Review: A balletic rendition of ‘Phantom of the Opera’

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Maryam Najafzada as Christine and Irina Tsikurishvili as Phantom in Synetic Theater's "Phantom of the Opera." (Photo/Johnny Shryock)
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By Jordan Wright

In an extraordinary adaptation of “Phantom of the Opera,” Director Paata Tsikurishvili re-envisions the Phantom’s world – not as an opera, but as a ballet.

It is a tremendous stroke of genius. This show is the most ballet-centric production Synetic has ever mounted, starring two of the company’s most brilliant dancers. Irina Tsikurishvili, Synetic founding member and the company’s choreographer, plays the Phantom in a pulse-quickening, gender-reversed tour de force performance. One of the company’s newest members, Maryam Najafzada, a sylph-like ballet dancer from Azerbaijan – all arms, legs, wide eyes and pouty lips – plays Christine. The incandescent Najafzada made her debut in October 2018 as a horse spirit in Synetic’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and, unsurprisingly, she has since been a featured dancer with Synetic.

In this fantastic reimagining, we first meet the Phantom’s younger self as the dancer she once was. Disfigured by the fire that destroyed the Opera House, she makes her home in an aqueous grotto far below stage. Characters portrayed in the original story as rival opera singers here are claws-out ballerinas keen to have the role of prima ballerina given to Christine’s rival, Carlotta.

When the Phantom dashes Carlotta’s future by dropping a chandelier on her mid-performance, the vicious act ensures Christine will become the company’s prima ballerina. Slowly, Christine falls in love with the Phantom. Rejecting her suitor Raoul, she deepens her bond with the Phantom, who becomes her dance instructor, and their burgeoning infatuation presents us with the most sensually romantic pas de deux in the production.

On a lighter note, interactions among the corps de ballet provide a bird’s-eye view into backstage antics – both the bitter jealousies and playful camaraderie.

In a particular scene, the secondary dancers review their movements backstage in a kind of hand pantomime, coding the steps they will take onstage. It’s an insider’s glimpse into an off-stage routine that dancers often do, and one that I have never seen revealed.

But lest you think it’s all toe dancing and liquid-limbed dancers in tutus, a fair part of this silent production is the fierce fight scenes between the Phantom, her cave-dwelling creatures of the night, Raoul, a host of devils and Moncharmin, the temperamental ballet master.

Stunning full-stage video projections deposit you smack dab into the center of Paris’s Opera Garnier and its underworld. A scene in a ballet studio where we watch young students being trained on the barre, grants us a view of Paris from ocular windows high above the city. Another brings us into the grand opera house, all crackling flames and crumbling Grecian columns.

Most visceral of all is Raoul’s descending race into the Phantom’s haunted lair. To save Christine from certain death, he travels through caverns that are a virtual charnel house of the Phantom’s victims. Coupled with the extraordinary classical music and eerie sound effects from Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze and lavish costumes by Erik Teague, this “Phantom of the Opera” is spellbinding.

Starring Irina Tsikurishvili as Phantom, Maryam Najafzada as Christine, Jacob Thompson as Raoul, Rachael Small as Carlotta, Lottie Guidi as the Young Phantom and Delbis Cardona as Moncharmin. Ensemble members are Janine Baumgardner, Eliza Smith, Thomas Beheler, Julia Ruth Holland, Joshua Cole Lucas and Scean Aaron.

Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili with Associate Director Katherine DuBois Maguire, choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili, fight choreography by Vato Tsikurishvili, costume design by Erik Teague, composed by Konstantine Lortkipanidze, scenic design by Daniel Pinha, lighting design by Brian S. Allard, projections design by Patrick Lord and adaption by Nate Weinberger.

If you go

Run dates: Through Feb. 29

Where: Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington

For tickets and information: Call 866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org

Jordan Wright writes about food, spirits, travel, theatre and culture. Visit her website at www.whiskandquill.com or email her at [email protected].

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