Review: ‘Dante’s Inferno’ at Synetic Theater

Synetic Theatre, which gave Washington a Silent Hamlet, now brings audiences a wordless Dante’s Inferno.

Tori Bertocci and Vato Tsikurishvili. Photo by Koko Lanham.
Tori Bertocci and Vato Tsikurishvili. Photo by Koko Lanham.

And a silent 100 minutes never sounded so good.

Created by Paata Tsikurishvili and directed by Irina Tsikurishvili, with movement by Alex Mills and original compositions by Konstantine Lortkipanidze, this Inferno synthesizes music and body, light and shadow, gesture and pain, in ways even Synetic’s most devoted fans will find amazing.

To say you’ll be riveted, would be an understatement.

Dante Alighieri’s Comedy, later called Divine Comedy, is a masterpiece of world literature. In his narrative poem in three books–Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise–Dante “recounts” his journey into hell and up the mountain of Purgatory into Paradise to once again be with his beloved Beatrice.

The sinners. Photo by Koko Lanham.

In the poem, Dante combines the personal, the historical, and the mythical, using his marvelous gift for description to bring the numerous supernatural landscapes into clear relief. In fact, not until the end of Paradise, as Dante gazes on the face of God, does he proclaim, “At this high moment, ability failed my capacity to describe.”

Of course, Synetic wisely took on only Dante’s first book, the painfully visual Inferno. And even then–I’m sure for sanity’s sake–they had to pare it.

But many of the sinners are there: the lustful, the greedy, the hypocrites, and the suicides–to name but a few.

They also had to essentialize the psychological complexity of Dante’s poetry. In this Inferno, the Dante character still seeks his Beatrice, Dante’s real life beloved who died at a young age; but his relationship to sin becomes more his relationship to writing itself, to creativity and desire.

Led by the tour de force performance of Vato Tsikurishvili, as Dante Alighieri, this 15-person ensemble of actors and movers embodies the souls of his journey through hell. Their undulating passions and precise gestures, assisted by Anastasia Simes’ costumes and sets, flood the audience’s senses.

If sin has anything to do with surrender to the sensual, the audience sinned for the whole hour and a half.

Tsikurishvili gives Dante a large passion: his physical control and acrobatic movements bring that passion into Grotowski-like embodiment. We see on stage not so much the character of Dante, but the inner workings of his soul as he wrestles with despair, loss, desire, and yearning.

Tsikurishvili’s performance could be remembered for its endurance alone if it were not so utterly shaped by precision and rapt commitment.

Joining Tsikurishvili on stage is Tori Bertocci as Beatrice. Her striking angel-like appearance provides Dante all the reason he needs to journey into hell. When Bertocci, as a demonic Beatrice, encounters Dante in the circle of the lustful, the vigorously seductive dance that ensures between the two was a highlight of the evening. As she twirled around holding onto Tsikurishvili only by his neck one could only marvel: what a grip her beautiful hands must have.

Philip Fletcher torments a sinner. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Accompanying Dante into hell is the famous epic poet Virgil, author of the Aeneid. Played by Alex Mills, this Virgil and his consummate reason is transformed into a flowing white masculinity of muscle and grace.

Of course, all holy trinities need an antagonist. Dante, Beatrice, and Virgil’s is none other than Satan himself, performed by Philip Fletcher, a Founding Synetic Company member. The final battle between Mills’ Virgil and Fletcher’s Satan is a marvel to watch.

The rest of the ensemble of burning souls and demons work together to create the infernal landscape that has made the Inferno one of the greatest poems ever written. The company includes Lauren Ashley, Chris Galindo, Justin J. Bell, Emma Lou Hebert, Katrina Clark, Anne Flowers, Shunan Chu, John Milward, Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly, Chris Willumsen, and George Kamushadze.

And oh what a landscape of fire they create.

If “the love of money is the root of all evil” and “you are what we eat,” then in this Inferno why not make coin your daily diet.

The ensemble of sinners. Photo by Koko Lanham.

If the wrathful goosestep across the planet in pursuit of global domination, then why not have those same wrathful goose-stepped upon.

If the hypocritical with crosses burdening their backs molest the young, then why not have those crosses molest the hypocritical.

To be sure, Dante’s vision of divine punishments is never arbitrary. And Synetic’s visions of those punishments are never shy.

Whether it’s seas of blood or hands of fire, this spectacle of body and light, provided beautifully by Lighting Designer Mary Keegan, will wash over you like a purifying spring.

You might not know every nuance; you might not even know what sin you are currently enjoying, but of this be assured:

Everyone loves a sinner, and when the sinner is at Synetic, it’s a feast.

At the opening of a Synetic season dedicated to the art of silence, Dante’s Inferno is not to be missed.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, without an intermission.

Dante’s Inferno plays through October 30, 2016 at Synetic Theater – 1800 South Bell Street, in Arlington, VA. For tickets call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.

Dante’s Inferno at Synetic Theater reviewed by Robert Michael Oliver.

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