The strength of The Tempest Replica is grounded in everyday reality

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A Kidd Pivot production. A DanceHouse presentation. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Saturday, November 10. No remaining performances

Kidd Pivot’s The Tempest Replica opens with a shipwreck sequence so stunning, so storm-tossed and squall-drenched, that it had audience members groping for imaginary umbrellas—and groping blindly, because they couldn’t tear their eyes from the stage.

Lighting maven Robert Sondergaard sent diagonal streaks of illumination across set designer Jay Gower Taylor’s billowing scrim, evoking driving rain, wind-whipped clouds, and an appropriately tempestuous sea. Masked, eyeless figures in bright white—some real, others projected phantoms—struggled with each other and against the relentless heaving of their small craft’s deck. Meanwhile the weather kept rising in intensity, amplified by a rumbling Owen Belton score that was, in a word, elemental.

And all this was not just some of the most compelling stagecraft to ever grace a Vancouver venue: it also served notice that Crystal Pite’s recent adoption by theatrical wizard Robert Lepage is no mere fluke. (She worked with him on his Metropolitan Opera production of The Tempest.) Like her Québécois counterpart, Pite not only is a visionary artist, but has the good sense to surround herself with like-minded others. The Kidd Pivot team’s leader, designers, and technicians have clearly developed a deep symbiosis over the company’s first decade—and that extends very much to dancers Bryan Arias, Eric Beauchesne, Sandra Marín Garcia, Yannick Matthon, Jiří Pokorný, Cindy Salgado, and Jermaine Maurice Spivey.

Which, as it turns out, is a very good thing, because after Pite’s storm sequence, the rest of The Tempest Replica is carried almost exclusively by the dance: by striking body imagery rather than by the narrative flow of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the choreographer’s starting point.

After that introduction, it’s almost a let-down.

Almost.

No doubt practicality played a part. To build on the tech-heavy intensity of the opening sequence would require Lepage-like levels of funding, which are simply not available to B.C.–based outfits like Kidd Pivot. But the move toward simplicity also represents a shrewd aesthetic calculation on Pite’s part. By focusing on the interior lives of her characters rather than their external circumstances as refugees on a desert island, she gets to showcase the strength of her choreography—and her dancers never failed to bring that choreography to beautiful life.

Salgado and Spivey, as the lovers Miranda and Ferdinand—the magician Prospero’s daughter and the King of Naples’s son—exhibited a charmed delicacy that amplified their characters’ delayed and evident desire. Marín Garcia, as the often-malevolent spirit Ariel, was a shape-shifting terror yet also a weightless sprite. Arias, as the monster Caliban, mined deep veins of the grotesque but never seemed a caricature. The nobles Alonso (the aforementioned king), his brother Sebastian, and Prospero’s evil brother Antonio have less distinctive parts, often appearing as a gang of three. But they served capably, whether as quarrelling castaways or repurposed as figments of Prospero’s overheated brain.

And Beauchesne, as Prospero, was quietly magnificent. With his magical appurtenances, his supernatural insights, and his contempt toward his usurping brother, Prospero is a role that could be—and often has been—an excuse for sorcery and swaggering. Pite wisely opted to minimize that aspect of the part; dressed in ordinary clothing, Beauchesne’s Prospero was instead an everyman magician. Like all of us, he wrestles with the impulse to do evil rather than good—and like some of us, he opts for charity and compassion over revenge.

In grounding Shakespeare’s magician in everyday reality, Pite and Kidd Pivot have created a stunning modern-day take on the Bard’s strongest and strangest tale.

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