REVIEW: Kidd Pivot’s “The Tempest Replica” at the Joyce Theater
Rock-star choreographer. Shakespeare. Cool, full-body costumes that turn top-notch dancers into chalk-white mannequins. On the surface, Kidd Pivot’s “Tempest Replica,” which ran at the Joyce last week, was replete with intriguing ingredients.
Unfortunately, however, they didn’t combine as successfully as promised.
True to its name, “Tempest Replica” distills the Bard’s enchanted-isle tale of vengeance and virtue into a pared-down replica, stripping the story and characters down to their bare essences. In the first half, choreographer Crystal Pite unfolds the basic elements of plot, with all characters except manipulative Prospero represented as faceless white figures.
A combination of pantomime and high-contact choreography reveals the relationships between characters, while spoken and projected text, animated vignettes, and lighting and sound design help to fill in the narrative gaps.
Having primed the audience with a basic understanding of the plot, Pite then retells the story in the second half. Only this time, the characters are in the flesh. The sequence of events has already been established, so this part focuses on conveying the emotional and psychological aspects of the tale.
In one particularly memorable solo, Prince Ferdinand tumbles on the ground and tosses himself in the air, chest wide open, in what could be interpreted as a private, internal version of the story’s central shipwreck.
All very interesting in concept, especially given the unique ability of dance to transcend language and convey the sheer physicality of emotion. Regrettably, though, “Tempest Replica” relies too heavily on special effects and text to tell the story, leaving unanswered the question of what movement contributed to the telling of this classic tale.
In fairness, there’s much to admire about the production beyond the concept: the costume, lighting and set lend visual interest. The original music, though repetitious and not very memorable, is well coordinated with the choreography. And the dancers are clearly at home in Pite’s grounded, yet dynamic vocabulary of movement.
While the miming that provides the work’s narrative engine is often hokey, several choreographies provide nuanced insights into the characters and the relationships between them. In one particularly memorable solo, Prince Ferdinand tumbles on the ground and tosses himself in the air, chest wide open, in what could be interpreted as a private, internal version of the story’s central shipwreck.
A duet by Prospero and the captive spirit Ariel reveals the intricacies of what today might be called a codependent relationship, and another by Ferdinand and Prospero’s daughter Miranda uses equitable, non-traditional partnering to showcase the heroine’s strength — and also perhaps her freedom from social conventions on the island where she was raised.
Given the abstract nature of most contemporary dance, it was in some ways refreshing to have a narrative lens through which to view the work. In other ways, however, it proved to be a hindrance: while “Tempest Replica” hardly does justice to a play widely hailed as one of Shakespeare’s greatest, the story also poses an unnecessary burden on choreography that easily — and admirably — could have stood on its own.
Overall, “Tempest Replica” combines many interesting and high-quality ingredients, but with a recipe that does not allow them them to fully harmonize or shine. However, there’s reason to hope that could change in the future: in a talk-back following the performance, Pite said the current production is very different from the one that premiered in Frankfurt in 2011, and she indicated it may further evolve still.
One of Pite’s notable choreographic strengths is conjuring moods and themes articulately enough to be clear, but vaguely enough to invite audience members to construct their own meanings. By stripping out some of the narrative clichés to make this Shakespearean ode less literal and more allusive, she could better showcase her own strengths as an artist, as well as those of the production.