Tonight Toronto got another look at Kidd Pivot, Crystal Pite’s company from out west. While this may be new to us, it’s not really new. Just as Dark Matters –brought to Toronto by Canadian Stage back in 2012— was already 3 years old, similarly The Tempest Replica originated in 2011 (roughly three years ago), a co-production with several companies in Europe & North America.
The title is a splendid way (the use of “replica” in particular) of addressing one of the work’s fundamental issues: that it is a very original and self-conscious adaptation of Shakespeare‘s last play, The Tempest. Forgive me if I blather on a bit about the mechanics of adaptation, an obsession of mine.
Pite and her team followed much the same pattern as seen in Dark Matters. On that occasion I observed that the first half of the show was in some respects the most dynamic & theatrical, whereas the last half was pure dance. Tonight I’ve seen another show more or less following that pattern, leading me to wonder if my sense of what‘s best in the show diverges from hers.
The first half-hour was a miracle of compressed exposition, using almost no words whatsoever, a bold series of choices, considering the poetry of the source play. But if Pite’s objective is to set up dances exploring the relationships among the characters it’s an understandable choice. I didn’t find that much was added beyond the first twenty minutes of the work, which, as I suggested, runs through the story with quiet eloquence. Those dances are stunning explorations of dynamics, and yes, they’re also wonderful dance for the sake of dance.
I’m going to invoke Richard Wagner as I so often do, a touchstone of dramaturgy, and someone who could distinguish between icing and cake. Speaking of opera in his seminal Opera and Drama, Wagner observed that composers had mixed up means and ends; whereas opera had been invented as a dramatic form utilizing music, it turned into a medium employing drama to make music. I wonder if I can adapt that axiom to the dance realm?
What struck me about The Tempest Replica was that some people (me!) might like different parts of the show than other folks (the choreographer especially). The brilliant opening section — to my mind the best part– served to set up the dance explorations that follow, that likely were the parts choreographer thought were best. Was that flamboyant exposition nothing more than an intro to the dance part that comes later? or was the dance really there to decorate the core of the story, told at the beginning? Or to put it in the language of my headline, I wonder how you decide which part is icing and which part is cake? Don’t get me wrong, I love the dance; but in some respects it reminded me of the celebratory –and redundant– dances in the second act of Nutcracker. The drama had already been more or less settled, particularly in a tale such as The Tempest, where the protagonist is an invincible magician, in effect the one who creates the production. If, however, you recognize dance as an end in itself, if you love watching beautiful movement, then everything before is merely a preamble to how Pite explores the relationships.
I saw a movement vocabulary reminiscent of Dark Matters, where the protocols of power & control begin with puppets and then are further explored among dancers. On that occasion the dance seemed like a necessary expansion of something introductory. With Tempest, too, we see a great deal of analytical dance, where human interactions are probed as power relationships. Prospero dominates, but so too, Ariel. And at times we see one or another figure like a thing, a puppet controlled by an animator figure.
By the end I was mightily impressed by the intelligence of the adaptation, seeing cleverness everywhere. Yet it left me somewhat cold at the end, a tour de force to be sure, but one whose sense of warmth eluded me. I felt as though i’d been outsmarted.
The Tempest Replica continues at Canadian Stage until May 11th at the Bluma Appel Theatre.