Synetic Theater: A Love Story

The epic tale of how two performers from Tbilisi came to open an avant-garde theater in Arlington.


Not all of Synetic’s performances are wordless, but all have a visceral and dynamic quality, using lighting, sound, movement and costumes as narrative devices. “No matter where you take the show, it speaks to everybody in the same way,” Paata says. “It’s a universal language.”

During a silent rendition of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, for example, an advancing army is portrayed as a cadre of stone-faced soldiers, their footsteps moving in unison and mimicking horseback riding. A piece of fabric effectively and beautifully represents a baby. Later on, the audience understands that the evil queen is eating her own children in a scene where the children are encased under the table at which she dines.

Paata describes the genre as “magic realism.”

“Synetic is not just nonverbal theater, but it’s the synthesis of all art forms,” he says. “Even when we do text-based productions, we do it in a nontraditional way. The movement and visual storytelling are always the key. I call this the artistic melting pot.”

Looking back, he says, theater was always his destiny. He remembers, as a kid, seeing a teen production of The Bremen Town Musicians by the Brothers Grimm and knowing this was the life for him. “I was just deeply moved. It touched me and affected me. I quit piano lessons. I quit soccer. I just wanted to do theater. They had no choice but to sign me up.”

Irina’s path was more roundabout—and may have involved a little bribery. “My parents told me, ‘If you pass these ballet school exams, we’ll buy you a dog,’ ” she says, “and that’s how I got in the ballet school, not knowing that my life would be changed completely.”

Today, Synetic Theater is a family business. Paata, 51, serves as founding artistic director, with Irina, 46, in the role of founding choreographer and associate artistic director. (She’s also a force of nature onstage.) Vato, now 27, is back in Virginia and serves as assistant director. Ana, who turns 18 in October, has appeared in a handful of productions (most recently in the role of Tinkerbell in Peter Pan) and is heavily involved with the theater’s teen company. The family lives in Gainesville and works in Crystal City.

Irina jokes that she likes to tease their son about getting a “real job.” But in truth, the couple is immensely proud that both children have followed in their footsteps. “It doesn’t matter how much I tried having my children not become artists,” Irina says. “There’s no way to escape this destiny. They are both really gifted.”

“We are dreamers,” Paata adds. “And we are living our dream.”

Rina Rapuano is a D.C.-based food and travel writer. Find her on Instagram @rinacucina or Twitter @rinarap.


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