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Alexey Bartoshevich

"Journey with Dionysos.
The Theatre of Theodoros Terzopoulos"
("Theater der Zeit") 2006


The Russian public revealed Terzopoulos for itself as an expounder of the Greek classics, when he showed his production of THE PERSIANS in Moscow. The impression of the performance, where the Hellenic tragedy scented not of the academic folio dust, but of the heat of earth scorched by the midday sun, was like a burst.

Theodoros Terzopoulos

Theodoros Terzopoulos
Photo by Johanna Weber

Corning into the dead stormy blackness of the stage space pierced aslant with the thin crimson line - either a stark lightning, or a Parcae's bloody thread, or a sharp laser beam - there were five beings burdened with the gift of omniscience. The tragedy was returned to its original ritual archaic beginnings, sacraments of ancient mysteries. Not the old Persians, their King and Queen acted on the stage - there were five raging Pythias, five sacred monsters whose lips were uttering the words of this someone ruling the world. They were aware of the sorrowful end beforehand. They were crucified on the rack of knowledge. A tragic truth being unveiled by them or through them, taking root in them, striking both the soul and body like a mysterious malady. Just like the ancient Sybils, magicians, or oriental shamans, they were obsessed by the sacred ecstasies and hoarsely screamed out their dark and dread prophecy shuddering from oracular inspiration and physical pain.

Rhythmic convulsions of quivering bodies, strange screams and murmurs as if extracted from the subconscious depths, the remote boom echoing them, some clanks, plops, sighs, yelps in the manner of concrete music - all of these formed into the shock-like aesthetic stroke. Already during the first minutes of the performance this crushing blow was delivered to the spellbound auditorium. The producer put all his power into it, like a boxer intending to win in the first round.

The performance began with this extreme point, and there was no way for it to develop. It had powerful, but short wind. The public, accustomed to psychological theatre, got used to the gradual, step-by-step way of the acting evolution taking place on stage. However, it appeared, difficult for the audience to retain its high emotional exertion as required by Terzopoulos' theatre style. Later on, the critics argued a lot as to why the producer had decided to start from the culmination and how the issues of action dynamic structure and development with time had been resolved in the performance.

All of them, however, agreed that this culmination, being at the same time the play's outset, took full possession of the means of modern theatre and was one of the strongest recent theatre impressions.

It took time for the public and critics to review their traditional conception of the composition and language of theatre performance and to be able to appreciate Terzopoulos' ritual and ecstatic theatre, his theatre anthropology. The Greek producer's new performances, especially his production of PROMETHEUS BOUND presented in Moscow, furthered such changes in the theatre habits of the Moscow public and theatre professionals.

Terzopoulos' Prometheus was put on the stage in the ancient Delphi stadium and built up using contrast between the sharply outlined small circle where the action was going on, and the huge stadium space. Of course, this contrast could not retain its full intensity, when the performance was played within the traditional theatre, as it was in Moscow. Nevertheless I cannot forget that fullness of the tragic rhythm, that furious and excellent power of the Attis Theatre actors', Terzopoulos' pupils and associates, performance. The powerful energy radiating from them seemed to move open the walls of the Moscow Art Theatre and bring us the ancient world space, to the space of myth. It does not matter, which of the five actors played Hermes, which lo, and which Prometheus himself. Some integral creature appeared on the stage pertaining to the world of primary inseparability, and this creature, this collective hero of the tragedy lived, breathed, moved, suffered, screamed out such anguish in the ecstatic rhythm affecting the public - hypnotically indeed. That was a true lesson of tragic art realized and experienced by the human being of today. Many Russian theatre people have memorized this lesson and derived a lot from it.

No wonder, that Valery Fokin, the Head of Moscow Meyerhold Centre, who contemplated a wide programme devoted to the Greek classics, invited Theodoros Terzopoulos to Moscow. The Greek producer had to stage The Persians with young Russian actors, primarily to help them, who had been brought up on the principles of the other theatre school, to enter into the world of ancient tragedy and ancient ritual.

Once again, the large-scaled Aeschylus' tragedy intended for a public crowd of many thousands was played by the members of Moscow Terzopoulos' laboratory in the chamber space of the Centre. The Persians is the favorite play of the theatre avant-garde. The Greek tragedian's work inspired many theorists and artists of the 20th century - from Nietzsche admirers to Artaud adherents. They were captivated by the idea to revert to Aeschylus' very early tragedy which carries, as one knows, a seal of ritual sources. In essence, it represents Persians' ritual choral weeping over their tribe fellows deceased during the Salamin Battle. The meaning and the form of this tragedy in the best way possible to meet today's endeavors (and the illusions, too) to revive the lost archaic paradise, to burst to the orgiastic common feelings of ancient ritual.

From the wavy rhythm of infinitely recurring actor's movements, lingering sounds that he is drawing out, pushing out from the depths of his essence, Aeschylus' word is arising like the cosmos - from the chaos, like tragedy - from the spirit of music. Primary "sounds and unrest" (Alexander Pushkin's expression) are "cast" into harmonious lines by the tragic poet, into the music of the word sounding on the stage. But at the same time, these primeval prepoetic impulses are kept in the borders of poetic text. Their presence can be heard in resilient shoves of the ritual rhythm that forms the verse structure.

