Adapting Shakespeare for Dance

We are all aware that Shakespeare’s plays are adapted for stage and film, but they are also adapted for dance! As The Toronto Star’s Michael Crabb states: “His wonderful plots and vivid characters are attractive to choreographers with an interest in narrative.”

One element that makes Shakespeare adaptable for dance is the deep emotional investment of each character. It is this deep emotion that helps drive the narrative of the plot in a wordless performance of his texts. Romeo and Juliet is often adapted for the stage, likely because the story lends itself well to the structure of a ballet, particularly the pas de deux. Listen to choreographer Alexei Ratmansky and two dancers talk about the National Ballet of Canada’s production of Romeo and Juliet.

While Shakespeare’s plays are adaptable, not all of his plays are considered suitable for dance adaptation. This is due to the complex interrelations between characters, the nature of the historical plays, and the changes in time and space within some of his plays. However, some choreographers are tackling these “undanceable” plays with much success. One example is Christopher Wheeldon’s A Winter’s Tale, which “weaves together music and design to plot a path through the narrative problems, and pretty much achieves the right balance of dance and storytelling.” (Judith Mackrell, The GuardianCrystal Pite takes a different approach to adapting Shakespeare by exploring motifs with The Tempest Replica.

Choreographers and dance companies have been adapting Shakespeare for more than three centuries, but often revisit the same plays: Hamlet, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. Judith Mackrell suggests that they “consider the network of sexual and moral relationships at the heart of Measure for Measure – so much juicily tense and visceral human material to choreograph. Or Macbeth, whose dark, saturated imagery could be fantastically evoked through dance, lighting and digital effects. Or As You Like It, with its nesting box of love stories and fabulous central female role.

Which of Shakespeare’s plays would you like to see adapted to dance?

Some upcoming Shakespeare dance adaptations in the Toronto area include:
The Tempest Replica
, Bluma Appel Theatre, May 7 – 11, 2014
Romeo and Juliet,
National Ballet of Canada, June 20 – 22, 2014

To learn more about dance adaptations of Shakespeare’s works, here are some links to websites, essays and articles:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s