By Jordan Wright (Photo/Johnny Shyrock)
“Sleeping Beauty” is a rather streamlined presentation of what we’ve come to expect from Synetic Theater’s no-dialogue series. We half-mad aficionados of this famed Georgian troupe have been spoiled by massive casts, extraordinary water features, terrifying physical battles and surprisingly innovative visuals.
But for this incarnation of the classic fairy tale, written by Charles Perrault and later reinterpreted by the Brothers Grimm, we will have to be satisfied with a more balletic approach. The Prince is played by veritable heartthrob and company member Zana Gankhuyag, and Eliza Smith portrays his delicate-as-a-feather inamorata Briar Rose.
Notwithstanding our immodest expectations, there is a sort of magic in the simplicity of director Paata Tsikurishvili’s version and its brand of story-driven fantasy.
Tsikurishvili envisions the Witch, played by real-life wife Irina Tsikurishvili, as a sympathetic creature haunted by the destruction of the forest and its animal denizens by the king’s huntsmen.
Leaning heavily on moral relativism to reinterpret her motives, Paata Tsikurishvili views her as a fierce protector of nature, a sort of anarchical environmentalist, if you will, who wreaks vengeful havoc on both the Prince, who in this version is the Witch’s son, and his intended, Briar Rose.
The fairies (Kathy Gordon, Francesca Blume, Emily Whitworth) are imagined as a trio of ditzy butterflies who hover over the Prince and Briar Rose as protectors against his mother’s fury.
As usual in these wordless renditions, the most popular of which have been the much lauded series of silent Shakespeare productions, we must exercise our imaginations around the basic story as we are enveloped and transported by the classical sounds of Tchaikovsky’s ballet mixed with Phillip Glass-inspired electronica, the original musical compositions of Konstantine Lortkipanidze and Thomas Sowers’ often frighteningly real sound effects.
Dallas Tolentino designed the fight scenes to play up Gankhuyag’s strengths, which are indeed impressive. Taking vicious battle blows from both his mother and demons with thorn-covered swords, he weightlessly tosses his lithe body in a gravity-defying series of leaps, tumbles and somersaults. It is gorgeous to see.
Credit too, goes to Irina Tsikurishvili who, doubling as choreographer, has lent elements of charm to the reindeer that frolic in the wood. Scenic designer Phil Charlwood informs the fast-moving action through the use of silken panels, creating separation, inclusion and high-flying dramatic elements. Special multimedia effects by Riki Kim heighten the nefarious activities of the dark spirits, who act as sentinels and familiars to the witch.
Though this isn’t my favorite Synetic production, I took a friend who had never witnessed the company’s highly imaginative work and she was gobsmacked. I had made a convert.
So perhaps you’ll do the same. Invite a friend. Start small and build to a crescendo — that’s how it’s done in the theater.