In no way Terzopoulos is a restorer. He believes that any restoration would give birth to a still-born creature. He is concerned with another thing - to find out, to highlight something in the ancient tradition that would be relevant today. Some thing that was lost in the current actors' practice, and this loss is rather painful. Terzopoulos, instead of the, habitual for the modern stage, spread of small details and particular-case aesthetics, creates the energy of collective integrity, harmonious and passionate actors' synchronous play. The sound background is created by bows in the floor (whether with the palm, or foot, or shoe), claps, falls, moans, sighs, and howl. Young actors' bodies are shivering and vibrating in a single timbre with voices. The bodies and voices solo first, then merging into the single chorus again. Actors' personification is not important and virtually not envisaged - the choral collective origin predominates.

Sometimes old Russian inflexions can be heard in the Persians' wails. At the moment of choral weeping, one of the laboratory members, an actor Nikolai Roshchin began wailing just like a old Russian woman kneeler: "Oh, why did you leave us?...", nobody in the auditorium was surprised and sneered at. in such a mariner women used to cry and are crying now over the dead in Russian villages. The experts would say some buzz word about the structural resemblance of various peoples' folklore forms. But spectators rather pondered over the spiritual importance of this resemblance.

Alla Demidova

Alla Demidova
Hamlet, Theatre "Attis", 2001
Photo by Johanna Weber

In Russia, Theodoros Terzopoulos met an actress that has become his theatre associate for a long period. Their encounter was not accidental. Terzopoulos wanted to find a perfect person to incarnate his theatre concepts, and found his ideal in Alla Demidova. In turn, Demidova had had a long time propensity for the high tragedy as well as for the search of an untraditional stage technique. In Terzopoulos she found a. perfect ally and mentor in this search/The director's and actress' ways have crossed. They worked together over THE Quartet by Heiner Muller and a composition on the base of Shakespeare's Hamlet. However, at the core of their joint searching, there has always been the Greek tragedy, the ancient myth in modern interpretation. The peak of their cooperation was the MEDEA staging built up on the base of the texts by Heiner Muller and Euripides. Medea was played at The International Chekhov Festival in 1996 and became one of its main events.

In Terzopoulos's production the protagonist's monologue becomes a cosmic mono-drama. The borders of personality are expanded to the magnitude of the universe. On stage Medea embraces the entire world, all its rhythms, colors and sounds. The voices of Jason, Creon and all others are Medea's own inner voices. The protagonist is her own chorus. What we see is not the events, but memories of them. Apparently, this is not the first time Medea's soul reconstructs the dreadful story of infidelity and infanticide. Once again she puts herself to her own trial. There is no end to this trial and to the execution. Long ago she betrayed her father and her fatherland, now she herself was betrayed - the circle was closed. You almost physically feel how Medea's lips are about to pronounce the word that predestined her entire life: "betrayal" - it is spelled out, falling out of the innermost depths of her soul.

This Medea is not the grand-daughter of the sun-god, but, as one version of the myth says, the daughter of Hecate, the goddess of darkness. This is an angel of death, lonely and taking pride from her loneliness, the Pythoness with the eyes that glitter with sinister rapture, a chthonian deity, looking like a prophetic night bird with black wings, spread over the abyss. Her voice often sounds like the threatening scream of the bird, it is burned by torture and "smelted with suffering".

In this gloomy world it is not the sky, that is hanging over the Medea's head, but the white peplos that she soaked with poison and sent to her rival. In one of the scenes Medea covers herself with it like in a shroud. If the sun rises here, it is the black sun of "wild and sleepless passion" (Osip Mandelstam) - this overwhelming and hopeless craving for self-destruction.

The director departs from the text of Euripides,not to mention Heiner Muller's text, to the mythological presources of the plot. He wants to reach the primordial impulses of hum an history, all the way to the archaiс layers of culture.

The man in Terzopoulos's theatre is in the centre of the released forces of the ancient existential energy. Its whirlwinds shakes the small space of the traditional boxstage, within which the director locks this energy, as in Pandora's box. But the barbaric ecstatic element, extracted from the mythological depths of the tragedy, is on stage artistically conquered and tamed by the powerful rhythm of word and movement, by the triumphant power of theatrical form.

In the moments of ultimate suffering this Medea begins to dance. The convulsions of frenzied pain transform into the poetry of dance, the grace of delicate whirling, featuring the signs of both Greek and Georgian dance patterns (as we remember Medea was the daughter of the king of Colchis) and even the choreographic signs of the ancient Noh theatre of Japan: as is known, on the mythopoetical level East and West can meet.

"My lament, turn into a dance", as Russian poetess Marina Tsvetaeva, whose image hovered over Dernidova's acting, wrote in one of her poems.

Terzopoulos says that his meeting with Alla Demidova changed his life as a director. No reasons to regard this as an exaggeration. She combines the Russian emotionally explosive style, the idea of acting as a self-victimization, with the flawless sense of the European performing technique. Who else can let all these Dionysian whirlwinds pass through the body, voice and heart and cast them into an austere and. distinct theatrical form?

May be, the real meaning of Alla Demidova's and Theodoras Terzopoulos' alliance is something more important than just experiments in a new scenic form. On their search for theatre's origins they are trying to disclose the core values of life.

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