Bursting with visual originality, passion, mystery, and a fantastical futuristic quality, “The Tempest Replica” is a choreographic retelling of Shakespeare’s play. Inventively choreographed by Canada’s Crystal Pite and exquisitely performed by her Frankfort-based company, Kidd Pivot, the mesmerizing work conveys the revengeful tale of the usurped duke, Prospero, through shrewd employment of the magic of masks, silhouettes, sound effects, stage combat, and mime-inspired dance.
Pite is a master of kinesthetic communication and theatrical timing. She peppers her powerful storytelling—always when you least expect it—with little touches of delicate humor and startling shocks of terror. Her grandest feat is the shipwreck-inducing storm scene that kicks off the proceedings. It starts when a woman suddenly shoves a big wad of paper into her mouth. The instant we begin to gag, the stage is overtaken by flashes of lightning, ferocious wind, and booming thunder as a ship gets tossed to and fro, thanks to some ingenious technical effects by designers Robert Sondergaard (lighting), Jamie Nesbitt (projections), Jay Gower Taylor (set), and Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe (sound). We physically feel the nauseating effects of seasickness, initiated by our gagging and heightened by the frightening, undulating, and stomach-turning sights and sounds.
As the show goes on to relate the chilling adventures of Prospero, his daughter, a spirit and a monster he enslaved while exiled on an island, and the conspiring noblemen he eventually forgives, the most striking visual element is the head-to-toe all-white costuming designed by Nancy Bryant and built by Linda Chow. With the exception of Prospero, who acts as a sort of puppet master, the performers are costumed in character-specific clothing that looks as though it got covered in some sort of white paint. They each wear a headpiece shaped like a fencing mask that completely covers their faces. The effect is alienlike but fresh, as if they are people of a post-apocalypse future. Each character moves with a slippery, idiosyncratic physical vocabulary. With their remarkably easy joint flexions, they recall animated characters of the ilk generated by computers through human motion-capture, a sort of life imitating art drawn from replications of life.
The first half of the piece—encompassing the narrative events of the play’s first four acts, concise summaries of which are projected on the back wall—is more physical theater than dance, the performers’ movements rooted in stylized pantomime and martial arts. The culmination of the story, however, is told through more-abstract choreography as the performers, having discarded their white outfits and donned present-day dress, engage in glorious pas de deux that explore the deep emotions driving the relationships among the main characters.
One is likely to be enamored with the phenomenal dancing of the performer portraying the monster and the acting of the man who plays Prospero. Should you want to learn their names or read their bios, however, you will be frustrated, as the program offers no cast list, only an alphabetized roster of the fabulous seven-member company.
Presented by the Joyce Theater Foundation, in association with Kidd Pivot, at the JoyceTheater,175 Eighth Ave., NYC. Nov. 28–Dec. 2. (212) 242-0800 or www.joyce.org.
Critic’s Score: A