By Joseph E. Morgan
Where does Shakespeare’s genius lie? Is it in the choice of words and their arrangement into poetic meter? Literary critic Harold Bloom might argue no, for, as Bloom has noted, Shakespeare “exists in all languages, he is put on the stage everywhere.” Because, by definition, translation requires other words, Shakespeare’s genius can’t exclusively reside in simple word choice. Could his genius be in his choice of subjects and settings? With so many plays set in London, and dealing with otherwise nearly forgotten Kings, one might just as well respond that these works are masterpieces despite their subjects and settings. Perhaps, then, his genius lies in his characterization; his ability to make these human characters relatable and then place them in a narrative that makes their incredible deeds both believable and relevant. This would account for the success of his work in translation and its importance to the contemporary audience. Further, it might also account for the Nashville Ballet’s remarkable success with its adaption of the Master’s Macbeth, which played as Something Wicked at TPAC October 21-23.
Paul Vasterling, Nashville Ballet’s Director, originally choreographed this work for a workshop performance in 2013. If it was still in a laboratory stage at that point, it is now a finished work. Vasterling’s vision provides a strong interpretation of the story that allots a great deal of agency to the three witches. Danced by Keenan McLaren Hartman, Alexandra Meister and Katie Vasilopoulos, their parts are less synchronized than corralled—the beauty of the human form is here applied to its darkest pursuits. This agency allows the audience to indulge in a certain amount of sympathy for the tragic hero Macbeth, danced exquisitely by Christopher Stuart. With these witches it is almost as though Macbeth never had a chance. At the end of the first act, even after he has murdered Duncan (Nathan Young) and Banquo (Jon Upleger), we are more horrified for him than at him when blood pours down on him from the rafters (à la Carrie).
All this sympathy disappears when we see Macduff (Judson Veach) and Lady Macduff (Kayla Rowser) dance. Their duet is the finest of idealized, even fairytale, love. This makes it all the more tragic when Macduff “exits to lead the revolt against Macbeth.” While this duet complicates our understanding of Macbeth, who is now, without question the antagonist, the character of Macduff becomes one of a shallow victim. While in the play Shakespeare has Macduff coldly driven by his own ambition and fear, or, as Lady Macduff says in the scene before her death: “…all is the fear and nothing is the love” Vasterling frees him from this responsibility. In any case, Lady Macduff’s murder is as emotionally violent and riveting as ballet can be, resulting in more than a little schadenfreude in the next scene as Lady Macbeth struggles to slip her guilt which fits as closely as her blood red bodice.
In all, Vasterling’s production was a remarkable success in the way that he presented Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in a powerful and intimate way. Kenji Bunch’s score, arranged for a small ensemble and played by the brilliant Alias Chamber ensemble, was an excellent support in this interpretation. In Bunch’s score it was rare for more than two instruments to sound at a time, expounding the intimacy. Yet the timbre itself, especially in Chris Farrell’s solo viola during Lady Macbeth’s melancholy dance, seemed to lift the intimate to the universal, bringing an abstract and timeless sense to the localized moral lesson. One of the greatest gifts of Shakespeare’s works are their timeless ability to entertain across the ages, garnering new interpretations with each passing generation. Vasterling and company have entered a fine example into this tradition.