The act of adapting the works of Shakespeare to the dance discipline is not a new phenomenon, examples of it are plentiful, though the ballet adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is one that comes readily to mind. The benefit adapting this work is pretty simple is pretty simple for the choreographer: the classic stories become a large canvas through which the artist could explore the themes within their chosen story, enabling them to express their view on revenge, madness, love, joy with their distinctive voice by utilizing the general audience’s familiarity with the source material.
For her part, Kidd Pivot’s founder Crystal Pite has seized the opportunity to put her stamp on Shakespeare with her piece, The Tempest Replica–playing at On the Boards for one more performance this evening–and has crafted a work of jaw-dropping physical intensity and emotional vulnerability. Her take on Prospero’s journey is immediately recognizable (the program provides a convenient abbreviated synopsis of The Tempest‘s general plot for the unfamiliar), which is made all the more urgent by not relying on words–the very things this play is known for–to convey its emotions.
It all begins innocuously enough as Prospero is found building paper boats down stage right as the audience enters. He then summons Ariel, the play’s primary magical presence, and commands her to set his plan for revenge in motion by summoning his enemies to the island he’s been exiled to–all of this occurs with the utterance of two simple words. Ariel obliges Prospero and the first stunning setpiece of the evening proceeds: The shipwreck, which is rendered in a way that has to be seen to be believed, let alone comprehended. The effect is simply exhilirating, and no sooner is it done than we get a touchingly lyrical pas de deux between Prospero and his daughter, Miranda. By the end of this movement, your correspondent was completely enthralled by the world presented by Ms. Pite.
This pattern is repeated throughout the performance, exhilaration followed by marvel followed by movingly emotional beats. The play progresses simply, with narrative transitions, settings and the occasional abstract concept presented by supertitles projected onto the stage (for example: “Act Two Scene Two/Prospero shows his daughter the shipwreck”). For the majority of the performance, Prospero is the only character that remains in plainclothes throughout; the other characters are costumed entirely in white from head-to-toe, with individual accents to make them distinct. This serves two purposes, the first of which accentuates the subjective nature of Shakespeare’s story; everything is seen through Prospero’s prism. The other purpose is that all of the emotions within the story have to be conveyed through the dancer’s body, a task that is accomplished handily by the company.
This cyphering of the characters is lifted for Act Five, which again serves dual purposes: It allows us to view the dancers in the flesh–something that would have been robbed from the audience had the conceit remained in place. It also allows for Pite and her company to expound on the fate of these characters in ways that is not strictly found in the script. We are allowed to fully feel the separation of Caliban from Prospero, we can see the emotional damage that Ariel feels, we can enjoy Miranda and Ferdinand’s joy they find in each other. And then we get the Epilogue, wherein we watch Prospero come to terms with his exile, and the madness it had driven him to, culminating in a final image that is crystal clear in its ambiguity.
In eighty minutes we are transported through this emotionally complex story, and nary a narrative beat is missed. O, that all Shakespeare adaptations were this fully realized.
[NOTE: On the Board’s website has listed the entire run of The Tempest Replica as sold out, however, do not fear, as they have a standby policy in effect. Word from OtB’s personnel is that all of the patrons on the standby list have been able to attend. It is a risk well worth the time and energy to take.]
Tonight at 8:00p.m. // On the Boards, 100 West Roy Street // $20