In my next life, I am going to be the kind of gal who can airily cartwheel off a male dancer’s six-pack. In the meantime, I am more than content to live vicariously through Irina Tsikurishvili, the dancer and choreographer who has imbued a number of roles at Synetic Theater with staggering power and lyricism and can now add Cleopatra to her list of triumphs. (The January issue of Dance Magazine placed her among the top 25 dancers to watch.)
Bewitching and bold, both haughty and needy, Miss Tsikurishvili’s Cleopatra nimbly embraces the contradictions in what many consider Shakespeare’s most complex female character. Up against a woman with this many gleaming facets, poor Mark Antony (Ben Cunis) doesn’t stand a chance. He becomes the ultimate warrior weakened by love.
In Synetic’s forceful production of Antony and Cleopatra at their winter digs at the Lansburgh Theatre, Cleopatra is well-matched with two disparate men worthy of her majesty—the gladiator-like brawn of Mr. Cunis’ Antony and the cunning intelligence of Philip Fletcher’s Octavian, one of the three rulers of Rome after Julius Caesar’s assassination.
Synetic’s wordless adaptation of Shakespeare’s love struck tragedy by Paata Tsikurishvili (who also directs) and Nathan Weinberger contains much back story, including a vivid depiction of Caesar’s (Irakli Kavsadze) stabbing on the Senate steps that features red-robed senators in white bunraku masks splotching the emperor’s white sash with scarlet handprints. These expressionless masks are used effectively throughout the show to contrast the characters’ placid public faces with their private treacheries.
Antony and Cleopatra teems with perfidy—of the political kind, with Octavian plotting to oust Antony and become sole ruler of the empire; and of bedroom politics, with Antony turning his back on his country in his dizzying lust for Cleopatra. The Queen of Egypt herself is not above trickery—in the beginning, she plots against her own brother to gain the crown and throughout the play is in mystical cahoots with a snake Spirit (Alex Mills, who appears to have had his joints and bones replaced with silken cords) who helps her enamor Antony “in infinite variety” and supplies her not only with the instruments of deception and seduction but also with the slender asp that will fell the mighty queen.
Synetic is widely known for its visual poetry and you wonder if they can top themselves after the bucolic bounce of their Midsummer Night’s Dream or the gothic tingle of their Dracula, for example. Yet, they do it again, capturing the extremes and contrasts of the play with alarming beauty. A tumultuous sea battle (executed solely with actors deftly manipulating their bodies and ropes) gives way to the eerie grace of Antony’s drowned men suspended and swaying in seawater. A slew of skirmishes so intense the Roman swords create sparks are leavened by scenes of a sensual Egypt—a place of honeyed light, sheer clothing, bellydancing and wine that seems to float magically toward the imbiber—and moments of waggish playfulness by Mr. Fletcher, who acts as dexterously as he moves.
The show’s final image is a stunner, the tragic inevitabilities playing out in Cleopatra’s statue-strewn monument. Antony dies a fallen hero, a man abandoned by his gods and deceived by his lover. Cleopatra, on the other hand, dies a goddess—her poisoning merely a passage into immortality. As Octavian and his men rush in to claim victory and the crown, Cleopatra towers above them all—sand slowly pouring over her head in divine benediction.
Antony and Cleopatra
Based on the play by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger
Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili
Choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili
Fight Choreography by Ben Cunis
Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Antony and Cleopatra runs through Feb 28, 2010
For details, directions and tickets, click here.
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA