Synthesis: The fusing of several items into a whole.
Kinetic: Imparting motion; dynamic.
These are the words that Synetic Theater provides to describe the concept behind its name. However, even such colorful and inventive terminology fails to do justice describing Synetic’s vibrant, groundbreaking style.
Having received national acclaim after less than half a decade in existence, the only thing more impressive than Synetic’s work is the story behind its creation. Founded by husband and wife team Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, the theater existed only in their minds for years. Both were from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi; Paata worked as a mime, and Irina was a classical dancer.
After coming to the United States in the late 1990s, the Tsikurishvilis began turning their dreams into reality. After months of staging performances at Russian restaurants and small venues throughout D.C., Paata co-founded the Stanislavsky Theater Studio in 1997. He served as the Artistic Director until 2002, but creative differences with co-founder Andrei Malaev-Babel then pushed him to establish his own company. That same year, Synetic Theater was born.
All of the Tsikurishvili’s work has been a team effort; while Paata directs, Irina choreographs. She has been the resident choreographer at Synetic since its inception, and has won three Helen Hayes awards for Outstanding Choreography since 2000. Synetic Theater’s inaugural production, Hamlet…the Rest is Silence (2003) won two additional Helen Hayes awards for Outstanding Direction and Best Resident Play.
So what makes them so outstanding? According to Greg Marzullo, one of the founding actors of the company, it’s their unique approach toward art.
“We don’t need to go to the theatre to see people eat a sandwich or present the hundred other things we do every day,” he said. “Theatre should be about what goes on inside us.”
Indeed, Synetic’s rejection of ordinary theatre in favor of more visceral, expressionist work is what makes them so distinctive from the rest of the Washington theatre scene. And, while it may seem as if there is little room in D.C. for such edgy, physical theatre, Synetic continues to play to sold-out houses at the Rosslyn Spectrum in Alexandria, and at Arlington’s Classika Theatre, with whom they have a partnership.
In the past, the Tsikurishvilis have been drawn to adaptation, creating new worlds for existing pieces. Hamlet…the Rest is Silence presented a wordless, movement-oriented transformation of the Shakespeare classic. This season’s Host and Guest, was a dark, powerful look at ethnic conflict derived from ancient Georgian poetry.
Unlike Synetic Theater’s past shows, its current play, Bohemians, is an original work by Paata himself. Virtually wordless, its electrifying 60 minutes presents the entirety of human history and beyond, from the fusion of the first molecules to the withering of the world as we know it. Irina’s choreography and Paata’s artistic direction capitalize on the human body as an art form; and even when the story becomes difficult to follow, the movement onstage is mesmerizing.
It’s clear that for everyone in Synetic, pushing the envelope has become a lifestyle. The company’s actors are devoted to 25-hour days, including the “Synetic diet,” (a term jokingly assigned to Irina’s demanding workouts). But you won’t find a single person complaining. Five Helen Hayes awards in less than five years are enough to show that Synetic is doing it right, and everyone knows it. Paata Tsikurishvili has taken art and life and put them together to create something nobody else has.
“Art is at its most powerful when there is space provided for the viewer’s own interpretation,” he said. “I believe that theater is not meant to be an art form of spoon-fed comforts.”
And spoon-fed it isn’t. Every Synetic production is passionate, powerful and primordial. We can only hope that will never change.
Bohemians runs every Thursday, Friday and Sunday through March 6 at Classika Theatre, 4041 S. 28th Street, Arlington, Va.