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A Tempest in a Dance Study

Many people have seen at least one play by William Shakespeare performed on stage, but have you ever seen one danced?

Shakespeare’s plays have such basic and timeless themes, that the stories have been turned into musicals, operas, even dance.  Last weekend the American Dance Institute in Rockville hosted the Canadian based company Kidd Pivot and they mounted a very interesting and challenging modern dance piece based on Shakespeare’s final play “The Tempest.”

It is one of the Bard’s greatest works, but not an immediate candidate for a dance piece.  What makes Crystal Pite’s choreography of “The Tempest Replica” so intriguing is that it falls into two parts.  In its 80 minute running time we get a performance and a deconstruction of that performance.

At first we get a fairly straightforward adaptation of “The Tempest,” with an interesting twist. 

Critics have found a variety of themes in Shakespeare’s supernatural play and Pite uses the story as a blank slate to explore various concepts – literally.  Except for the magician Prospero, who is in modern day casual attire, all the other dancers are in white outfits.  This includes white masks so they look something like mannequins, and Prospero the magician turns into puppet master manipulating everyone on stage.  The monochrome set by Jay Gower Taylor adds to this blank slate approach.

It is very well done, and projections tell us where we are in Shakespeare’s play.  There is as much acting here as there is dancing.  It is a style of carefully stylized movement that would not be out of place at a company like Synetic Theater, which specializes in wordless, choreographed based performances. 

It is a stripped down version of “The Tempest,” with fewer actors and subplots, but it is easy to follow.  Small hand movements tell us that one of the characters is the fairy Arial, while a crown denotes the usurping Duke and wings denote the monstrous Caliban. 

Nothing too difficult yet until the final act of the play and then things abruptly change.  Suddenly characters emerge in modern day attire and modern sounds like car horns are heard on the soundtrack.  This part features more stylized and fluid dance movements.  I can see some people scratching their heads here because there are fewer signposts as to what is going on.  In many ways it was a free rumination of the themes earlier in the work brought into the modern world, with snippets of Shakespeare’s dialogue projected onto the backdrop as our only guide.

I do not pretend to have understood everything here, but it was always intriguing and definitely food for thought as novel ideas came one after another.  Some of the pieces seemed to be going into the psychology of the characters – more than one critic has noted that Arial and Caliban seem to be the yin/yang of Prospero’s soul.  At other time it went deeper into the relationships of these fairy tale characters, especially a conflicted relationship between Prospero and his daughter Miranda. 

Whatever the final meaning here, there is no denying how Kidd Pivot can conjure up amazing visual images with the simplest of means.  Using a scrim, flashing lights, projections and a busy soundtrack, the opening storm sequence really made you feel like you were in the middle of a raging gale.  There are also humorous moments – when Miranda falls asleep at one point, little Z’s float on the screen behind her just like a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

All of the performers did a good job, and while listed in the program, their specific roles were not mentioned.  Still, the dancers performing Prospero and Miranda had the most extended dance sequences and performed them very well.

Perhaps the final word comes from the company’s name.  Pivot is a dance movement, while Kidd invokes up images of Captain Kidd.  Kidd Pivot is then both precision movement and a bit of a rebel. You can say much the same thing about “The Tempest Replica.”

The American Dance Institute is becoming a venue for some of the most interesting modern dance performances in the area.  Upcoming performances at ADI include Yvonne Rainer in “Assisted Living” on April 25-26 and Tere O’Connor with “Bleed” on May 16-17. For more information, call 866 811-4111 or go online to http://www.americandance.org/.

3 stars.

By David Cannon

Mocovox Entertainment Critic

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