A Wintery Fable Enchants All Ages at Synetic Theater

 A Wintery Fable Enchants All Ages at Synetic Theater

Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
December 2, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Drawing on a centuries-old fable, Director and Helen Hayes Award-winning Choreographer, Irina Tsikurishvili, channels the troupe’s earliest performance experiences in America when they worked strictly in the grand tradition of mime. The Snow Maiden harkens back to those times with a wordless and original interpretation of the classic tale which inspired Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen to write “The Little Match Girl”. Thankfully, this newly minted version is a charming story that leaves out the darker themes of earlier versions. This enchanting two-hander features a boy who lives by himself in a tiny cottage in the woods and a little girl with magical powers who represents the traditional granddaughter of Grandfather Frost.

Set to a background of Christmas carols (I heard “O Tannenbaum”, “Noël” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”) and classical music, the boy (played by Vato Tsikurishvili) builds a snow maiden (Maryam Najafzada – a leading light in the Azerbaijan Ballet Theater) who amid a forest of towering, snow-covered pine trees, springs to life. Together they explore the frozen forest making snow angels, having snowball fights, and playing hide and seek.

Maryam Najafzada as Snow Maiden and Vato Tsikurishvili as The Boy (Photo/Michael Butcher)

In a particularly beautiful scene, the little girl teaches the boy how to ice skate. Their gliding motions, enhanced with spectacular over the shoulder lifts, spins and flips put me in mind of Olympic skaters Torvill and Dean who revolutionized ice dance. But they were on ice! not on a wooden stage. It boggles the mind how these two performers convince us they are skating on ice. Glittering stars in a dark blue night sky lead us to dream of the holidays in snow-laden forests and the possibilities that wishes can come true if we believe.

A wintery jewel box of a production that springs to life just when we need it most. Ideally suited for children and the grownups who take them.

Highly recommended.

Maryam Najafzada as Snow Maiden and Vato Tsikurishvili as The Boy (Photo/Michael Butcher)

Resident Composer Koki Lortkipanidze; Production Designer Aleksandr Shiriaev; Costume Designer Kasey Brown; Lighting Designer Peter Leibold VI; Technical Director Phil Charlwood; Sound Engineer Matthew Datcher.

Through December 23rd at Synetic Theatre, 1800 S. Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202. For tickets and information contact the box office at 703 824-8060 x 117 or visit www.SyneticTheater.org

Synetic’s Dracula is Sexy and Slick

Dracula

Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
October 18, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Pablo Guillen as Dr. Seward, Philip Fletcher as Holmwood, and Renata Loman as Van Helsing, with Rachael Small (floor, center) as Lucy. (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

Just in time for us to get our spooky senses aroused for Halloween season, Synetic stages a revival of one of their classics. The opening, wherein Count Dracula vanquishes the Turks to defend his Transylvanian homeland in a sensory-explosive battle, may be one of the company’s most spectacular. Known for their magnificent fight scenes (performers are trained in fight choreography), this one is an explosion of dramatic warfare unleashed from the depths of depravity. Underscored by eerie narration, a terrifying demon spirit and a trio of Dracula’s wives undulating to the strains of Gregorian choirs and electronika, English solicitor, Jonathan Harker travels via coach to the Count’s castle to obtain Dracula’s signature in a land deal. He is led by the Count’s three wives who transmogrify into Harker’s horses spiriting him away to his doom.

Dan Istrate as Dracula and Jacob Thompson as Jonathan Harker. (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

When Harker returns to his lover, Mina, in Edwardian London, we find the female vampires mingling with London society at a grand ball replete with a dance of the coffins and with the prime intention of, oh, well, let’s just say what you were already thinking, biting their necks and turning them into future vampires. In a scene straight from the Theatre of the Absurd, they capture Mina’s friend, the beautiful and feisty Lucy, absconding her body back to the castle and the lustful Count who finds her to his “taste”.

Ghouls and grave hunters pepper the sinister landscape as the blood-thirsty vampires follow their sexual desires in a dizzying whirlwind of fantastic dance and dramatic displays of mortal combat. Lighting too plays a key role. You’ll notice scenes lit as though in an Old Dutch masterpiece with shafts of golden light falling on the victims as though they are bathed in heavenly rapture.

