By Bridgette M. Redman
If you mix together the words of Shakespeare with the movement of Cirque du Soleil, you might end up with something like What a Do’s “The Tempest.”
Directed by recent Alma theater and dance graduate and long-time What-a-Do company member Tara Bouldrey, the group’s freshman showing of Shakespeare is a highly choreographed work of beauty.
The set is hung with silks and an aerial hoop, a tricky choice from a venue with low ceilings. But what the gymnastics routines and air dances lose in height, they gain in beauty, strength and energy. Bouldrey used dance and acrobatics to emphasize the magic of “The Tempest,” creating an island where spirits reign and Prospera is monarch supreme.
Kristin Marie Stelter fills the role of Prospera with strength, mysteriousness and raw power. She is not old, but ageless, an interpretation that lets her be mistress, mother and crone all blurred together. Like the spirits she commands, she takes to the sky, mounting the silks and performing acrobatics to Bouldrey and Wade King’s intense soundtrack and Cory Kalkowski’s high-end lighting design.
Genevieve Lally-Knuth is credited with movement design, and that is a tall order in this show. It is often a dance show, and the spirits each bring their own particular movement style to the stage. In particular, Joshua Olgine’s Caliban and Sam Friia’s Ariel are otherworldly in their movements. Olgine is all earth and Friia all air. Olgine creeps, his legs at sharp angles and his torso always near to the ground as he grovels and capers, taking to the air only when being punished by Prospero and her spirits. Ariel seems to never touch the ground, gliding, hopping, climbing the silks and swinging in the hoops. He is a creature of air, and the audience is never given cause to doubt it.
Averi Beck’s Miranda carries all the required innocence and ignorance of the world. She falls in love as required and is able to effectively moon and be a pawn in her mother’s game of revenge and redemption.
Bouldrey is bold with the cuts she makes, allowing her to add extended dance routines without making the show lengthen to three hours as would be a danger with the Bard’s work. It comes in at just under two and a half hours, and none of it feels rushed, nor does anything drag. The opening is an extended dance and acrobatic piece with the spirits playing the storm and the shipwreck minimized. One starts to wonder whether this version will use or even require words. But then Miranda enters, and the Bard’s words soar along with the spirits.
The director also made some bold choices in casting Emily James and Rachel Markillie in the roles of father and son, king and prince of Naples. Both look and move like men, but possess high voices that give away their gender, in particular when surrounded by other men and women with lower, more powerful voices.
This Tempest also had its share of clowns, with the drunken Stephano and Trincula, played by Lars J Loofboro and Stefani Lynn Wallace respectively. Olgine’s Caliban finds the perfect mix between comic and monstrous. Heather Cerridwen’s Gonzala also provides comic relief in the scenes with the King of Naples and the scheming fraternal pair of Vanessa Banister’s Antonia – usurping sister to Prospera, and Jared Sheldon’s Sebastian, the would-be usurping brother of the King of Naples.
As always in a What-a-Do production, the tech elements take starring roles. This is especially true in “The Tempest,” where magic and wonder are key themes. Bouldrey never allows us to doubt the power of Prospera, and while Stelter’s movement and voice alone could carry that power, it doesn’t have to. She is supported by an amazing sound design that pounds and crashes, intricate lighting and a set draped with magic symbology for her to interact with.
Everything about this production is strong. It is a retelling of one of Shakespeare’s late romances – believed to be his last play ever written – that is captivating and intense.
What A Do Theatre, 4071 W. Dickman Road, Springfield. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through March 22. 2 hours, 24 minutes. $10. 269-282-1953. http://www.whatado.org