Rhetoric

Antigona, February 25th

Where is Antigone?

Whenever my brother comes to town we go see some dance. This time, we saw a flamenco version of the Greek tragedy Antigone by Noche Flamenca. It was a feast of sound, rhythm, and drama. It had dancing like I had never seen before. It held my attention from start to finish. I wanted to see it again. I wanted to talk with the director, choreographer. I think there are a lot of questions to ask about this piece.

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I have a history with Antigone and ancient Greek tragedy. I’ve studied and taught about Antigone. I also wrote about tragedy in my dissertation. So my response is an extension of this history and heavily influenced by my field of study – rhetoric.

I’ve always been drawn to the story of Antigone as told by Sophocles. In 2015, there were 3 productions of the tragedy in the San Francisco Bay area; I saw two of them but only wrote about one. There is something timeless about this tragedy – we keep coming back to its multiple struggles between public and private rights; human laws and law of the gods; duty of kinship and religious obligation. The program notes explain that Antigona addresses the themes of “catharsis, issues of dictatorship, repression, loss, the strength of family and female empowerment,” which are also strong themes in flamenco. The notes end with a reflection on the character of Antigone as a “poster-child for civil disobedience and free speech.” The words behind the piece suggest that Antigona will show the strength of Antigone as a female hero through the language of flamenco.

I was disappointed.

Antigona begins with the story of Creon and his family, and it is not until the 6th scene (out of 15) that the Sophocles’ tragedy actually starts. Sophocles’ Antigone starts with her words, her voice. Antigona’s beginning features the male characters – Creon, Tiresias, Polyneices, Haemon. Even though Soledad Barrio dances a powerful Antigone, her part seems diminished somehow along with the politics that drives the drama. 

Might Antigona rely too much on the language (and culture) of flamenco to tell Antigone’s story? I’m not ready to answer that question for I’d need more knowledge of flamenco not just as a dance form but as a way of thinking. It is a question worth asking especially when so many of us claim Antigone’s story as our own. What is gained? What is lost? Why does it (still) matter? 

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June 3rd & 4th “Walking Distance Festival”

Choreography by Many

Writing Out of Sequence

I’m a little out of sequence posting this response – lots of dance at the beginning of June.  I’ve watched and written this festival for 3 years.  This year, The program consisted of two different experiences: an evening of theater dance and an afternoon of site-specific dance.  

In her program notes, Marie Tollon (ODC’s Writer-in-Residence) framed the Friday night’s program as “Identity as a Constellation,” which aptly captured the thematic connection between the two performers, Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu and Christopher K. Morgan.  Both share a connection to Hawaiian tradition in contemporary contexts.  In their dances, these connections were forged in direct ways, explicitly leading the audience to consider communal and individual journeys by dancing and talking.  In this context, the talking by Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu director, Patrick Makuākane in between the dances.  I learned a lot about the hula dance tradition and was interested in how Makuākane uses the language of hula to participate in political conversations.  For example, Makuākane choreographed The Birth Certificate Hula in 2012 in response to the “controversy” over Obama’s birth certificate.  Yes, even hula can be rhetorical.

After Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu I walked from the ODC dance commons to the ODC By Way to watch Pohaku.  The two companies met in the street and performed a ritual – it seemed fitting.  Pohaku, choreographed and danced by Morgan also included talking.  Morgan and danced and narrated this dance theater piece that brings “together storytelling, hula, modern dance, classical music, and projection design to explore compelling universal themes in the story of Hawaii’s native people, including land loss and fractured identity.”  I didn’t think much about this piece.  So I tried to seek out a little more information and watched this short video about the piece.  I found much more interesting than the dance itself. I wonder what makes a dance more interesting to watch in the process of making than to watch in performance.     

Saturday afternoon the festival included for the first time a set of site-specific dances all over the mission.  Titled, “Mission Street Dances,” the audience was led to six different locations to see dances by Smith/Wymore, David Herrera Performance Company, 13th Floor, ODC/Dance, Dance Brigade, and Kim Epifano’s Epiphany Productions.  I enjoyed much of what I watched including the streets.  The small duets by ODC/Dance dotted the route between the six dances that were mostly staged outside in a park, parking lot, storefront, alley, and side of a building.  There was talking, singing, dancing, and more.  I really didn’t have a favorite dance, but I did enjoy the afternoon of walking and watching, and I enjoyed seeing dances that I had never seen such as Dance Brigade and 13th Floor.  The pulse of the street was felt in both expected and unexpected ways.  

April 3rd, “Antigonick”

Written by  Anne Carson  and Co-directed by Mark Jackson & Hope Mohr 

A friend of mine commented that she didn’t like this production of Antigone. She said as a story it left her cold; she didn’t really care about anyone.  Honestly, I hadn’t thought about that.  My interest in Greek tragedy, especially Antigone, has a history (Chapter 2 of my dissertation was about the Greek tragic chorus).  Hence, I am always interested to see how rhetoric gets treated in Antigone – how do the public/private, justice/law, man/god, individual/communal binaries get drawn – how much does the power of speech matter – how does the chorus move (rhetorically).  As such, I don’t need to care about anyone.   Antigonick doesn’t shy away from rhetoric even if it doesn’t “do it all.”  Not all the elements are in this production (a common fate of modern productions of Antigone, at least the one’s I’ve seen). But it didn’t bother me. Perhaps I was distracted by the dancing or the use of plastic and dirt.  Maybe it was the literal moving of a dead corpse throughout the play or the humor displayed by the messenger/guard.  There was a high level artistry in this production.  Antigonick reminds us that tragedy does matter (it can still teach).  Because we keep repeating their lessons, the Greeks are never that far away from us even if their tragedies appear differently.   I might try and see this again before it closes, and that doesn’t happen very much.

PS. I know this isn’t a dance, but there was a lot of dancing and I just couldn’t help but write about this.