Adapted by Nathan Weinberger and Paata Tsikurishvili from the novella by Prosper Merimee
Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili
Choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili
Produced by Synetic Theater
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Synetic Theater is celebrated for its high powered and no-holds barred physicality, gorgeous music, spectacular use of lighting and space, and innovative movement and choreography often dripping with passion and sensuality. Now, imagine all of these elements portraying the story of Carmen filled with love and obsession, gut wrenching sensuality,and heartbreaking betrayal. Synetic more than delivers the goods with this one. It’s got razzle dazzle choreography that borders on the acrobatic, beautifully mounted scenes, and to top it off, musicians onstage incorporated as part of the story. All of this makes for a sure fire hit. But the innovative creators didn’t stop at pure blissful entertainment. Instead, they have ripped the familiar “whore with a heart” character totally out the safe, Bizet filled world, light-hearted arias and all, and refashioned an entirely different dark environment, moody, gangsta-like, raunchy, and a bit gritty. It is a delightfully delicious concept and is not your Mama’s Carmen.
Irina Tsikurishvili as Carmen is spectacular, whether flashing her eyes, whipping her skirt about as if her life depended on it, or those movements-no one moves like Irina and its wonderful watching her take on her own demanding choreography.
Ben Cunis plays Don José, her lover du jour, with impeccable movements and skill. An important part of the story is watching his free-fall from dutiful soldier, to smitten then abandoned lover, to coolly deranged fanatic. The amazing director, and co-adaptor, Paata Tsikurishvili shows us pivotal moments along the downward spiral and all we can do is watch while Don José gets swept away in life-happens undertow, trading his crisp uniform for ragged gypsy attire, playing their daring games, even ambushing his own battalion, all for the love of Carmen. Philip Fletcher who delivered spine-tingling performances in previous Synetic performances – who can forget his Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet or his servant in The Fall of the House of Usher – continues in exquisite form here as sparring partner Lucas, matador extraordinaire.
The ensemble represents Paata’s diverse, multi-racial world vision and the resulting energy is electric. He and Irina require honest expression through pure, unadulterated movement, and the entire company delivers. Whether in regimented lock step of the military battalion, or as a roving testosterone filled band of brothers, or spit-fire rocking women with superior alignment and irrepressible fury, they all hit their marks.
Sensuality oozes from every rippled muscle from the well-turned ensemble. One of Irina’s spellbinding gifts is the ability to make sculpted shapes from the human form. In her hands, arms and limbs can become undulating flowers in the field where stems gently fall when plucked. The opening scene tells it all: bodies drape portions of the gigantic cage that fills the stage, in repose, arms and legs form the bars, lifeless, motionless before springing to life on cue. The entire production has that enchanting, primal, other worldly kind of feeling, touching deep-seated emotions that jar the floor with rock hard intensity.
The company also has an unwavering devotion to blending the design elements to work together and that happens with absolute perfection here. From costumes (Anastasia Ryurikov Simes) to lighting (Colin K. Bills) and sound (Konstantine Lortkipanidze), everything must hit with mind-boggling precision, and it does, and then some. The set design (Ryurikov Simes again) is particularly significant in telling the story. The large open-bar cage is multi-functional so the actors can poke through the bars, shimmy along the top, swing horizontally along the sides, hoist themselves up and hang upside down, monkey-bar like, making this the most athletic choreography I’ve seen in all their productions. The company’s unstoppable imagination transforms the simple design into rugged hilly terrain, a back room bar just waiting for a brawl, even a bullfighting ring.
The production embraces music as an intimate part of the story with the artistry of a jazzy-rock trio – easily worth the price of admission alone – with composer Lortkipanidze on keyboard, and Serge Krichemko on guitar. The music is an eclectic blend of gypsy folk ballads steeped in Romanian sounding chords tinged with funky Latin rhythms, resulting in a sweet spot of international flavors.Violinist Rafael Javadov could easily fill Carnegie Hall-he hits unbelievably high notes in the upper register, coaxes out soothing melodies, and strides with the rest of the musicians on the jazzy riffed ballads. In one pivotal scene, attired in exquisitely cut flamenco waist-coast and wide brimmed hat, Javadov steps into the cage with Carmen, and represents her inner conflicts and repressed turmoil, disappearing into the shadows evading her outstretched hands while playing furtive notes of despair on his violin. Breathtaking.
The Tsikurishvilis, originally from the republic of Georgia, offer a totally different world view of art and performance. They have a unique ability to transform ideas and emotions into a stunning visual montage using movement, mime, fabric, the likes of which has yet to be matched in the metro area. In the program, Paata reflects that Carmen is about “…hindsight and perspective. Does love entrap or does it liberate? Does it make the world a clearer, more lucid place, or does it serve only to refract or fragment our perceptions?”
Synetic devotees and new comers alike will get a contact high from their enchanting high wire passion-filled kinesiology. Carmen ratchets up their already high octane exploration of the time, space, visual and movement continuum, and shows why they swept Helen Hayes Awards this year. If you don’t already have tickets for Carmen, then what in the world are you waiting for?
Running Time: A little over 1:30 without intermission
When: Thru June 15, Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30pm, and Sunday at 3pm.
Where: Kennedy Center Washington, 2700 F Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. Family Theater (formerly AFI)
Call: 202-467-4600 or consult the website.
To listen to our conversation with Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili and Philip Fletcher, and hear two tracks from the show, click here.