Arlington, VA - Synetic Theater

Dante's Inferno is a Hellacious Trip Worth Taking

Runs through October 30, 2016
Reviewed by Hans Bachmann
on October 1, 2016

For production photos click here.

For some inexplicable reason, I had never seen a Synetic Theater production before the opening night of its production of Dante’s Inferno. Perhaps it was my trepidation in attending a production that relied solely on movement, even though retelling a familiar story. My reticence was totally unfounded, and to those of you who may have similar reservations, I wholeheartedly entreat you to see this remarkable production.

This evocative production ingeniously conveys the dark elements of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem of lost direction and the poet’s perilous journey through nine levels of hell, guided by the spirit of the great Roman poet, Vigil, which ultimately leads to Dante’s redemption and new-found inspiration. Through the imaginative adaption of the origin poem (with a few literary licenses taken) by Paata Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger, the inspired direction/choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili to the extraordinary costumes and sets by Anastasia Simes, music by Konstantine Lortkipanidze, movement by Alex Mills, and lighting by Mary Keegan, Synectic Theater brilliantly reinvents the familiar allegorical poem through a visually stunning interpretation.

At the core of this production is the emotionally charged and moving portrayal of Dante by Vato Tsikurishvili. In Synetic’s adaption, Dante’s loss of direction is in the form of a creative block resulting from the death of the poet’s beloved Beatrice (who is played with ethereal beauty by Tori Bertocci and, in this adaptation, has committed suicide).

Vato thoroughly embodies Dante’s emotional anguish and sorrow wordlessly through tear-rimmed eyes and physical manifestations of grief and torment that are riveting. This perfectly sets up Dante’s decision to follow Virgil (depicted with muscular grace by Alex Mills) into the bowels of hell to face down Lucifer himself (sensually personified by Phillip Fletcher) in a battle for Beatrice’s soul. Tori’s Beatrice exemplifies crystalline elegance and beauty well worth the journey into hell, while Vato exhibits the requisite physical and acrobatic prowess needed to fight his way through the various levels of hell and their tortured denizens and demons, who imaginatively created by the remarkable ensemble.

I was equally moved by the striking imagery that brought to life the haunting sins and sinners in Dante’s epic poem. Lauren Ashley shines in her erotic dance that that nearly succeeds in seducing Dante, as the Lustful swirl about in an agonizing storm of their own desires. Demons force the greedy to choke on the gold coins they so coveted in life. The Violent and Wrathful, marching in formation, are subject to unending evisceration and resurrection. The Hypocrites face crucifixion with the most disturbing of punishments saved for a corrupt pope (Chris Galindo) who struggles but succumbs to his lustful desires. The creative staff, as well as the remaining company members—Justin J. Bell, Emma Lou Hebert, Katrina Clark, Anne Flowers, Shu-Nan Chu, John Millward, Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly, Chris Willumsen, and George Kamushadze—have conceived extraordinary visions that rival any horror movie I’ve seen.

If need be, break out your Cliff Notes on The Divine Comedy, but don’t miss this amazing production that excels in retelling Dante’s travails without a single word.

For production photos click here.

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