Tiny Synetic Theater has seen steady growth of auds and accolades for its movement-based adaptations of theatrical works by the remarkably inventive duo of Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili. In this co-production with D.C.’s Theater J, they have turned Yiddish folk play “The Dybbuk” into a fluid treatise on the concept that love is more powerful than death.
Written in 1914, S. Anski’s “The Dybbuk” has been adapted for film, opera and ballet, including a 1997 play by Tony Kushner at the Public Theater. It is the passionate fable of two lovers caught in ancient earth-bound traditions and a metaphysical impasse.
The production is a natural for the husband-and-wife team, who have applied the highly choreographed theatrical traditions of Georgia and Russia to other classics (including “Dracula” and “Hamlet”), typically with little or no dialogue. This is their first collaboration with the D.C. Jewish Community Center’s professional theater troupe, headed by a.d. Ari Roth, and it appropriately focuses on Eastern Europe’s colorful Jewish culture.
Irina Tsikurishvili’s lively choreography produces this work’s finest moments. It is filled with provocative individual dances and ensemble numbers, building deliberately to a riveting climax when the Rabbi exorcises the dybbuk from the suffering bride.
Minimal props are used to great effect, including shields emblazoned with Hebrew letters that are thrust menacingly toward the would-be groom. Transitions also are memorable, especially a bleak interlude during the wedding dance when the anguished bride bemoans her lost love and arranged marriage.
The script by Theater J associate Hannah Hessel and Paata Tsikurishvili aims for minimal dialogue so the saga can be conveyed chiefly through choreography. That’s fortunate, considering the uneven acting from members of the Synetic cast. Standouts include Andrew Zox as the serious Kabbalah scholar Chonnon, whose efforts to block the marriage through spiritual forces end in death. As the bride, Irina Tsikurishvili demonstrates her well-known versatility as she dances her way from meek subservience to unbridled rage.
Superbly lit by Colin K. Bills, the staging is accompanied by a range of recorded music selected by Irakli Kavsadze and Paata Tsikurishvili. The production is a promising start to a relationship between two capable, and clearly compatible, theater groups.