She is petite yet powerful, intense and dramatic. And there is no better way to see Irina Tsikurishvili in action -- as actress, dancer, choreographer and teacher -- than to see her on stage once more as Shakespeare's supernatural siren Titania, Queen of the Fairies, in Synetic Theater's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Running from Jan. 25 to 30 in Crystal City, the production is a revival of the original Synetic adaptation of the classic comedy of crossed wires, love gone astray and mistaken identity, staged to great acclaim in 2009 at the Kennedy Center.
As half of the creative team behind Synetic -- the other half is her husband, 44-year-old Paata; both are immigrants from the Caucasus nation of Georgia -- Irina portrays the Fairy Queen with the same bravura signature she has brought to her other roles as an actress and dancer, as well as to her choreography.
"I didn't want to stay my whole career in the second line of swans," she has said. "I wanted to tell stories."
"A Midsummer Night's Dream," one of Shakespeare's most beloved comedies, is rendered boisterously funny and moodily atmospheric by the Synetic adapters, Paata (who also directs), and the company's talented fight choreographer Ben Cunis. Cunis also takes on the role of Titania's estranged husband King Oberon, who conspires to foil Titania's affection for the fairy sprite Puck.
For first-time viewers, it helps to already know the plot, since the Synetic version is told not through dialogue but instead through expression, gesture and movement.
Young Lysander loves Hermia, and she returns his affection. But Demetrius also loves her. Helena, meanwhile, loves Demetrius, but no one loves her. When Hermia's father insists that she marry not Lysander but Demetrius, she flees into the forest after being threatened by Duke Theseus, who warns she will either be killed or sent to a nunnery if she disobeys her father.
Meanwhile, Oberon is furious with his queen, for she has grown infatuated with a changeling boy, conflated here as the mischievous, androgynous Puck. Without much logic, Oberon induces Puck to douse a sleeping Titania with a potion so that when she awakens she will at once fall in lust with the next creature she sees. That person must be a buffoon, insists Oberon, so Puck selects the biggest buffoon he can find -- the vain Bottom, one of a troupe of third-rate players rehearsing a play in a forest clearing -- and turns him into a braying donkey. But Puck goes further and also anoints two others, both Lysander and Demetrius, with the same erotic potion, fueling their desire to possess the same woman -- Helena, at last the object of affection.
And so it goes, in what the Tsikurishvilis and Cunis have wrought on stage as an utterly visual and auditory treat, with Irina as choreographer. The production is framed at all times by a haunting original score by Konstantine Lortipandze, the company's brilliant in-house composer who is also from Georgia.
No one is more wonderful than Alex Mills, returning in the role of Puck. Mills, who is double-jointed, is introduced in the play's eye-opening first scene, when the company enacts the birth of Puck -- forest fairies dance about him in a circle, lights flickering in the darkness. Another highlight is Bottom, now portrayed by Synetic regular Dan Istrate, who is transformed into a donkey in a scene that would have been at home in a Marx Brothers movie.
Also back is company member Irina Kavsadze, the brilliant 17-year-old newcomer who just concluded a superb performance as the girl who falls in love with the enchanted prince in the Synetic Family Theater's production of "The Nutcracker." For Kavsadze, the return to the part of the fairy-girl Mustardseed has been exciting and swift.
"It's in our blood, you never forget," she says. "It's still there."
She salutes both Tsikurishvilis, saying she loves "the way they work, the way they give the actor a lot of freedom." They usually begin rehearsals by just "messing around" in order to inspire the actors' imaginations, and "then they tweak it," with painstaking attention to detail, until the final production, Irina said.
Another young actor from "The Nutcracker," 22-year-old Austin Johnson -- who hopes to join the company -- says the best word to describe the Tsikurishvilis is "inspirational." Speaking of Irina, he says, "She turns out choreography at the drop of a hat and makes it look so easy," but the genius comes because "she pushes people to a higher level than they think they're capable of."
Dark and playful, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and its magical world will occupy your thoughts long after you've left the theater in Crystal City.
Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"/p>
Adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili and Ben Cunis
8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday,
2 p.m. Sunday matinee
1800 S. Bell St., Crystal City, Arlington
Tickets $40-$50, discounts for seniors and students, military and groups
Synetictheater.org or at box office or 800-494-8497