Toni Morrison, Rokia Traore & Peter Sellars join hands in Desdemona

9th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

In 2009 Peter Sellars staged Shakespeare's Othello. In Desdemona, Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, responds to Othello in the voice of Desdemona. An original project introduced every evening by theater director Peter Sellars, with music composed by Rokia Traoré and actress Elisabeth Marvel in the lead part.

Thursday 26 to Sunday 29.05.2011 - 20:00
Desdemona brings together some of the leading figures of the artistic world: Toni Morrison, the American writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Rokia Traoré, the Malian singer-songwriter, and Peter Sellars, the American director. 

In 2009 Sellars staged Shakespeare's Othello. In Desdemona, Toni Morrison responds to Othello in the voice of Desdemona, weaving the missing strands of her history in reflections and prophecies. From her place beyond the grave she carries on an intimate conversation with the African maid Barbary, who raised her and taught her to sing. In their stories and songs, which Rokia Traoré composed for 2 musicians playing African instruments and a chorus of 3 Malian women, we finally hear the sound of hope after centuries of racism and oppression. Peter Sellars directs.

Othello revisited: Desdemona

"My name is Desdemona. The word, Desdemona, means misery. It means ill fated. It means doomed. Perhaps my parents believed or imagined or knew my fortune at the moment of my birth. Perhaps being born a girl gave them all they needed to know of what my life would be like. That it would be subject to the whims of my elders and the control of men. Certainly that was the standard, no, the obligation of females in Venice in the fifteenth century. Men made the rules; women followed them. A step away was doom, indeed, and misery without relief. My parents, keenly aware and approving of that system, could anticipate the future of a girl child accurately. They were wrong. They knew the system, but they did not know me. I am not the meaning of a name I did not choose."


Peter Sellars, Rokia Traoré & Toni Morrison

Desdemona involves three exceptional artists. Peter Sellars is a well-known name. This American director has had a substantial influence on the KVS programme, even though the opportunities to show his work are limited. KVS invited him to the Bottelarij with his production For an end to the judgement of God and recently staged his  Kafka Fragments by Kurtag in the Bol. The script is by writer Toni Morrison (1931), who in 1993 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Several of her books are considered classics of American literature, including The Bluest Eye, Beloved (which won her the Pulitzer Prize) and Song of Solomon. Her style is exceptional for its epic proportions, lively dialogues and Afro-American characters, who are developed in great depth and detail. The music is by Rokia Traoré, who is a composer, guitarist, singer and the intellectual odd-woman-out on the Malian music scene. She is not a member of the hereditary caste of griots and went into music very much against the will of her diplomat parents. In the meantime she has emerged as a highly socially and politically aware singer with a pronounced aversion to starlike airs and who in Europe has worked with the Kronos Quartet, has performed in a Malian adaptation of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute and has acted in a musical on Billy Holiday.


For Sellars, the starting signal for a full Othello project was a conversation with Toni Morrison about Shakespeare's play. Sellars has for some time now been examining various aspects this 1604 play in which Othello, a black general, kills his white wife Desdemona out of jealousy. One of the things Morrison said was: ‘The reason Desdemona falls in love with Othello is the stories he tells her, or at least that's what he says. She listened to the stories of his travels and adventures. But where are these stories? We have to hear the stories that are not actually in the play'. In 2009, this question of the gaps in Othello and the possibility of giving the play a new meaning in the Obama era led to a "post-racial" version in which black and white folks no longer acted in accordance with the roles they were traditionally given.

In response to this version, Toni Morrison and Rokia Traoré are now rewriting Othello on the basis of a profound and intimate conversation between Shakespeare's Desdemona and the African maid who raised her. After centuries of colonialism and racism, these two women share stories, songs and the hope of a better future.

This production will not open until the Wiener Festwochen (May 2011), so nothing can yet be said about the result. But the underlying aim is clear from this statement: ‘The 21st century may be able to respond to Shakespeare's forward-looking and painful allegory, with new structures and new relationships that aim for shared understanding and which can reconcile the cries for justice regardless of gender, rank or position, country or culture.' Nothing less than that.

Hildegard De Vuyst



Dates and hours
26 > 29.05.2011 - 20:00 (Introduction by Peter Sellars - 19:00)

KVS - Salle Bol
146 Rue de Laeken
1000 Brussels

Text Toni Morrison

Music Rokia Traoré
Musical Interpretation Rokia Traoré + Band & Chorus
Actor Elizabeth Marvel
Director Peter Sellars

In English, surtitled in Dutch and French

Catégorie I: € 36 / 30
Catégorie II: € 20 / 16

Info & tickets
BOZAR +32 (0)2 507 82 00 - | KVS: T 02 210 11 12 -

Coproduction: Wiener Festwochen ,Théâtre Nanterre - Amandiers, Cal Performances, Berkeley, California , Lincoln Center For The Performing Arts, New YorK, Spielzeit'europa I Berliner, Festspiele, Barbican, London, Arts, Council London and London 2012 Festival

Copresentation: BOZAR THEATRE | KVS


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