Coproduction of Slovenian National Theatre Drame Ljubljana, City Theatre of Ljubljana and Cankarjev dom
Première January 24, 2015
Running time 3 hours, 10 minutes. 1 interval.
WHAT I SAW
We are in the Slovene National Theatre Maribor’s largest hall. The full stage is exposed: it seems to extend for miles, void of any set trappings. The downstage lip of the stage is set up for a concert performance: 10 or so chairs in a semicircle, a microphone in front of each. There is a harp onstage, a piano, and a harpsichord. There is a also suit of armor in a glass case and a dressing room mirror, both set near where Achilles will eventually sit. The actors enter, finding their seats. One man walks to a microphone center stage, a carafe in hand. He pours a little on the ground, sips a little more, and drops the carafe, which shatters. So we begin.
As this man, Priam, the King of Troy, speaks, the large metal fire curtain lowers: all action will now take place on the lip of the stage. Priam situates us in the bowels of the Trojan War, in the middle of a heated argument between Agamemnon and Achilles. As Priam begins this tale, he taps a rhythm on his microphone in threes, emphasizing the first beat. The ensemble echoes him. As the scene intensifies, the woman on the harp joins in. As they speak of Briseis, prize of Achilles and soon to be Agamemnon’s, the cast simply looks at the harpist. We understand her to be Briseis.
From here, other actors begin to take the center microphone – Agamemnon, then Achilles, then Achilles’ mother Thetis; who asks Zeus to punish Agamemnon by favoring Troy in the next battle while gently, suggestively stroking her microphone stand. Zeus joins Thetis center stage, and she neutrally offers her body to him, mannequin-like. Zeus gropes Thetis, grabbing at her, humping her, and agreeing to do as she asks. Zeus is a guttural, groaning bear of a man, grumpy and cruel. He later grabs at his wife, Hera the same way he grabs at his lover, dragging her around the stage, violently demanding her submission to him.
As the piece progresses, the cast obeys the rules of the play: when it is their turn to speak, they take center stage and perform at the center microphone. When they are at their seats, they are both their characters and members of the chorus. At times, they contribute their voice to choral song. When Agamemnon rallies his troops for battle, their song is angelic, lifting, and hopeful. But it morphs into something unsettling as we move forward: a guttural, animalistic refrain of strange otherworldly sounds.
Near the end of the first act, all actors leave the space and Achilles is left onstage alone. The fire curtain rises. The stage is covered in hay. Far back, on a haybale, Thetis stands, bathed in a beautiful, warm light. She sings Achilles a prophesy, and the curtain lowers again. It is the only moment the full stage is utilized.
Second Act. The battle. We see Hector, Prince of Troy, dance a visceral, embodied, butoh-like dance. Zeus tasks Hephaestus with the role of playing the many men who were slaughtered in this battle by making him generic, removing his jacket and shirt. Hector and Agamemmnon then take turns slaying this man: weapons raised, they dance towards him. He takes their weapon in hand, holding spear to chest, and “dies” over and over. Songs are sung: first, a guttural, driving, heavy metal meets tribal war song performed by the Trojans. Next, a jazz standard about Patrocles, who is kicking ass in battle, basking in the glory of it all, until he meets Hector, who slays Patrocles. In the original tale, Hector attaches Patrocles’ body to the back of a chariot and drags it through Troy. In this production, Hector strips Patrocles naked.
Achilles removes the body offstage and lets out a moan of grief that morphs into an enraged shout. Upon his return, Hector and Achilles face off. The two men circle one another, slowly: a kind of high stakes staring contest. It becomes clear that the staring contest represents the battle itself. Hector at one point turns his back to Achilles, perhaps a moment too long. He again turns to face Achilles, but Achilles walks away, grabs a staff. Hector curls into a ball under his shield. Achilles returns and hits the shield, hard, with his staff. It makes a terribly intense, assaulting sound that elicits a bodily response: I flinch and involuntarily close my eyes. Hector has a hand mic, and sings a whining half-song, like that of a terribly injured animal.
Zeus and Hera go to a fridge onstage, and pull out half of a pig carcass. They place this where Hector had been lying. Hector stands to watch. Achilles proceeds to hit the carcass again and again. His mother takes a dagger to it. Again and again. Achilles ends the slaughter, impaling the carcass with a spear. Priam takes the carcass in his arms.
