molly Purves, blond hair clasped in a pony tail, wearing heels under trousers and a brown hoodie, crossed downstage. André De Shields entered swiftly from the rear door to greet his “fair warrior,” Desdemona. He knelt, kissed her hand, leapt up again and exclaimed, “If after every tempest comes such calms, may the winds blow until they awaken death!”
Mr. De Shields, looking every bit a noble Othello, right down to a trim beard lightly salted with grey, wore high-topped sneakers and a black T-shirt with “Wisconsin” lettered in orange. His pants displayed an African design in orange, blue, green and yellow which he later, upon questioning, described as “Yuroba and also Orisha animist.”
Seated downstage before a red table, Ms. Taucher called a pause. “I like what both of you are doing. Let’s try two hand kisses, the first formal, the second more intimate.”
Near the end of the reunion scene, Mr. De Shields lifted Ms. Purves.
Ms. Taucher asked, “Can you spin her around?”
“Absolutely!” In the next round, he did so and the director pronounced it, “Brilliant!”
At Ms. Taucher’s side, musician Carol Loud of West Tisbury held the book, responding promptly whenever one of the actors muttered, “Line.”
Meanwhile Ms. McCarthy had joined the crew inside the theatre as she occupied herself with push-ups and yoga stretches on the floor downstage right. Soon it was her turn to rehearse with Mr. De Shields in the scene from Othello where the Moor, in the first full-blown throes of jealousy, interrogates the lady-in-waiting, Emilia, about his wife’s tete-a-tetes with Cassio. (Actor Donovan Dietz will play Iago).
At one point Mr. De Shields jumped a line and asked Ms. McCarthy if Desdemona were “chaste and true.”
Ms. McCarthy quipped, “No, she’s chaste and true later.”
The actress, like Ms. Purves, also sported heels under her casual rehearsal garb. Ms. Taucher pointed out, “You’ve got to wear shoes for these scenes but be careful about the noise.” Regarding Ms. McCarthy’s character, the director suggested, “Let’s try it more defiant. She’s tough.”
In another round of lines, Mr. De Shields bit his tongue, gamely carrying on with his speech slurred as he massaged his mouth. “Ouch,” he said finally.
After moments of condoling, the director called out, “So much for that career.”
On Wednesday the Verdi performers will have arrived: baritone Mark Womack, fresh from the Broadway production of La Bohème, tenor Salvatore Motisi, already well known for his Otello Monologue, and pianist/musical director Samuel Kardos who played two weekends ago at The Yard for the ultra popular comic opera event.
Yesterday rehearsals began to package all three elements, with the key inclusion of the Limón Company dancers, Roxane D’Orleans Juste, Kathryn Alter, Jonathan Frederickson, and Francisco Ruvalcaba. Artistic director and choreographer Carla Maxwell, who developed the Othello Project with Ms. Taucher, will join the latter as co-host, integrating commentary with the performances.
As this reporter left the office at the front of the property, a slim young woman in a pink tank top etched a tendu leg extension on the deck, her arms stretched overhead in first position. You know you’re at The Yard when people execute dance moves in your path. This weekend, dance moves, opera voices and actors crying out “O thou weed!” will blast the roof off Chilmark’s famed theatre.
Tonight is opening night with Champagne and dessert following the 8 p.m. performance; tickets are $100 for premium seating, $50 general admission, $25 seniors/under 30. Tickets for Saturday and Sunday 8 p.m. shows are $50 premium, $25 general, $15 seniors/under 30. There is free family matinee Saturday at 4 p.m. Reservations are strongly suggested; donations gratefully accepted. For reservations, call 508-645-9662.