Dan Istrate as Dracula and Rachael Small as Lucy. (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

Who will be Dracula’s next victim and who will be saved from his sanguineous clutches is the burning question for zombie lovers to deduce. Meanwhile, you will most assuredly find a lot to “chew on” in this seductively mordant interpretation of Bram Stoker’s classic tale rendered as erotically salacious as it is bloodthirsty.

Most assuredly NOT for the kiddies, although there is a smattering of oddly out of place tongue-in-cheek humor that tends to disrupt the ghoulish vibe.

Dan Istrate as Dracula. (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili; Choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili; Fight Choreography by Vato Tsikurishvili; Assistant Director and Sound Design by Irakli Kavsadze; Adapted by Nathan Weinberger; Resident Composer Koki Lortkipanidze; Costumes Designed by Kendra Rai; Lighting Design by Ian Claar.

Starring Dan Istrate as Dracula; Jacob Thompson as Jonathan Harker; Renata Loman as Van Helsing; Nutsa Tediashvili as Mina; Rachael Small as Lucy; Philip Fletcher as Holmwood; Irakli Kavsadze as Renfield; Pablo Guillen as Dr. Seward; Justin J. Bell as Quincey; Lev Belolipetski as Captain; Rodin Ruiz as Villager; Maryam Najafzada as Dracula’s Wife; Irene Hamilton as Dracula’s Wife; and Anna Tsikurishvili as Dracula’s Wife.

Through November 6th at Synetic Theater at National Landing, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202. For tickets and information visit www.Synetictheater.org or call the box office at 703 824-8060.

Action-Packed Host & Guest Draws on Epic Battles to Deliver a Powerful Message About War

Action-Packed Host & Guest Draws on Epic Battles to Deliver a Powerful Message About War

Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
September 2022
 Special to The Zebra

Dan Istrate as Joqola (Photo/Johnny Shryock)

In one of the most exhilarating productions Synetic Theater has ever mounted Host & Guest transports the audience into a world of epic wars and hand-to-hand fighting so explosive and exciting I felt I was watching a 3-D action-packed, superhero movie loaded with special effects. The musical score by Vato Kakhidze and with Resident Composer Koki Lortkipanidze was as dramatic as one you’d expect from Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer. Using a combination of spoken word and mime to express the conflicts arising from warring factions, numerous battles rage against a backdrop of tribal politics, ancient laws and religious differences. The parallels to the war in Ukraine cannot be overlooked.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Zviadauri and Dan Istrate as Joqola (Photo/Johnny Shryock)

The story takes place in a remote mountain locale beside a gorge. Joqola (Dan Istrate) finds himself wounded and battle-weary at the home of Zviadauri (Vato Tsikurishvili) who welcomes him in as his guest. Neither Zviadauri nor his wife Agaza (Irina Tsikurishvili) are aware he is the enemy. Soon Musa (Irakli Kavsadze), the village leader discovers he has let the “infidel” into their midst and organizes the villagers to assault Joqola and murder his guest.

There is a ninja-like quality to the battles and a sense of geometry in the choreography by Synetic Co-Founder, Irina Tsikurishvili. In one epic scene the women prepare the men for battle. In unison and in mime they gird the warriors with their weaponry, helmets and shields. Their militaristic movements are precise and the sounds of their lances hitting the floor with staccato-like echoes are indeed haunting.

Ensemble (Photo/Johnny Shryock)

When empathy for the enemy is punished and humanity is ignored, we see how forces unite under a charismatic leader. With an extraordinary cast to underpin its deepest meaning Roland L. Reed’s play based on Vazha Pshavela’s poem by the same name reveals itself to be an existentialist exercise in the futility of war and Shakespearean in its broadest scope.

Director and Co-Founder Paata Tsikurishvili names Synetic’s 20th anniversary season, “Stranger in a Strange Land” and dedicates this production “to the brave people of Ukraine.” His Director’s Note remarks are a powerful warning and a poignant remembrance.

