Synetic Theater has developed a dazzling performance style to tell stories and express universal themes with stunning emotional clarity. The company combines mesmerizing, dance-based movement with striking scenic design elements and powerfully evocative music, using minimal dialogue. Its current production is a remounting of "Host and Guest," first staged at Church Street Theater, Synetic's former home in the District, and recently performed to glowing reviews in New York. It is a gloriously rewarding 80 minutes of storytelling at the Rosslyn Spectrum.
Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographed by his wife, Irina, "Host and Guest" explores a cycle of ethnic hatred between Muslims and Christians in the Tsikurishvili's Republic of Georgia homeland, as related in an epic poem. But the story could just as easily take place in Northern Ireland or the West Bank or the Balkans -- anyplace where tribal animosity warps human character.
Roland Reed, in adapting Vazha Pshavela's poem, focused on broad themes and imagery that is geographically nonspecific.
The Tsikurishvilis continue to emphasize the universal approach and, despite the Georgian names and costumes for the cast, have created a penetrating look at the futility of provincial bloodlust wherever it might be found.
In this grim world, individual acts of kindness are rewarded with destruction, a theme encapsulated in an opening scene when two enemy combatants recognize their shared humanity and lay down their arms in a small corner of a battlefield, allowing each other an unthreatened opportunity to drink water. Within moments the gesture proves futile as war fatally erases it.
The ensuing scenes tell the tale of a Christian named Joqola, played by Greg Marzullo, who stumbles upon a Muslim named Zviadauri, played by Irakli Kavsadze, who is having little luck hunting in the woods. Joqola offers the hungry visitor the hospitality of his home. When the other villagers reveal Zviadauri's background and seek to assassinate him, Joqola decides that his village's tradition of hospitality is more important than punishing an enemy, sparking a violent chapter in a long, sad story of blind hatred.
Moving in synchronization to a continuous, lush score combining compositions by Vakhtang Kakhidze and Georgian folk songs, the 14 cast members create picturesque images of ethnic rituals and village life, as well as terrifying scenes of strife and death. Seemingly mundane activities such as butchering a deer become graceful expressions of community. Battle scenes become a sad ballet, often in slow motion that underscores the ritualized quality of the conflict. One moment, the mostly male cast becomes gently swaying trees, and the next, a thunderous charge on horseback is magically created, all with only wooden poles for props and with minimal scenic design.
There are few words, which is fortunate as Synetic's performers adhere to an old-fashioned, bombastic style of speaking, its stentorian formality at odds with the fluid movement that dominates the presentation. The actors don't speak to each other; they declaim, adding an artificial veneer to the otherwise intimate and natural performances.
Indelible images are created by Kakhi Kavsadze, as a hardhearted villager who dies, his soul rising to seek its own destiny in the midst of earthly battle, and Irina Tsikurishvili as Joqola's wife, who is haunted by phantom spirits in a graveyard.
The scenic design is dark, with Georgi Alexi-Meskhisvili's scaffolding and shredded fabric providing a variety of backgrounds and his costumes mostly shades of gray and black. It is up to the movement and the actors' faces to convey the emotions, hopes and fears of these rival village people, vibrant sentiments that compel rapt attention.
"Host and Guest," performed by Synetic Theater, continues through Oct. 16 at the Rosslyn Spectrum, 1611 N. Kent St., Rosslyn. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. For tickets or information, call 703-824-8060.