Review: The Tempest Replica (Canadian Stage)

Canadian Stage presents the Toronto premiere of The Tempest Replica at the St Lawrence Centre

For just under a week, Canadian Stage brings the Toronto premiere of The Tempest Replica to the Bluma Appel Theatre. This magnificent deconstructed version of one of Shakespeare’s final plays is told through dance, mime, sound, projection, and a very creative use of costuming to bring the story to life. Marrying the two worlds of Shakespeare with contemporary dance, this production is something truly unique and unlike anything you’re likely to have seen before. And it’s only on for a very limited time.

When you first enter the theatre, you see a man sitting alone on the stage folding a collection of paper boats. Uninterrupted he continues his task as the audience settles in. That man is Prospero, played by Eric Beauchesne, who begins the production by calling forth Ariel (Sandra Marín Garcia), the unpredictable and mischievous spirit, who promptly devours one of his paper boats.

As this production is told predominantly through dance and movement, it’d do you well to have some previous knowledge of Shakespeare’s play. What you learned in high school English class should be enough if you remember the gist of it. And if you don’t, here’s the bare minimum of it: Prospero is the Duke of Milan who is banished to an island with his daughter Miranda. There he plots to restore Miranda and himself back to their proper place using all forms of magic necessary with the help of Ariel the spirit. He conjures up a tempest in order to lure his devious brother Antonio and the complacent King Alonso of Naples to the island. Meanwhile, Miranda meets Prince Ferdinand, Alonso’s son, and falls in love.

The Tempest, admittedly, was one of the Bard’s plays that I didn’t give much thought to after we finished it in ninth grade and so I entered into this production without anticipating much. To say I was blown away is both an understatement and an unintentional pun, but indeed I was. When the tempest first hits, the use of sound effects, the lighting, and projections against a billowing sheer curtain was mesmeric. I’ve seen other productions attempt to create similar effects using more intricate and elaborate production tricks to appallingly mediocre pay off. Right off the bat, this was superb.

And the effects aren’t the only thing that’ll leave you in awe. The characters are all dressed in white costumes from head to toe save for Prospero, all reminisce of the paper boats he was creating earlier. This effect created the perfect back drop for this highly physical performance — it’s interesting how you can perceive so much more about the emotions and conflict happening between the characters when all aspects of their facial features and physical individuality are stripped away. It allowed for the most incredible use of mime I’ve seen in a long time and it’s a testament to the demanding physicality and skill it required of the dancers to maintain isolation of their limbs while manipulated and moved by someone else.

Crystal Pite is the creator and choreographer behind The Tempest Replica and what she has created is simply stunning — the characters have come to life and their emotions are so raw, powerful, and at times even comedic as portrayed through their movement and the few carefully chosen moments where vocal sound is used. The dance she’s created and the way these dancers are able to portray this story through their bodies using movements so pristine and so effortless that it doesn’t seem real. Garcia is a beautiful creature on that stage and the way she moves, the way Beauchesne is able to lift her and manipulate her makes her seem light as air. Beauchesne, who’s face we do see throughout the production, captures worlds of rage, guilt, forgiveness and withdrawal remarkably.

Seeing the dancers in their stark white costuming that strips away the nuances of the face is startling at first before you quickly grow familiar with the intricacies of their movements. Midway through, they shed the white and appear in plainclothes. That, to me, came off more shocking than seeing them in white, and it took me a while of feeling lost and disoriented by the choice before I refocused on the performance and noticed how much wilder the dancing was now that their bodies and faces were shown — a great way of perceiving fantasy and reality.

There are only four days left to experience this incredible use of dance as storytelling and if the full house and stunned reactions from the crowd are any indication, tickets are selling fast. Do not miss your chance to see this.

Details:

  • The Tempest Replica is playing at the Bluma Appel Theatre (St. Lawrence Centre, 27 Front Street E.) until May 11, 2014.
  • Performances are at 8 pm with a matinee on Sunday, April 11 at 2 pm.
  • Tickets range from $24-$49.
  • Tickets can be purchased online or by phone by calling 416 368 3119. 

Photo by Jorg Bauman.

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