by Lynn on May 8, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

>The Tempest Replica

At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Created by Crystal Pite after The Tempest by William Shakespeare. Set by Jay Gower Taylor. Costumes by Nancy Bryant. Lighting by Robert Sondergaard. Sound by Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe. Projection design by Jamie Nesbitt. Composed by Owen Belton. Voice by Peter Chu and Meg Roe. Danced by: Bryan Arias, Eric Beauchesne, Peter Chu, Sandra Marin Garcia, Yannick Matthon, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado.

An exquisite realization of The Tempest by Crystal Pite and her dance troupe, Kidd Pivot, told in dance, movement, sound, light and projection.

The Story. A man (Prospero in Shakespeare’s play) is banished from his kingdom by his enemies because he is expert in magic. That frightens them. They put him and his baby daughter (Miranda) in a boat which eventually lands them on an isolated island. There are two other creatures there: the monster (Caliban) who reluctantly does the man’s bidding, and a spirit (Ariel) who is more accommodating to do the man’s bidding.

One day the man’s enemies sail near the island. The man conjures a tempest to wash them ashore where he will confront them. Among the group is a prince (Ferdinand) who immediately falls in love with the daughter. First the man has the prince do a back-breaking task to prove his worth to marry his daughter. The man sees that the prince has a fine character and the tenacity to do the back-breaking task and allows the two to wed. The man confronts his enemies and deals with them and forgives others. He gives Ariel his freedom but doesn’t do the same for Caliban—who loathes him. In the end the man finds his own closure and release.

The Production. As we file into the theatre a man dressed in black shirt, pants and socks sits on the stage making origami boats. His folds are precise and sharp. He is meticulous with the shapes and construction. He tweaks his nose. When he finishes a boat he places it on his fingers and looks at it from every angle then carefully puts it down on the stage. He reaches for a piece of paper—there is a pile by his foot, stage right—and starts the process again. Making the folds precise and sharp. He tweaks his nose; holds the finished boat on his fingers and holds it up looking at if from every angle. He does this about 18 times in exactly the same, precise, choreographed way.

A curtain billows down and forward, behind the man. Then when the production proper starts a terrible tempest billows up. The curtain flips and folds across the stage as a sound effect conjures that storm. Projections of dancers clad from head to toe in white—even the whole head and face is covered in a white gauzy material—are tossed back and forth across the curtain as they try to hold on to each other and stand up.

When the tempest is over the man in black surveys his domain. He has conjured the storm. On the back wall simple projections indicate the Act and Scene that note important milestones from Shakespeare’s play to tell the story. A woman in a white dress, head and face completely covered in the same white, lays on the stage. The man drags her a bit across the stage. She is limp. Almost robotic in her movements. A projection lights up on a section of her costume: ‘daughter’. She is startled by the storm and saddened when she sees that men were swept overboard.

The man sits her down on the stage and tells her the story of how they came to the island. A projection of a window is shot onto the back wall of a man in silhouette reading a book—we hear the sound effect of pages rustling as the pages are turned. He demonstrates what he has learned. Magic. Another projection shows the window is high up in a tower of a castle. Below are silhouettes of men sneaking into the castle. One is armed. The man in the tower is surprised, taken out of the castle along with his infant daughter, set into a boat and cast off alone. One of the thugs in this scene carries the crying baby in a way suggesting he’s never held one before. He holds her straight out in front of him. When he hands the baby to the man in the boat, the man holds her tenderly to him, protecting her head, as a loving father would. (Wonderful image) The two land on an island. Other projections show how the baby has grown into a girl and then into a young woman.

The monster walks on all fours occasionally, certainly when the man is dragging him, is in white with spindles and spikes coming off his back. He is always accompanied with the sounds of grunting and slobbering. His head is covered in white as well. The spirit (Ariel) is slim and is in form-fitting body covering and tights, white again with the face and head covered. The enemies of the man roll onto the stage from the wings. They are in white suits. The prince is in white with his head and face covered. The daughter frets over him. The man sets the prince a task, to move a huge boulder (white) from one end of the stage to another, only to have a rope bring the boulder back to the original space. Where the prince hauls it up again. His hands get stuck under the boulder. Pulling his hands out from under the boulder is repeated in concise movements, and is funny.

These white clad characters in which the head and face are covered, tell us the bare facts of the story. We can differentiate between characters by their body language and their interactions. Seeing facial expressions is impossible. The facts are what are important in this first go round.

Then characters appear with their head and faces revealed and in clothes that are in colour and not white. The daughter is still in a dress, her hair is long and dark, her facial expression is light, lively, animated. Her movements are fluid and not robot-like. In these segments for the rest of the production relationships between characters is the focus.

The man treats the monster badly, physically, harshly. The monster fights back. The daughter and the prince have a pas de deux in which she finds him unconscious in the sea. The movement is fluid, clinging and suggestive of floating. Even his hair flips up as if caught by a wave. Stunning. In these segments no projections are needed to tell us the act and scene. We know Pite is repeating the story but with a different focus this time.

Dance of course is not my forte, but from a purely theatrical point of view that movement and the establishment of those relationships is done with clarity, simplicity, emotion, drive and intoxicating life.

Comment. It takes about three hours to tell the story of The Tempest speaking Shakespeare’s exquisite language. It takes about 80 minutes to tell the story of The Tempest Replica dancing choreographer-creator Crystal Pite’s exquisite dance-movement language. She has told Prospero’s story that is simple and complex at the same time. No you do not have to read the play beforehand to know what is going on. If you did then The Tempest Replica would be a failure. It isn’t. It’s a glorious, exquisite example of a creation that tells a story simply, pricks the imagination and squeezes the heart doing it.

A Kidd Pivot Production presented by Canadian Stage.

Opened: May 7, 2014
Closes: May 11, 2014
Company: 7; 5 men, 2 women
Running Time: 80 minutes.

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