Dallas — For a former English major, there is nothing that sparks my interest more than choreographers who use literary works as inspiration. When I heard that Beijing Dance Theater was bringing their own adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to Dallas, to say that I was excited is an understatement. For their full company debut, presented by TITAS, the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House served as the perfect venue for this dramatic interpretation of Hamlet. The one-night-only, evening length show immersed audience members in a dark, brooding world that embodied themes of vengeance, love, and fatal consequences.
After the curtain opened, a line of bodies inched forward—emerging from the darkness as fuzzy shapes. The dim lighting gradually lifted enough to reveal a tilted, stormy sky set and a draping curtain funneled in the center opening. As the dancers melted through heavy, controlled walks, brooding music electrified the stage. Immediately, an eerie tone settled upon the auditorium as characters appeared and disappeared—creating a magical realism.
A pattern of slow, painful movement combined with sharp, desperate phrases created a consistently menacing tone. Between the elastic legs of the dancers and their buoyant leaps, the movers sliced and melted across the stage with precision, power, and intensity.
A dancer in black garments captured the turmoil of the Hamlet character—pacing the stage, holding his head in his hands, and tensing his muscles. He watched in bewilderment as a series of groups floated on and off stage. These sections blurred the lines between past/present and reality/imagination—casting a dream-like spell throughout the auditorium.
Certain scenes jolted viewers out of their spell-bound state and into a more aggressive atmosphere. One such section resembled an assembly of warrior characters performing wild jumps, quick rolls to the floor, and fearless turns. The unity of their movement demonstrated a focused intensity that seemed to be missing in the first half. Breathtaking leg extensions and piercing hits made this silhouette one of the highlights of the night.
While their incredible technique certainly manifested itself throughout the production, the characterization of the dancer proved most impressive. From the chilling ghost in sheer, cascading robes who floated from side to side, to the frantic flails of the Hamlet figure, to the chilling glides of the ballerina as she scattered glittering flakes throughout the space; each dancer embodied the feelings, actions, and qualities of their character.
Though the characterizations were clear, the connections to the Hamlet storyline proved more ambiguous. No program notes, pantomime, or gestural sequences led audiences to the clear-cut narratives found in most story ballets. Instead, we were left with something less tangible—emotion, atmosphere, and tone. At first, I was wary of the absence of a strong narrative for a production adapting one of Shakespeare’s complex works, but as the show continued, it grew into a multi-faceted immersive experience. Beijing Dance Theater created a world for the dancers and audience members to exist within that was not reliant on plot, in order to achieve a comprehensive view of the production—a daring, and in the end, successful endeavor. The company presented something that’s not always attainable with traditional words or classic storylines: a sensorial relationship between the performers and the audience members. Not only did the ballet succeed in creating this relationship between dancers and viewers, but it also achieved the goal of all adaptations—offering a new perspective to a well-known story.