- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2008

Choreographer and dancer Irina Tsik urishvili tends toward refined intensity in her work, but with “Carmen,” we see more of a wanton side in her supplely abandoned portrayal of the title character, the infamous Gypsy femme fatale and hedonistic advocate of free love.

Synetic Theater’s violently passionate, combative staging takes elements from Prosper Merimee’s novel and Georges Bizet’s opera and adds the distinctive touches we have come to expect from the theatrical company. For starters, there is no “Habanera” or “Toreador Song.” Instead, the live music by Konstantine Lortkipanidze is a modern, almost electric jazz-rock mix of violin (Rafael Javadov), keyboards (Mr. Lortkipanidze) and guitar (Serge Krichemko).

Also, the setting and costumes by Anastasia Ryurikov Simes do not evoke 19th-century Spain but a gritty urban jungle. The main action takes place within a bullring of metal scaffolding, and the female characters wear swirly flamenco skirts that are topped with black vinyl bras and bustiers, while the men favor leather vests and black leggings.

Similarly, Carmen (Miss Tsikurishvili) is not an unintentional siren - she’s the ultimate embodiment of “the girl can’t help it,” but also a woman ruled both by her willfulness and her strong sense of fatalism. She blithely seduces the young soldier Jose (Ben Cunis), leading him from a disciplined life to obsessed despair after she seduces through dance a string of other men - including his superior officer (Scott Brown), her Gypsy husband (Ryan Sellers) and a famous bullfighter (Phillip Fletcher).

Yet Carmen is acutely aware of the perils of living in the heat of the moment and seems accepting of the unavoidable fate awaiting her. Miss Tsikurishvili’s portrayal of Carmen, with out-thrust hips and serpentine undulations, is that of a sexual predator. You do not get a sense that the fiery and provocative Carmen cares a whit for that poor sap Jose; the bullfighter (the commanding Mr. Fletcher) is more her equal.

In contrast, Mr. Cunis, as Jose, gives such a physically articulated portrait of frenzied emotion it’s as if his skin is turned inside-out. His ferocity is mirrored in the inspired writhings of the ensemble (Salma Qarnain, Courtney Pauroso, Mary Werntz, Natalie Berk, Shannon A.L. Dorsey) and in an unexpectedly moving portrayal of a bull by Vato Tsikurishvili - who, as the unfortunate recipient of the bullfighter’s skill in the ring, first swats uncomprehendingly at the thrusts of the cape and blade before folding himself gracefully into a posture of death.

Synetic’s “Carmen” demonstrates what the company does best: dramatic visuals set to music and outstanding physical expression that is so precise words almost seem superfluous.

***

WHAT: “Carmen,” by Prosper Merimee, adapted by Nathan Weinberger and Paata Tsikurishvili

WHERE: Family Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through June 15.

TICKETS: $35 to $40

PHONE: 800/444-1324

WEB SITE: www.synetictheater.org MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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