by Carmel Morgan
June 14, 2008 -- The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Family Theater, Washington, DC
Led by Artistic Director (Paata Tsikurishvili), Washington DC’s Synetic Theater, whose name blends the words “synthesis” and “kinetic,” tells stories by fusing music, mime, drama, and dance. Its final production of the 2007-2008 season was “Carmen.” To do “Carmen” Synetic-Theater style, you take a woman in a black bustier and ruffled skirt, hand her a red flower, give her a jealous jilted lover, and make her dance in a cage.
Actually, nearly the entire cast of “Carmen” moved in and out of the industrial cage-like set, brilliantly designed by Anastasia Ryurikov Simes. The unusual set – a huge, circular, rust-colored contraption resembling a Ferris wheel on its side without the gondolas – provided for lots of jungle gym fun. Actors hung like monkeys from the bars and then dropped gently like spiders pursuing prey. The set also served as a giant drum against which a chorus of performers beat red sticks.
A violinist (Rafael Javadov) opened the show. Cloaked in black and wearing a black bolero, the violinist stood on a platform above the metal web evoking images of “Fiddler on the Roof.” This shadowy figure looked like the grim reaper, except that he carried a bow instead of a scythe. Carmen’s besotted lover, José (Ben Cumis), knelt below, inside the cage.
At the end of “Carmen,” José appeared in the same position as the beginning. In between, practically no dialogue occurred. One wished all of the dialogue had been excised, as speaking was unnecessary. In fact, the delivery of the lines distracted from the otherwise powerful performance. The sizzling Carmen (Irina Tsikurishvili) flirted mercilessly with José. She needed no words to seduce him. Carmen’s swinging hips and cigarette smoking lips drove José wild.
Silence and spectacular movement sequences characterize the Synetic Theater. Tsikurishvili’s lively choreography and Cumis’s cleverly crafted stage combat made “Carmen” worth watching. The brightly costumed performers maneuvered skillfully whether enacting a bullfight, seducing a man, or engaging in drunken rabblerousing. The stage was constantly awash in the dizzying twirls of the full-skirted women and the artful tumbling of the confrontational men. The original electronic music by Konstantine Lortkipanidze, however, weakly accompanied the otherwise dramatic show. I missed Bizet’s passionate score for the opera version of “Carmen.”
The Synetic Theater’s blending of a myriad of theater arts yielded a real triumph. Their unique movement-based version of “Carmen” had a tremendous emotional impact precisely because the performers said so much with their bodies and so little with their mouths.