Synetic Theater has developed a dazzling performance style that tells stories with stunning beauty and emotional clarity. Using minimal dialogue, the company combines mesmerizing, dance-based movement with striking artistic design and powerfully evocative music. Synetic is bringing this approach to BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown this weekend with its production of "Host and Guest," fresh from recent successful runs in New York and Arlington. It's a gloriously rewarding 80 minutes of storytelling.
"Host and Guest" explores a cycle of ethnic hatred between Muslims and Christians in the Republic of Georgia, as related in an epic poem. But the story could just as easily take place in any location where tribal animosities warp human character. Roland Reed, in adapting Vazha Pshavela's poem, focuses on broad themes and imagery that is geographically nonspecific.
The play is directed and choreographed by Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, a married couple and Georgia natives. Despite Georgian names and costumes for the characters, the Tsikurishvilis emphasize Reed's universal themes, creating 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 remote corner of a battlefield, allowing each other an unthreatened opportunity to drink water. Within moments the shared gesture proves futile as war fatally erases it.
The ensuing scenes tell the tale of a Muslim villager named Joqola, played by Greg Marzullo, who stumbles upon a Christian named Zviadauri, played by Irakli Kavsadze, who's having little luck hunting in the woods. Joqola offers the hungry visitor the hospitality of his home. When the other villagers reveal Zviadauri's religious background and seek to assassinate him, Joqola decides his village's time-honored tradition of hospitality is more important than ancient animosities, and this provokes another 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 nature of the conflict. One moment, the mostly male cast transforms into gently swaying forest trees, and the next, a thunderous charge on horseback is magically created, all with only wooden poles for props and minimal scenic design.
There are few words, which is fortunate because Synetic actors 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 sincere performances. And when the actors are orating, they don't seem to be listening to each other, oddly appropriate, perhaps, in a tale of mindless ethnic rivalry.
Indelible, ethereal images are created by Kakhi Kavsadze, as a hard-hearted villager who dies, his soul rising to seek its destiny in the midst of earthly battle, and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili as Joqola's wife, a woman haunted by phantom spirits in a graveyard.
Georgi Alexi-Meskhisvili's minimalist scenic design of scaffolding and shredded fabric provides dark backgrounds, his costumes mostly shades of gray and black. It's up to the movement and the faces of the actors to convey the emotions, hopes and fears of these rival village people, vibrant sentiments that compel rapt attention.
"Host and Guest" will be performed at 8 p.m. Saturday at BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Dr., Germantown. Tickets are $22 in advance, $27 on Saturday. For information or to buy tickets, call 240-912-1057 or visit www.blackrockcenter.org.