They render Shakespeare speechless.
No iambic pentameter? No "to be or not to be"? How can this be happening?
It's no problem if you're Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, founding artistic director and choreographer of the 10-year-old Arlington-based Synetic Theater.
The two are stunning, innovative specialists in "physical theater," with its name "synetic" -- formed by the fusion of "synthesis" and "kinetic" -- as the incarnation of movement and storytelling, often silent, but always wordless.
Now area theater-goers have the chance to see Synetic's 2010 Helen Hayes Award-winning production for best ensemble production, Shakespeare's comedy of love and mistaken identity, "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
The revival plays for only six days, from Jan. 25 through 30, at Synetic's new main stage in Crystal City. To see this production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is to understand how Shakespeare's story can still live while its words are silenced.
"The rest is silence," as the Bard wrote in "Hamlet." That notion -- that sometimes words themselves are simply not enough -- was the motif of Synetic's first production in what became a series of five "silent Shakespeares." In 2003, their wordless "Hamlet" won the Helen Hayes Award for outstanding resident play. Paata and Irina also won for director and choreographer.
That production "was our first effort to take the words from one of the most iconic works of drama in history and tell the story with a different vocabulary," Paata said. It "heralded the start of our exploration of a new form of theater" -- the synetic, he said. There is no contradiction at all in staging Shakespeare wordlessly, he insisted, eschewing what some argue is "the essential text" in favor of telling the story using only the expressiveness of gesture and movement, costume and color, mime and music.
"In fact," he said, "the text serves as the basis in all our work. It provides us not only with the story but incredible imagery, archetypes and metaphor, all of which are heightened to create an immersive stage experience that we feel in our bones."
That sense of visceral reality -- of immersion in the narrative thrust of a drama -- is obvious in the more than 40 Synetic productions that the husband-and-wife creative team has produced in the past decade.
One of those -- "Dante," a work produced in 2009 that was drawn from the "Inferno" section of the medieval Italian poem "The Divine Comedy" -- "was like a hell," Paata said. The couple had to read through the 14,000 lines of Dante's poem, select the scenes to stage and then choreograph the dance movements and create the original musical score. The production spent three months in development and needed six weeks of intensive rehearsal.
The experience helped the couple learn how physical theater mines the essence of the story, digging beneath the words in the process. Dante's infernal vision is "the unspeakable," Paata said, adding that "there are some scenes, some moments, that are unspeakable. You know in your guts, but you cannot describe it, you cannot say it."
So you show it instead.
But is Synetic a dance troupe or a theater company? The answer is both -- after all, Irina was trained in classical ballet and modern dance in the small Caucasus republic of Georgia, and Paata has his bachelor's and master's from Georgian schools in acting and filmmaking. That fusion has led the company to a reputation that has grown far beyond their home base in Arlington.
Their collaboration had its genesis 10 years ago as an artistic subgroup within the now-defunct Stanislavsky Theater Studio, performing at Washington, D.C.'s Church Street Theater. Following a dispute over artistic differences, Synetic made its own debut in 2002 with "Hamlet ... The Rest Is Silence," and relocated to Northern Virginia.
They set up a stage in Shirlington Village for the Synetic Family Theater, where productions such as "The Snow Queen" delight children and parents alike. The main-stage productions, which are aimed at adults, have been performed at venues such as the Rosslyn Spectrum, the Lansburgh Theatre in downtown Washington and the Kennedy Center. And now they have their own permanent venue in Crystal City.
The couple met in Tibilsi, Georgia's capital city and their hometown, when Irina auditioned in 1989 for a part in a theater company. Paata, who had been a successful child actor on stage and in film, was one of the lead actors. Irina recognized him at once, and he could not take his eyes off her.
"It was almost like Romeo and Juliet," Paata said. "We fell in love in like three days, and six months later, we were married."
Civil war surged all around them as the Soviet Union collapsed. Georgia was overrun with gun-toting gangsters. One day, Paata's pantomime theater had to cancel a performance because "people were out in the streets protesting," he said.
Battles with the Russian army raged in the streets, and tanks simply ran over people.
"I remember the sound of someone's head being chopped in the middle by Russian soldiers using their military shovels," Paata said. "It was horrible, the first time I learned what blood smelled like."
Later, with Irina fearing for his life, Paata gladly accepted an opportunity to travel with other Georgian actors to an international drama festival in Germany. He says he never looked back, even though Irina and their son Vato, born in 1991, remained in Tibilsi. He stayed in Germany, founding a theater troupe.
Irina and Vato were eventually invited to come to the United States by her father, who had emigrated years before and was a successful gymnastics teacher in Silver Spring, Md. Paata followed later but was unable to work because of visa restrictions. After a period of depression and uncertainty, he decided to return to his roots, at first in pantomime. Then, when his visa issues were resolved, he fulfilled the promise he made to Irina in Tibilsi: that they would create a theater company together.
But the company leaves little time for rest. "I don't know how to relax," he said. "I don't have dreams." Instead of dreaming at night, Paata says he simply has blackouts.
But he is dreaming "when I am awake," he said.
"We are living our dream now," he says.