Creating and Collaborating with Movement in Macbeth


Wayne “Juice” Mackins, FCLC ’19, and the cast of “Macbeth” take on the task of incorporating movement into the production. (JON BJÖRNSON/THE OBSERVER)


“The Scottish Play” is coming to Fordham to conclude this year’s mainstage season. Professor Dawn Saito, movement and acting professor for theatre students at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), is taking on the demanding process of directing one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays: “Macbeth.” Along with the usual challenges directing brings, Saito, who considers herself “a multidisciplinary artist,” has also taken on the extra challenge of incorporating butoh movement into the actors’ blocking.

Created in Japan by Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno, butoh is a form of Japanese avant-garde movement that arose in the post-World War II era, a period of great devastation for the Japanese people. Artists in Japan were questioning traditional art forms, including movement art forms, during this time.

Butoh “expresses the darker side of human condition,” Saito said. “So I thought for Macbeth, it would be really compatible.”

For those who have not seen or read “Macbeth,” the play takes place in a war-torn Scotland. Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, plot to take the Scottish crown after hearing three witches prophesy that Macbeth will be king. Violence, guilt and grief permeate the play, making it fitting for Saito to incorporate dance movement that emerged from a state of grief as well.

Student actors involved in the show are excited about the new ideas Saito has worked into the production. Kiera Prinz, FCLC ’20, who is playing Lady Macbeth, said, “It’s really cool she’s incorporating a lot of [butoh] in Macbeth because there’s war, and really negative, terrible events happening [throughout the play].”

Saito began her rehearsals with a workshop period, experimenting with the butoh movement with her cast. Incorporating her love for movement and collaboration, she came in with some choreographic ideas, but remained flexible and open to what looked and worked the best for her actors.

“[‘Macbeth’] definitely is a different experience coming at it from a movement perspective,” Emma Payne, FCLC ’20, said. Payne, who is playing one of the witches, described the rehearsal process as being “a lot more collaborative. It’s a lot more focused on generating your own work and discovering what the world of the play is as you go along instead of coming in knowing every detail about the circumstances in the world of the play.”

Saito’s version of “Macbeth” thus demands more physicality and stamina from its actors. In preparation for rehearsals, many actors changed their diet, hit the gym or even took ballet classes at the Ailey School. Saito also began rehearsals immediately following winter break, which is an earlier start to rehearsals than most mainstage productions. Actors were asked to come back from winter break with their lines memorized.

Despite the intense preparation for the play, the actors still view their experience with Saito as mostly collaborative and experimental.

“[Saito] gave us more creative license in the process and you can see different aspects of each actor in the show where it comes in. She wanted us to come in, bring humanity to these characters and not be bound by some preconceived idea of what a Shakespeare show should be,” Prinz said.

Saito decided to base her choreography around her actors’ natural abilities. “I want to capitalize on their talents. The actors are contributing so much to the process,” said Saito. She specifically praised her Macbeth, Wayne “Juice” Mackins, FCLC ’19, for his dance talent.

“It’s rewarding, it’s honoring. I’m excited to go to rehearsal and work with Dawn,” Mackins said.

Saito also spent substantial time exploring the characters with her actors. Instead of just portraying Lady Macbeth and the three witches as “evil,” Saito worked with her actors to develop these characters as more three-dimensional and human. Saito also had to keep in mind the Fordham Theatre Department’s theme for the mainstage productions—“What does it mean to be an American?”—when directing “Macbeth.”

“I kind of wanted to make that more timeless and animable, and really focus on the human story. The human story in being climbing up for power, trying to achieve power and the choices that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth make,” Saito said. “They want to climb up to ladder to achieve power unethically by killing and [using] violent measures.”

Saito directed “Macbeth” keeping in mind how the story is contextualized in America today. She focuses on gender roles in American society by adding more women to the cast. For example, Malcolm, a male character, is played by Kayce Wilson, FCLC ’19, a female.

“So [in the world of ‘Macbeth’], we’ve had a lineage of kings who have been male, so in the end, this woman rises to power and then there’s a question of is she going to do better. Like what happened in our elections, for example,” Saito said.

Instead of portraying the witches as “evil,” Saito makes them more representative of nature. She uses this depiction to comment on how nature can be destructive and procreative, while also incorporating how humans can influence the negative events in nature.

“When destructive choices are made, there is chaos and imbalance. As in nature, we have global warming, so we’re getting a lot of hurricanes, and we are getting pollution, we’re heating up the planet, glaciers are melting, so how long earth is going to sustain human life,” Saito said. “And in that respect I feel the witches represent the human condition. That ‘Macbeth you’re making these unethical choices, so chaos is being created.’”

“Look at the cast. It’s not homogenous to one specific gender, race,” Mackins said, in reference to how “Macbeth” fits the theme, “What does it mean to be an American?”.

The greatest challenge for Saito is creating the choreography while still developing her world in “Macbeth.”  

“Creating movement is a full-time job in itself, and I’m directing so there has to be so much attention to the language. It feels like two heavies that I’m trying to balance and make it cohesive, trying to blend and weave it together. That’s the big challenge,” Saito said. “So I am so grateful that I have such talented dancers, choreographers, actors that are part of the cast, that are contributing so much. And then I have a great crew. And of course the designers.”

Be sure to see “Macbeth” unfold on April 11-13 and 19-21 at 8 p.m. in Pope Auditorium at FCLC. There is an opening night party immediately following the performance on April 11 and a talk-back after the April 20 performance. You can get your tickets by emailing the box office at [email protected] or calling 212-636-6340.