Arlington’s Synetic Theater transports audiences to the fairy tale realm of enchanted forests and love at first sight in its latest wordless adaptation.
Sleeping Beauty gets the visceral performance troupe’s signature treatment this time, and it may hit home among preteen fans of the genre, but the whole disappointingly lacks the dimensions required to fill in the flimsy original material and sustain a 90-minute running time.
The celebrated sensual elements expected of a Synetic show are on display: music and movement drive the story forward, a variety of wondrous and striking sound, lighting, costume and multimedia effects accentuate it. But past Synetic productions have had more to work from than the meager story of the bland princess living under a curse and the insipid prince who strives to awaken her.
The company’s silent Shakespeare productions for example had dense, complicated material to convey—and did so boldly and creatively. Much of the popular contemporary expression of the classic Perrault and Grimm Brothers’ mashup of the sleeping princess is less engaging, at least for adults. You may remember the 1959 Walt Disney uber version of the tale, where a lot of time is spent following the young princess prancing through the woods and making googly eyes at her prince. That telling finally comes alive when the unflinching witch dramatically turns into a pretty stunning sulphur-spitting dragon—but alas, here there is no dragon.
Instead, action is conveyed through lots of running through the woods and fending off spells. Or casting spells. And that formula is repeated. And repeated. And repeated.
Director Paata Tsikurishvili and adapter Nathan Weinberger do introduce changes to the popular variant of the story, aligning it more with Wicked and the 2014 film Maleficent, but it’s not enough to elevate the tedium. Then again, kids might really dig it. At times, the unfolding action reminded me of video games I used to play.
The cast is led by Synetic’s indomitable dance master, choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili as the witch, a role that’s become typecasting for her athletic frame and dark scowl. Irina imbues the witch with some semblance of character however, expressing the steely anger but also motherly affection.
Synetic’s teen company alumni Eliza Smith and Zana Gankhuyag portray Briar Rose, the sleeping beauty and the prince, respectively. The cast is rounded out with Dallas Tolentino and Chanel Smith as the king and queen, and Kathy Gordon, Francesca Blume and Emily Whitworth as klutzy, well-meaning pixies.
The dance choreography in Sleeping Beauty is not as intense or impressive when held to the standards set by Synetic’s past productions, but Gankhuyag gets the medal for most physical performance. He ardently leaps and dives around the stage throughout the second half of the show as he races this way or that, endlessly casting or evading spells.
Smith is charming in her movement as the object of everyone’s attention, and glides with the youth attendant to her. The three fairies are charged with providing much of the comic relief, and do so with a light touch, which still may be enough to profit from the amusement of very young children.
Phil Charlwood’s set design is also not particularly memorable, with banners draped from the rafters serving multiple uses; as trees, waterfalls and canvases on which to showcase Riki Kim’s projections. Aspects of the story are effectively realized as shadows behind a screen.
Costume designer Kendra Rai dresses the cast beautifully, outfitting Irina in her characteristic form-fitting snake-suits, the young princess in virginal white, and the three pixies in a motley splash of color.
The music and sound team (director of music Irakli Kavsadze, composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze and sound designer Thomas Sowers) fill the aural space with the requisite magic and frenzy and also a bit of Smetana and Tchaikovsky for good measure.
Sleeping Beauty. Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili. Featuring Eliza Smith, Irina Tsikurishvili, Zana Gankhuyag, Dallas Tolentino, Chanel Smith, Kathy Gordon, Francesca Blume and Emily Whitworth. Choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili. Fight Choreography by Dallas Tolentino. Set design by Phil Charlwood. Costume design by Kendra Rai. Lighting design by Brian Allard. Sound design by Thomas Sowers. Multimedia design by Riki Kim. Music directed by Irakli Kavsadze. Music composed by Konstantine Lortkipanidze. Produced by Synetic Theater. Reviewed by Roy Maurer.