Le baccanti

The Bacchae represent a window onto the irrational, onto an ancient world of authentic expressive liberty, of Dionysian possession; a reflection on the sense of the divine in our lives, and on what, in our daily life, is removed. The ancient word is a cry originating from another time, a call to reflection, to the reawakening of the senses. It is an exhortation to look within ourselves in different ways. In the frenzy of modern life, we entrust the latest remnants of irrationality and physical presence to moments of Eros, of illness, of sleep. The Bacchae, however, act in a state of mental automatism, of eternal slumber; they are in some way “acted” by God. Dionysus works through them, through their bodies and their voices. He transforms them and makes them an instrument of intoxication, sensuality, dizziness, death, infinite sweetness, and demonic ambiguity. God in some way becomes body, and shapes their voices. The fever of our time transports us to an anaesthetized reality, a fictitious world in which emotion is banned, at the service of an empty and sterile intellectualism. Our eyes are every day blinded by images from the media. The law of the market is without pity: cadavers, social positions, public offices, weapons, sex, childhood, organs – all are for sale. And we remain indifferent. The bourgeois dimension suffocates our finest instincts, our sensitivity (what an ugly word that is today – considered almost scandalous, even), our sincerity, and every form of creativity, every flight, is carried away. Our irrational dimension is completely annihilated. The sense of affirmation of the ego devours our days. Art is emptied of its spiritual dimension. The media, hidden persuaders, act upon our hearts and minds, taming even the most rebellious spirits, and sealing shut the most watchful eyes. The spiritual dimension is irremediably lost.
The sense of the tragic is now unknown. The body is erased. We are now transformed for good into consumers and, at the same instant, into products, ravaged by a media war unprecedented in history. Harbouring the illusion of being unique, of being special, we actually all think the same way. We say the same words. We all have the same needs, the same hopes, the same anxieties, the same day-to-day, mass-produced life. We harbour the illusion of being free.

Director’s notes
We decided to create a show that delved deeply into the mystery of Dionysus, savouring its purest essence, abandoning ourselves to the dizziness of Euripides’ Bacchae, and letting ourselves be hypnotized by the god of the Irrational, the god of Mystery, the god of the Theatre. And the big question is: where is Dionysus today? Where is he hiding? For about 25 years, I have continued my work on vocalism and sound in its most diverse forms, in close collaboration with Dr. Marco Podda, a phoniatrician and composer. This work touches upon sophisticated phoniatrics; upon the analysis and reproduction of the world’s ethnic songs; upon the techniques of language re-education and rehabilitation; upon the study of sound expression in the prenatal period, during childbirth, and in the early years of life; upon analysis of the sounds produced in séances and in tribal dances; and upon investigation of the effects of sound frequencies on the human brain (psycho-acoustics). In Dionysus, the aim was to produce a work on extreme, upsetting sound, using highly private sounds little used in daily life yet highly significant; sounds of wrong chords, extreme falsettos, sounds that are disengaged or out of timbre, unusual hyperkinetic vocalisms. The attempt is thus made to use the vocal medium in an unconventional way, and not only at the service of language (especially in choruses). But be warned: I am thinking of a non-stylistic acting, with no shown or unnatural elements. This work on sound is not an end unto itself; it has no demonstrative purposes – in fact, it is concealed within the structure of language. I am thinking of an acting without traces of bourgeois elements: the words of Euripides are rooted in the body and hidden in the most ancient “acting machine.” Emotional states are above all vocal and physical states. Here, the chorus acts in a state of eternal trance, like the main characters in Werner Herzog’s Heart of Glass. The Bacchae do not communicate only through language and its signifiers but through a work aimed at seeking an ancient vocality and a very strong emotionality. Emotion: that is the focus of this work. From my standpoint, reviled emotionality itself is the vehicle that makes the use of the tragic and of catharsis possible to this day.

For an interpreter of Greek tragedy, there is a profound need to work to achieve the highest emotional temperatures, to compromise body and voice to reach truly disturbing states. You will thus not find in this work spectacular shown elements, or bizarre or avant-garde visual solutions aimed at dazzling the audience.

I firmly believe that the element of contemporary theatrical “experimentation” is to be hidden inside an apparently linear structure of the work, without gratifications or quotations, visually or in sound, of the experimental theatre of the 1970s-80s. In my work, following the example of many contemporary artists, I aim to reconstruct a possible way towards a theatre of interpretation, towards a theatre of actors/interpreters – one able to approach a text with humility, able to decode, and able to investigate and reconstruct the mechanisms for composing and writing that text, without superimposing gratuitous or cheap arbitrary solutions, and above all without competing with the author.

Everything you see, then, starts from the text and goes back to the text, passing through a contemporary perception of vision and sound. You will find no intellectualizing superimposition, shows of technology, or marvellous “director’s ideas.” We have decided to create a complex, disturbing and exciting work by starting from Euripides and returning to Euripides.

We hope we can achieve these goals.
Daniele Salvo

The story
Dionysus, god of wine, of the theatre, and of physical and mental pleasure, was born from the union of Zeus and Semele, a mortal woman. However, out of spite, the woman’s sisters and her nephew Pentheus (King of Thebes) spread word that Dionysus was not in fact Semele’s son with Zeus, but had been fathered by a mortal, claiming that the story of Zeus being the father was merely a stratagem to disguise her “fling.” In essence, then, they were denying the divine nature of Dionysus, considering him a common mortal. In the prologue to the tragedy, Dionysus proclaims he has descended among men to convince all of Thebes he is a god, and not a man. Towards this end, he first planted the seed of madness in all Theban women, who thus ran off to mount Kithairon to celebrate the rites in Dionysus’s honour (thereby becoming Bacchae, that is women celebrating the rites of Bacchus, another name for Dionysus). But this fact fails to convince Pentheus, who strenuously refuses to recognize Dionysus as a god, considering him a sort of demon who has conceived a trap to lure women. In vain, Cadmus (Pentheus’s grandfather) and Tiresias (a blind seer) attempt to dissuade him, and to convince him recognize Dionysus as a god. The King of Thebes then has Dionysus himself (who intentionally lets himself be captured) arrested and imprisoned. But the god unleashes an earthquake that allows him immediately to break free. In the meantime, disturbing news arrives from mount Kithairon: the women observing the rituals are able to make wine, milk, and honey ooze from rock, and in a moment of Dionysian frenzy, they have hurled themselves on a herd of cows, dismembering them alive with superhuman strength. Then they invaded some villages, devastating everything, kidnapping children, and driving off the population. Dionysus, speaking with Pentheus, then manages to convince him to disguise himself as a woman in order to be able to spy on the Bacchae. But once the two arrive atop Kithairon, the god agitates the Bacchae against Pentheus. They uproot the tree where the king has hidden, attack him, and tear him literally to pieces. And to make matters worse, the first to lay into Pentheus, breaking his arm, is his own mother, Agave. Cadmus is told of these events by a messenger who returned to Thebes after witnessing them. Shortly thereafter, Agave arrives, carrying Pentheus’s head on a stick; in her delerium, she believes it is the head of a lion. Cadmus, aghast at the spectacle, gradually manages to bring Agave to her senses, and she realizes to her horror what she has done. At that point, Dionysus reappears ex machina, explaining that he has devised this plan to punish those who did not believe in his divinity, and condemns Cadmus and Agave to be exiled to faraway lands. The story ends with the image of Cadmus and Agave touchingly bidding one another farewell.