“Macbeth is a comedy if you’re a witch and a tragedy if you’re anyone else.”
The dancing witches in Macbeth are not your pointy hat, black-wearing, broom-flying witches. As the agents that drive the story, they are onstage virtually the entire time, lurking during every sinister choice that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth make in the opera. They move props. They haunt all of the characters and bring them to the darkest moments of their lives. We spoke with the nine women who play the witches about how they bring their hellish characters to life.
It all started at the audition.
While most dance auditions involve an incredible amount of specific movement and counting, the auditions for Macbeth were all about becoming witches.
“When I walked into the audition, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know anyone there. I didn’t know Darko [Tresnjak, the director], but I walked in and he didn’t use counts. We were just asked to feel it and have an intention or idea behind our movement,” says Nehara Kalev, appearing in her first LA Opera production.
Kalev continues, “One of Darko’s first corrections for the group performing the witches’ opening scene was just to sense and look for the evil. This is both simple and super hard. When have you been asked to do that? To sense evil in the space and be attracted to it. To not comment on it or show, but to have a direction and go there. We’re so used to decorating things and Darko really wanted us to have a true and authentic experience.”
Yvette Tucker, for whom Macbeth is her tenth LA Opera production, elaborates. “You had to really commit to being witches. You can’t be embarrassed by it. Some of the movement is sexual. It’s dirty; it’s ugly. But there’s also a real beauty in it.”
While they had specific staging notes from Tresjnak (that included lots of climbing and sword fighting), during the rehearsals they were also encouraged to explore their witch characters. What led each witch to be cast out of their world into their own personal hell?
“There’s a scene where we are writing with chalk and what we write is what we see as the evilest and most horrific words. Each of us is in our own personal hell, but we are all commiserating in the same story,” says Sierra Puett.
In this way, the rehearsal process was less about standard dancing and more about movement and creating a character, which is refreshing for the women.
“As dancers, we learn choreography and then we are married to that structure. We know what we are going to do every night on 5,6,7, 8. With these characters, we know we have to climb at some point, but we still have room to create character and make every moment on stage different,” says Eboni Adams. “This was my first time working with Darko and it was great, because he really helped us find our characters. His energy is so magnetic that you have no choice but to go along for the ride and commit to creating the witch that is Eboni.”
As a result of this character work, each witch is distinct on stage.
“We all have movements that are natural to us that we see within our witches. But on top of that is a certain gravitas that we’ve all accepted, which I think has really made it work,” says Tucker.
They also wear the same haunting costumes that are anything but ordinary. Since the witches are driving the action and must physically be able to climb and move, the costumes had to be flexible. But they also had to be grotesque. With costumes that are essentially flexible, hairy one-pieces with a flayed back and a long tail, costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb achieved just that. The witches look more like demonic rats than they do your standard broom-wielding witches – and they love it.
“People don’t know what to make of us, but we are making an impression,” says Meredith Ostrowsky.
Lisa Gillespie, who has performed in eleven LA Opera productions, agrees. “It might be my favorite costume. I’ve done big hats, bustles, character shoes, and had a bag over my head, but there’s so much freedom in this costume.”
Although Macbeth has opened and audiences have been wowed by the witches, the character work is still evolving. The beauty of their grotesque freedom on stage is that they are still developing their characters during each performance. With this ever-evolving character development, the women bring the witches to life in new and exciting ways, always bringing the intensity the comes with being magical.
To see the witches, come see Macbeth through October 16. For tickets, click here.