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Dante's Inferno

Synetic Theater explores Dante's epic poem.

Tori Bertocci (Beatrice) and Vato Tsikurishvili (Dante) in Paata Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger's adaptation of Dante's Inferno at Synetic Theater.
(© Koko Lanham)

The first part of Dante Alighieri's epic poem, The Divine Comedy, narrates the treacherous journey of a traveler through the nine circles of Hell, a realm that exists to contain all those who have yielded to bestial appetites and who have rejected spiritual values. Synetic Theater has taken this 14th-century poem, the Inferno, and transforms it into a powerful, wordless ballet.

Skillfully created by Synetic's artistic director, Paata Tsikurishvili, and adapted by Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger, Inferno begins with a prologue in which Dante shows himself tortured by the creative process. Inspired by a vision of Beatrice (his love) and Virgil (the poet she sent to be his guide), Dante longs to finish his work and find Beatrice.

Dante and Virgil enter the Inferno and go to its first level where they find themselves among the Lustful. Dante is nearly drawn in by a figure he thinks is Beatrice, but he and Virgil narrowly escape. Next are the Gluttons, huge maggot-like creatures who made themselves slaves of consumption in life. Then come the Deceivers, where Dante is robbed of Beatrice's gift to him, a gold medallion. Before he can leave, he must win back Beatrice's gift. From deceit to the Greedy, in this realm, Dante and Virgil watch as wealthy misers consume gold coins they loved in life. The Wrathful and the Violent follow. In this circle, Dante observes the place where people who are brutish go to die, their sins relived in constant cycles of murder. The Hypocrites are the next circle; Dante watches a corrupt churchman being punished.

Before crossing the river of fire, Dante and Virgil must pass through the circle of Traitors who roast in a giant furnace, before passing through the gates of Dis, the capitol of the Inferno. At the end of Hell is the ghastly Forest of Suicides.

Finally, Dante discovers Beatrice. Satan is about to attack them, but Virgil holds Satan back, sacrificing himself so that Dante and Beatrice can escape and spend time together until she ascends to Heaven. At last Dante is able to go back to writing his book.

Vato Tsikurishvili is excellent as the no-nonsense Dante. Tall, fit, and parkour savvy, he can toss dangerous demons over his head and somersault away from them. Alex Mills is equally fine as Virgil, athletic and ready to help Dante out of a fix whenever necessary. Tori Bertocci plays the role of Beatrice, her short-cropped, platinum hair periodically acting as a beacon to Dante, to keep him going on his quest.

Philip Fletcher is well-cast as the cruel Lucifer, Lauren Ashley performs well as Francesca, and Chris Galindo acquits himself well as the corrupt Pope.

Under Irina Tsikurishvili's careful direction, this production gives a different tone to each section and provides much needed humor. For instance, in one section, a belly dancer stands with her heels pointed forward, toes backward. The production also includes many clever details, like hands waving crazily in three traps on the stage. Lit by red lights, they look just like dancing flames.

The ensemble is large and well directed by movement director Mills. It includes Justin Bell, Emma Hebert, Katrina Clark, Anne Flowers, Shu-nan Chu, John Millward, Kathryn Kelly, Chris Willumsen, and George Kamushadze. Scenic and costume designer Anastasia Simes uses an arch over the stage, covered with geometrical shapes that become places for the cast to stand on. A door in the back of the stage reveals an inner sanctum. Costumed in attire befitting their characters, Dante wears a long red velvet robe, black pants, and black boots. Virgil wears a long, light blue gossamer gown. Beatrice is dressed in a floor-length white gown. The Souls are clothed to reveal their sins.

One of the most stunning components of this Inferno is its music, provided by music director Irakli Kavsadze and resident composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze. At various times there are sounds of bells, of deep voices, of a single piano note, of a sheep horn, and tunes like Christian plainsong.

Synetic calls this season "The Art of Silence." And it has built up an excellent track record of silent Shakespeare productions. With Dante's Inferno, the company has taken this imaginative and challenging theme to new heights.