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StageStruck: The Tempest, Twice-told

A new dance-theater piece replicates the classic.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012
Jörg Baumann photo

In Shakespeare’s Tempest, the magician Prospero conjures up a storm that shipwrecks his enemies on the island where they marooned him years ago. In Kidd Pivot’s Tempest Replica, Prospero carefully folds a paper boat and gives it to his servant spirit, Ariel, who suddenly eats it, signaling an onstage outburst of driving rain and swirling seaspray.

The dance-theater piece reimagines Shakespeare’s tale of revenge and forgiveness, captivity and freedom—twice. First, with the aid of projected text, the story is enacted by dancers wrapped entirely in white, like mummified puppets in the magician’s hands, expressionless and generic. Then the pallid cloth unwinds and the plot rewinds to play again, with the performers, now in street clothes, revealed as individuals to flesh out the story’s emotional currents.

Kidd Pivot—it’s the company’s name, not a person—was founded a decade ago by Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite. “Pite has a rare gift for orchestrating bodies,” the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper commented, “but she has an even rarer gift for conveying emotion.” And from what I’ve seen of The Tempest Replica (video excerpts at fac.umass.edu/online/KiddPivot) the 80-minute piece is dazzlingly orchestral, physically and emotionally.

The seven dancers are athletic, almost acrobatic, the choreography as precise as spinning gears but giving way to moments of improvisation, alternating between frenzied movement and striking tableaus. These opposites are inherent in Pite’s approach to stagecraft. “I’m looking for two ideas held in tension,” she said in a recent interview. “Something that’s very specific and repeatable and refinable, and then to have space for the unknown, for something that is far more about risk. There’s a vitality to that tension, there’s an energy to it.”

The troupe’s name comes from the same unity of opposites, Pite explained. “I wanted an action word that had an inherent skill and rigor associated with it. A pivot requires precision to execute properly. [It also] changes your direction, your point of view. ‘Kidd’ is the counterpoint to that: [William] Kidd, the pirate, the outlaw, the fighter. So there’s something very skilled and specific and rigorous, in tension with this thing that’s very free, very unknowable and unpredictable.”

The Tempest Replica comes to the UMass Fine Arts Center Concert Hall on Sunday the 18th (413-545-2511, fac.umass.edu/online).

*

Christopher Plummer played Prospero to great acclaim at Ontario’s Stratford Festival two years ago. Since then he’s won an Oscar for his role in Beginners and made a film version of Barrymore, William Luce’s one-man play about Plummer’s great predecessor, the legendary Shakespearean actor, narcissistic matinee idol and incorrigible lush John Barrymore.

The play is set on the stage of an empty Broadway theater in 1942, a few months before Barrymore’s death, where the actor is laboring to reconstruct his celebrated 1920 performance as Richard III—a last chance to reclaim his faded glory as a classical star. As he struggles to recreate the past, he relives it in memories of triumph and disaster, onstage and off. Plummer’s Broadway performance in Barrymore won him a 1997 Tony Award. The new film version, adapted and directed by Erik Canuel, receives two special screenings at the Amherst Cinema this Thursday and Dec. 2 (413-253-2547, amherstcinema.org).•

Contact Chris Rohmann at StageStruck@crocker.com.

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