On Stage: Comedy at the Ballet

by Chuck Conconi

The latest Synetic Theatre wordless production, ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ is nothing short of genius. 

Cast of "Much Ado About Nothing." (Photo by Koko Lanham)

Cast of “Much Ado About Nothing.” (Photo by Koko Lanham)

Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” is a pleasant, comedic farce that in the hands of Synetic Theatre‘s artistic director, Paata Tsikurishvili, becomes a delightful, wild ride. As Synetic’s most recent wordless production, it is so cleverly conceived that the Crystal City labyrinthine corridors of the theatre’s location should be overflowing with theatre-goers lining up to buy tickets.

Genius is a cheap, overused word, but in the case of Synetic’s new approach to this Shakespearian comedy, the word is inadequate. This is not the first time that Tsikurisvili has successfully eliminated the words from one of the sacred words of Shakespeare. In “Much Ado About Nothing,” with the Synetic emphasis on dance and movement, Tsikurisvili has found new energy and excitement.

Choreographed by his wife and leading performer, Irina Tsikurisvili, the setting of “Much Ado About Nothing” is no longer Sicily. It has been transformed to Las Vegas in the 1950s with all the garish glitter one might expect. There is also a Wild One motorcycle gang. That’s not necessarily a new concept since desperate Shakespearian directors, trying to be different, often dress performers in Nazi uniforms or have them arrive on stage on motorcycles.

Tsikurishvili takes all that much farther. Each simulated motorcycle is a single wheel with long, Easy Rider handlebars that the dancers move smoothly around the stage in intricate movements accompanied by the appropriate rumble of the noisy engines. It makes for an amusing, but respectful, comedic look that contributes to making the wordless “Much Ado About Nothing” delightfully comprehensive.

What is so important and entertaining about Synetic productions is that they are modern ballets that don’t take themselves seriously. Synetic brings a fresh look to the Shakespearian comedies which often strain credulity. They were written as frothy audience pleasers of Elizabethan England and were not designed to have the power of the tragedies or history plays.

“Much Ado About Nothing” has all the familiar plot structures we expect: complicated love affairs, sinister forces plotting against the lovers, accusations of unfaithfulness and even a wedding stymied at the altar. Of course, after all the machinations, all is resolved happily because it has simply been “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Synetic’s production is virtually flawless with carefully choreographed movements in a colorful, flashy set designed by Daniel Pinha with Brittany Diliberto’s garish, Vegal night club lighting. Kendra Rai’s costume design reflects the 1850s and Thomas Sowers sound design so effectively utilizes many of the hit songs of that period that it feels just right.

The large young cast, with the energy and sometimes acrobatic skills, is remarkable and looks as though they are having as much fun as the audience. It is true that much of the significance of Shakespeare is in the lyrical language. That will always be there in other productions, but what makes Synetic so important is that it makes Shakespeare fun and new, something that is too often forgotten.

“Much Ado About Nothing” continues through March 22 at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell St., Arlington, VA. Tickets are $15-$95 and available at 866-811-4111 or online here

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