by Carmel Morgan
October 16, 2009 -- Rosslyn Spectrum, Rossyln, Virginia
“Dracula” for a theater company might be a little like “The Nutcracker” for a ballet company. “Dracula” is a popular story tied to a seasonal holiday, and it’s sure to bring in an audience. The Synetic Theater debuted “Dracula” in 2005, and it was reportedly a hit. Understandably, Paata Tsikurishvili, Artistic Director and CEO of DC’s Synetic Theater, wanted to bring “Dracula” back to life, especially given the country’s economic downturn.
In 2005, Tsikurishvili played Dracula, but this time around he concentrated solely on directing, allowing company member Dan Istrate, a native Transylvanian, to take the juicy leading role.
The production delivered in every way – incredible costumes, lighting, music, and fight choreography, as well as fine acting. The set, costumes, and properties, designed by Anastasia Ryurikov Simes, created an appropriately spooky atmosphere. A gigantic metallic spider arched above the stage, framing everything within its spindly, notched legs. Dracula’s wives dressed in vivid red gowns that exposed their cleavage. They emerged suddenly from the seams of Dracula’s cape like drops of energized blood. Their arms wildly moving resembled the flames of Hell. The lighting, by Andrew F. Griffin, and music by Konstantine Lortkipanidze, augmented the dark, creepy mood.
As in all of the Synetic Theater performances I’ve seen, the amazing ability of the actors to convey feeling through movement stood out most. Irina Tsikurishvili, the company’s talented choreographer, deserves a great deal of credit for the actors’ fluidity and expression. Lucy, played by Mary Wertnz, writhed terrifically and tossed men away from her with superhuman strength. Istrate as Dracula magically rode on horseback and eerily levitated. Even the furniture and coffins moved as if possessed by ghosts. However, the overall style of acting the company performs, not specific choreographic sequences, truly drives their shows. Most of Synetic’s performers have no formal dance background, but by learning the company’s unique type of physical theater, they are able to achieve what many professional dancers never do. They tell a clear story with their bodies, from head to foot, and they do it beautifully. It’s exciting to watch.
Synetic’s recent wordless “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” took DC by storm. (I actually prefer Synetic’s version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to Balanchine’s ballet). That the Synetic Theater needs no words to relate a tale as complex as this Shakespeare comedy reveals just how expert the company’s performers are at communicating through movement. Too many times I’ve seen a dancer with splendid technique who nevertheless bores due to empty gestures and a vacant face. A physical theater workshop with Synetic would probably do wonders for such dancers.
While “Dracula” did not rise to the level of the company’s masterful “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” maybe because it included sometimes clunky text, and it failed to match the intensity of the company’s “Dante,” what “Dracula” lacked in smoothness and power it made up for in sexiness. “Dracula” included blood-stained white lace, exposed thighs, and heavy breathing. The way women fed off Dracula, sucking his neck like kittens, was disturbing and delightful at the same time. Today’s young Twilight fans would certainly find “Dracula” appealing.