To kick off its new season, Synetic Theater reaches into its attic to revive both a 2009 piece and an age-old debate about whether this is a theater troupe that dances or a dance troupe that theatricalizes.
The balance of creative power in “Dante’s Inferno” — refreshed for the directorial debut of Synetic’s house choreographer, Irina Tsikurishvili — is weighted heavily in favor of the latter. Under her guidance, the visually striking production in the company’s Crystal City home is danced with nothing less than a demonic vengeance. As in a pact with any devil, though, the rewards come at a price. In this case, being a movement piece with lovely extremities has too little going on now, as in 2009.
The dancing, however, is tauter, fiercer and more compelling this time around: a veritable ballet of the damned is what results by way of this dance-oriented director, working from an adaptation first staged seven years ago by her husband, Synetic’s artistic director, Paata Tsikurishvili, and longtime company member Nathan Weinberger.
Pushing a performer’s body to its limits has always been a Synetic hallmark, along with an eagerness to incorporate elements of whatever other art forms can help to embroider an evening’s subject. Classic mime, movie horror, military formation all come into play in Synetic’s interpretation of the “Inferno” portion of Dante Alighieri’s allegorical epic poem “The Divine Comedy.” (The production’s title has been changed from the original “Dante” and then later, “Dante’s Divine Comedy.”)
What remains is a narrative that skims the surface of the poem, as Dante himself, in the guise of the Tsikurishvilis’ red-cloaked gymnast son, Vato, ventures through the circles of hell with Virgil (Alex Mills). In Synetic’s version, Dante, suffering from writer’s block, is in pursuit of an afterlife reunion with his love and muse, Beatrice (an angelic Tori Bertocci).
The story provides the Tsikurishvilis and their longtime collaborators, set and costume designer Anastasia Simes and soundscape composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze, with a canvas for some ghoulishly sinister stuff — another popular Synetic motif. Simes’s hell is decked out like some really durable parlor of sadomasochism, with demons in studs and leather and Lucifer (Philip Fletcher) looking like a sexy roadie for Marilyn Manson.
Mostly, though, this dialogue-free “Dante’s Inferno” propels us from one chamber of horror to the next, as the denizens of the various circles, condemned by dint of earthly shortcomings such as greed, hypocrisy and gluttony, endure eternal torments. It should be noted that the torments are elegantly realized, in the writhing exertions of 11 well-drilled dancing actors (acting dancers?) identified in the program as “Souls.” The familiar trademarks of Irina Tsikurishvili’s sultry brand of choreography are apparent here in the mix of balletic jumps and acrobatic flips and recognizable moves from shows past, like a certain liquid undulation of the head, shoulders, arms and torso that I like to call the Synetic Swivel. On this score, Tsikurishvili’s debut is unassailable.
Simes does a first-rate job of differentiating the ragged looks sported by the long-term, hollow-eyed tenants of each circle; in one corner of hell, she amusingly incorporates into the costuming what appears to be Saran Wrap, to highlight the constraints imposed on the eternally terrorized. Still, a monotony sets in somewhere around the midpoint of a 100-minute show that’s unrelieved by anything except the physical dazzle.
Veteran company members such as Fletcher and Mills are perennial standouts; the beauty in the way they move on a stage only intensifies with time. On that purely physical plane, Synetic rarely makes a misstep.
Dante’s Inferno, adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger from the original poem by Dante Alighieri. Directed and choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili. Costumes and sets, Anastasia Simes; music, Konstantine Lortkipanidze; movement, Alex Mills; lighting, Mary Keegan. With Lauren Ashley, Chris Galindo, Justin J. Bell, Shu-nan Chu, Katrina Clark, Anne Flowers, Emma Lou Hebert. About 100 minutes. Tickets, $20-$60. Through Oct. 30 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. Visit synetictheater.org or call 866-811-4111.