Paata Tskikurishvili’s Synetic Theater transforms Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing into a nonverbal production.
By Victoria Gaffney
The ever unique and inventive Synetic Theater has brought its 11th wordless Shakespeare production to the stage. Director Paata Tsikurishvili transforms “Much Ado About Nothing,” Shakespeare’s comedy of love, witty banter and verbal sparring, into an innovative visual show by setting it in 1950s Las Vegas. The Synetic performers—bikers and showgirls, complete with sleek black leather jackets, cool blue jeans and swing dresses—make Shakespeare’s timeless tale come alive with sparkling dance numbers and dynamic nonverbal acting.
Georgian artists Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili founded Synetic Theater together, debuting with their first wordless Shakespeare production of “Hamlet” in 2002. Their theater’s name comes from a combination of the words “synthesis” and “kinetic,” which captures their company’s interest in blending various art forms and incorporating a powerful sense of movement. This emphasis on motion is central to their productions.
Synetic’s approach to Shakespeare is often met with skepticism, and director Paata readily admits that theirs is a wholly unique and unusual method. He is careful to point out, however, that “art has endless possibilities.” Shakespeare in particular, he explains, has inspired artists across disciplines and mediums internationally. Shakespeare’s broad influence leads to questions of translation both of the text itself and of ways to artistically retell and reinvent the story. “Theatrical language” Paata explains, extends beyond words: “It’s visuals; it’s symbolism; it’s music; it’s action; it’s dance; it’s pantomime.” Synetic’s focus is on what Paata calls visual storytelling.
With each production, Paata finds a particular approach or angle to take on the story. No setting is off-limits. He usually tries to find something unusual about the play. “King Lear” was set in a post-apocalyptic world, “Twelfth Night” took place in the roaring twenties, and the entire set of “Romeo and Juliet,” curiously, was set in a clock, a decision Paata made since time is referenced 172 times in the play. He explains that because he is from Eastern Europe his technique is different; sometimes he arrives at something very abstract and surreal, but he tries to combine his approach with an American style.
In each play, Paata tries to find a concept that captures the story. After he has his initial take, he works with other members of the production team and they discuss the mood of each scene. For “Much Ado About Nothing” he worked with composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze, who has worked on a number of Synetic productions in the past. After discussing the mood, or what Paata calls the color of the scene, Lortkipanidze composes music that fits with Paata’s theme. The music is almost entirely instrumental.
“When I do productions without text, music becomes the text so to speak,” Paata says. “Music becomes the score, becomes the script for the actors.” He often jokes that the production isn’t a musical but a “movesical” because of its great emphasis on movement.
In “Much Ado About Nothing,” all the characters are the same. Beatrice and Benedick, rather than sparring verbally, communicate through movement and expression. The original begins with soldiers returning from war, which inspired Paata to set his production in the 1950s. The aftermath of World War II, coupled with the danger of possible nuclear warfare, was very central to the second half of the 1940s and the next decade. In the 1950s, Paata says, “new movement was invented, new dance, new sounds, Elvis Presley, rock ‘n’ roll.” Paata says, “It was kind of a new era, and the story fits so well.”
With all of its productions, Synetic tries to synthesize various art forms; Paata calls this “an artistic melting pot.” He feels wordless productions really showcase the “power of surreal and abstract storytelling.” He explains that about 90 percent of Synetic actors were actors first and then taught how to move; they all have the ability to create an “emotional flow” that runs through the production.
Paata creates wordless productions of Shakespeare partly because he feels it’s important to keep up with the times. With advents in technology, things are changing rapidly. The movies are changing, he says, so “why not the theater?” At Synetic Paata is always asking himself: “What is tomorrow’s theater? What is the contemporary approach?” Paata’s wordless Shakespeare is simply a retelling of the same story. The setting may be different, but the story and the characters are all there.
Ticket Information (through March 22):
Wednesday-Saturday 8 p.m., $15-$100
Sunday 2 p.m., $15-$100
Theater at Crystal City
1800 South Bell St.
Arlington, VA 22202