“For more than six months, the civilized world has watched in horror as true tyranny, the Evil Empire, rocks the European continent as they have time and time again for nearly 80 years. The brutal and unprovoked attack on the peaceful nation of Ukraine is cut from the same bloody cloth as the murderous campaigns of Hitler and Stalin, and has the same basic source: A small, petty man ruled by the small, petty need to feed his own warped ego and megalomania. It is a continuation of the endless, cyclical violence portrayed in Vazha Pshavela’s original poem, on which this production is based, and many of our cast and company have seen this violence with their own eyes. Like many of history’s atrocities, the war crimes we are witness to began with someone small and insignificant, but, left unchecked, they have, as we now see every day, spiraled into global disaster.”

Highly recommended.

Ensemble (Photo/Johnny Shryock)

With Philip Fletcher as Mula; Nutsa Tediashvili as Zviadauri’s Wife; Maryam Najafzada as Deer. Villagers are portrayed by Irene Hamilton, Josh Cole Lucas, Justin Bell, Natan-Maël Gray, Robert Bowen Smith, Lev Belolipetski, and Sebastian Newman. Emma Ruckh plays Daughter.

Scenic Design by Phil Charlwood; Costume Design by Carolan Corcoran; Set Design and Costumes in the Original Production by Gogi Alexi Meskhishvili; Lighting Design by Brian Allard; Sound Design by Irakli Kavsadze.

Through October 2nd at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 824-8060 or visit www.SyneticTheater.org.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
July 7, 2022
Special To The Zebra

Philip Fletcher as Oberon and Stella Bunch as Titania (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

Under a Maxfield Parrish moon faeries morph into fireflies casting a magical glow and transporting the audience into a stunning adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic love story. World renowned Synetic Theater presents a highly creative pantomime version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with an evening of visual drama, extraordinary athleticism and Chaplinesque slapstick. Performed around the world since its debut in 2009, this mega-sensory fantasy is one of Synetic’s premiere productions. For those unfamiliar with the company’s many wordless productions of reinterpreted classics such as The Servant of Two Masters, Phantom of the Opera, The Tempest (performed in six inches of water!) and countless mind-blowing presentations over their 20-year history, this richly visual production will make you a convert for life.

Lev Belolipetski as Lysander and Aaron Kan (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

Set to a mix of electronika, tango, waltzes and original music by Koki Lortkipanidze (who as Starveling plays silent film music on an upright piano onstage), this beloved dramedy is directed by visionary co-founder Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographed by brilliant co-founder Irina Tsikurishvili. A sensory explosion of color and action, it transports the audience on a phantasmagorical voyage.

Surprises and plot twists will keep you in both suspense and amusement. In the scene where the lovers hide from one another they are discovered in the woods beneath golden lotus leaves in what is typically set in an English garden. Themes of the play-within-a-play are cleverly remixed and so is the relationship between Oberon and Titania. Here we find them as a sexy, belly-dancing Titania (Stella Bunch) and Oberon (Philip Fletcher) as a gladiator-inspired, superhero whose relationship reveals jaw-dropping fight scenes and sensuous tangos.

Katie DuBois as Flute, Vato Tsikurishvili as Bottom, and Pablo
Guillén as Snug (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

As the devilish Puck, tiny redhaired Ariel Kraje’s sinuous and athletic moves reminded me of a Cirque du Soleil artist in flight. Clad in sky blue chiffon tendrils, she is as captivating as a butterfly on the wing. In yet another star turn as one of Synetic’s finest performers Vato Tsikurishvili (in dual roles as both the goofy donkey Bottom and conflicted Egeus) displays a breathtaking range of flips, leaps, fight skills and deadfalls enhanced by his comic facial expressions.

Frothy and fierce and highly recommended. Grab your tickets now!

Nutsa Tediashvili as Hermia and Anna Tsikurishvili as Helena (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

With Irene Hamilton as Hippolyta/Snake; Kim-Anh Aslanian as Cobweb; Alissa Zagorski as Peaseblossom; Nathan Weinberger as Quince; Katherine DuBois as Flute; Pablo Guillen as Smug/Theseus; Josh Lucas as Snout; Lev Belolipetski as Lysander; Nutsa Tediashvili as Hermia; Anna Tsikurishvili as Helena; Aaron Kan as Demetrius; and Bengt-Erik Nelson as Tom. 

Fight Choreographer Ben Cunis; Scenic Design by Phil Charlwood; Costume Design by Anastasia Rurikov; and Lighting Design by Andrew Griffin.

Through July 24th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202.  For tickets and information visit www.SyneticTheater.org or call the box office one hour before showtime at 703 824-8060 (Extension #117)

“The Servant of Two Masters” is a Master Class in Pantomime

“The Servant of Two Masters” is a Master Class in Pantomime

Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
April 9, 2022
Special to The Alexandria Times

Vato Tsikurishvili as Truffaldino and Maryam Najafzada as Smeraldina in Synetic’s The Servant
of Two Masters. Photo by Johnny Shryock Photography

In a triumphant post-Covid return to the stage, Director Vato Tsikurishvili presents The Servant of Two Masters, a commedia del’arte farce designed to poke, prod and tickle our funny bone. Designed to play up to Synetic’s singular skills in mime and physical comedy, the characters are silent – their superior physicality backgrounded by Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s edgy cool electronica sounds mixed with the strains of Edith Piaf period French accordion music. I even detected a tack piano in one of the love scenes.

It’s easy to fall into the fantasy of the lovers and the fools and root for their desire to be together come hell or high water. The vagabond Truffaldino (Vato Tsikurishvili) and his lady Smeraldina (Maryam Najafzada) and the female to male and back again role-shifting Beatrice (Nutsa Tediashvili) and her lover Florindo (Jacob Thompson). A third couple complicates the antics further with the pouty teenager Clarice (Irene Hamilton) and her adoring swain, Silvio (Pablo Guillen).  The three couples face challenges and interruptions to their love but manage against all odds to triumph. Well, of course, there’s a happy ending – after everyone is put through the proverbial wringer.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Truffaldino and Maryam Najafzada as Smeraldina in Synetic’s The Servant
of Two Masters. Photo by Johnny Shryock Photography

In the inimitable style of Charlie Chaplin with a dash of the Keystone Kops and the legendary Buster Keaton, the director’s adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century farce, is filled with electrifying chases spliced with tangos, waltzes and a soupçon of ballet. But what’s even more unforgettable are the hilarious love scenes. In one, Truffaldino and Smeraldina cement their love over a clothesline. Here they slip their arms into garments hanging on the line and dance together entwining each other in a playfully romantic danse à deux that includes a sexy slurping scene. In another the lovers playfully stretch dough into crazy shapes while working in a hotel kitchen overseen by Pantalone (Philip Fletcher) as Truffaldino races madly back and forth across the stage in order serve the outrageous demands of his two masters, Beatrice and Florindo.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Truffaldino and Maryam Najafzada as Smeraldina in Synetic’s The Servant
of Two Masters. Photo by Johnny Shryock Photography

Surprises abound and a clever moving stage unfolds and whirls around to reveal a bed for romantic entanglements, double stairways, hidden cubicles and more, all cleverly designed by Phil Charlwood. The dizzying love story has many moving parts and you’ll need to be on your toes between the death-defying acrobatics, leaps and pratfalls and the beautifully executed dance sequences. Through it all there is the sensuality of the lovers and those determined to foil their love played out in a true master class of pantomime. Watch for our hero Truffaldino’s incomparable physical skills combined with his singular ability to convey both angst and adoration in a vast array of facial expressions. He is well complemented by his love interest, the adorable and delicate gamine Maryam Najafzada whose comedic style is utterly enchanting. The entire cast shines from beginning to end.

Highly recommended.

With Guillen in the dual roles of Silvio and Federigo and Delbis Cardona as both Cop and Chef.

Choreographed by Maryam Najafzada, harlequinesque Costumes by Aleksandr Shiriaev; Lighting Design by Brian Allard; Sound Design by Yaritza Pacheco; Props by Emily Carbone.

Through May 1st at Synetic Theater at Crystal City, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202.  For tickets and information visit www.SyneticTheater.org or call the box office at 703 824-8060 ext.117. Strict Covid protocols remain in place.

Note: On April 29th Synetic will stage a benefit performance for United Help Ukraine, Inc. featuring excerpts from Lyrica Classic’s Prayer for Peace and a full performance of The Servant of Two Masters. All proceeds will go to UnitedHelpUkraine.org.

