The Tempest Replica
A scattering of paper boats across the stage marks the start of "Tempest Replica," an all-dance adaptation of Shakespeare's late play featuring an exiled statesman who receives the opportunity for a perfect revenge when one of his enemies crash-lands on a remote island.
The Canadian dance company Kidd Pivot, directed by Crystal Pite, presents its version of "The Tempest" in an active, muscular but occasionally anonymous setting, in which dancers in white with bandaged faces (as if they were survivors of some kind of offstage trauma) cavort and sway, adding to the text through subtracting almost that makes it Shakespeare.
The company performs without speech from the pull of the waves that reel in the castaways to Prospero's ultimate triumph and Ariel's freedom. Without words except the odd whisper woven into her soundtrack, barely distinguishable from the electronic and ambient sounds, Pite leads her cast into some interesting pas de deux that occupy the space between parternship and combat, demonstrating the ensuing power struggle that develops between Prospero (played by Eric Beauchesne, with a beard and the only face we see for most of the show's running time) and his unwanted guests.
The decision to mask the dancers' faces is interesting but ultimately affective of their ability to convey performance. Their performances are top-notch, but there's still something unnerving about not being able to see the faces of actors portraying Ariel, Caliban, Miranda and the rest of Shakespeare's characters, even when (as in Ariel and Caliban) physicality can do some of the talking for them.
The most moving scene and the most direct adaptation from the original play comes in the epilogue, in which Prospero surveys his conquered men and reflects on his fleeting youth -- but with a Kidd Pivot twist that when considered seems to go back on the play's promise.
"Tempest Replica" pulls nearly the whole cast onstage during this epilogue, as if to call back to classical ballet's ensemble numbers, albeit at a smaller scale. Is it still Shakespeare without that memorable monologue?
Well...consider that it offers a canvas on which audience members can experience the play anew, without its hoary seafaring trappings, and give it space for them to weave in their own recollections with the presented scenes.
"Tempest Replica" runs through Dec. 6 at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue. For tickets and info, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.joyce.org/performancestickets/tickets.php