Phantom of the Opera ~ Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
February 10, 2020
Special to the Alexandria Times 

In an extraordinary adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, Director Paata Tsikurishvili re-envisions the Phantom’s world – not as an opera, but as a ballet.  It is a tremendous stroke of genius.  The most ballet-centric production Synetic Theater has ever mounted, it stars two of the company’s most brilliant dancers.  Irina Tsikurishvili, Synetic founding member and the company’s choreographer, plays the Phantom in a pulse-quickening, gender-reversed, absolutely magnificent tour de force performance.  One of the company’s newest members, Maryam Najafzada, a sylph-like ballet dancer from Azerbaijan – all arms, legs, wide eyes and pouty lips – plays Christine.  The incandescent Najafzada made her debut in October 2018 as a horse spirit in Synetic’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow and, unsurprisingly, she has since been a featured dancer.

Maryam Najafzada as Christine and Irina Tsikurishvili as Phantom. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

In this fantastic reimagining, we first meet the Phantom’s younger self as the dancer she once was.  Disfigured by the fire that destroyed the Opera House, she makes her home in an aqueous grotto far below stage.  Characters portrayed in the original story as rival opera singers, here are claws-out ballerinas keen to have the role of prima ballerina given to Christine’s rival, Carlotta.

Maryam Najafzada as Christine and Irina Tsikurishvili as Phantom. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

When the Phantom dashes Carlotta’s future by dropping a chandelier on her mid-performance, the vicious act ensures Christine will become the company’s prima ballerina.  Slowly, Christine falls deeper in love with the Phantom.  Rejecting her suitor Raoul, she deepens her bond with the Phantom who becomes her dance instructor and their burgeoning infatuation presents us with the most sensually romantic pas de deux in the production.

Maryam Najafzada as Christine with ensemble. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

On a lighter note, interactions among the corps de ballet provide a bird’s-eye view into backstage antics – both the bitter jealousies and the playful camaraderie.  In a particular scene, the secondary dancers review their movements backstage in a kind of hand pantomime, coding the steps they will take onstage.  It’s an insiders’ glimpse into an off-stage routine dancers do, that I have never before seen revealed.  Look for it in Act One.

Irina Tsikurishvili as Phantom, L to R: Eliza Smith (ensemble) Maryam Najafzada as Christine, Janine Baumgardner (ensemble) Rachael Small as Carlotta. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

But lest you think it’s all toe dancing and liquid-limbed dancers in tutus, a fair part of this silent production are the fierce fight scenes between the Phantom, her cave-dwelling creatures of the night, Raoul, a host of devils, and Moncharmin, the temperamental ballet master.

Stunning full-stage video projections deposit you smack dab into the center of Paris’s Opera Garnier and its underworld.  A scene in a ballet studio where we watch young students being trained on the barre, grants us a view of Paris from ocular windows high above the city.  Another brings us into the grand opera house fire crackling with flames and crumbling Grecian columns.  Most visceral of all are Raoul’s descending race into the Phantom’s haunted lair.  To save Christine from certain death, he travels through caverns that are a virtual charnel house of the Phantom’s victims.  Coupled with the extraordinary classical music, electronica, and eerie sound effects from Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze and lavish costumes by Erik Teague, this Phantom of the Opera is spellbinding.

Maryam Najafzada as Christine and Irina Tsikurishvili as Phantom. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Highly recommended.  Five stars!

Starring Irina Tsikurishvili as Phantom; Maryam Najafzada as Christine; Jacob Thompson as Raoul; Rachael Small as Carlotta; Lottie Guidi as the Young Phantom; Delbis Cardona as Moncharmin.  Ensemble members are Janine Baumgardner, Eliza Smith, Thomas Beheler, Julia Ruth Holland, Joshua Cole Lucas, and Scean Aaron.

Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili with Associate Director Katherine DuBois Maguire; Choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili; Fight Choreographer Vato Tsikurishvili; Costume Design by Erik Teague; Composer, Konstantine Lortkipanidze; Scenic Design by Daniel Pinha; Lighting Design by Brian S. Allard; Projections Designer, Patrick Lord; Adapter, Nate Weinberger.

Through February 29th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 866.811.4111 or visit www.SyneticTheater.org