Briseis begins a song, accompanied by her harp, in English. It is quiet, a waltz, maybe. “We’re all going to die. We’re all going to die. Today or tomorrow, our time is just borrowed. We’re all going to die.” The cast joins in. They sing a few rounds, replacing “We’re” with the names of actors in the play. Marco, who plays Hector. Janos, who plays Priam. Jernej Lorenci, the director. The play ends.
WATCH A TRAILER OF THE ILIAD:
NUTS AND BOLTS
Cast size and detail: 12
Touring Size: Cast of 12, 11 technicians, 2 escorts, 25 total
Minimum height/width/depth of stage: 20m, 15m, 20m
Maximum height/width/depth of stage: 30m, 20m, 25m
Load in time: 19 hours
Strike time: 3 hours
Cartage Information: fits in a puller.
Translation Options: English subtitles available
Representation: Jernej Pristov, Public Relations Manager of SNT Drama Ljubljana, +386 31 626 912, email@example.com
Availability: This production is available to tour until at least 2019.
Director - Jernej Lorenci
Lorenci is an assistant professor at the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television, University of Ljubljana (AGRFT UL) where he teaches Practical Directing and Stage Acting. He regularly directs in all professional Slovenian theatres and occasionally abroad. He received numerous awards for his work, among others, four Borštnik Grand Prix (2001, 2012, 2013, 2014), three Borštnik Awards for Directing (2005, 2009, 2012), the Šeligo Award for Best Performance at the Week of Slovenian Theatre (2006), two Golden Lion Awards in Umag (2001, 2009) and the Grand Prix of Ex Ponto Festival (2003). He is recipient of the 2014 Prešeren Foundation Award.
Theatre: Slovenian National Theatre Drama Ljubljana
Slovenian National Theatre Drama Ljubljana (shortens to SNT Drama Ljubljana) is the oldest theatre institution in the country, founded by the Government of the Republic of Slovenia. It is the central Slovenian repertory theatre house and one of the culturally most influential institutions in the region, with a permanent 45-member ensemble. It has won numerous Slovenian and international awards. The outstanding potential of SNT Drama Ljubljana is portrayed by the plays chosen for its repertoire, the directors and their production teams and most importantly, by the artistic interpretations of Drama’s ensemble. In the last two decades, Drama has presented excellent productions in more than thirty countries around the world.
Theatre: Ljubljana City Theatre (MGL)
The Ljubljana City Theatre (Mestno gledališče ljubljansko) was founded by the City of Ljubljana in 1949 as the second dramatic theatre in Ljubljana. Today, with an ensemble of 39 actors, 10 to 12 opening nights per season and over 100 people employed, the Ljubljana City Theatre is the second largest Slovenian theatre. Throughout its history, the repertoire of the Ljubljana City Theatre has been a result of collaboration of the most relevant contemporary Slovene theatre practitioners. Some of the most important performances and the milestones of the Slovenian theatre history have been created on the stage of the Ljubljana City Theatre. Today, the repertoire politics are oriented toward a lively, polemical, contemporary dialogue with the present. The programme is a combination of classical and contemporary plays, directed by the currently most prominent Slovenian and some foreign directors. The classics being in minority, an increasing number of texts are being commissioned by the theatre for a specific project. With our performances, the Ljubljana City Theatre wishes to offer its audience a wide choice of different theatre genres and performative principles. The 2015/2016 season repertoire includes works by Henrik Ibsen, David Greig, Ingmar Bergman, Ivan Vyrypayev, Marius von Mayenburg, Arthur Schnitzler and Tena Štivičić, as well as contemporary Slovenian authors.
Theatre: Cankarjev dom (CD)
Cankarjev dom (CD) is Slovenia`s largest culture and congress centre. It presents, produces, co-produces, organises and provides cultural and artistic, congress and other events, state ceremonies, exhibitions and festivals. Since CD is mostly a cultural centre, over two thirds of the available halls are annually reserved for culture and the arts. For over 35 years the cultural - artistic programme of Cankarjev dom has been promoting modern, fresh, imaginative and innovative approaches to culture, which naturally strive for high-quality performances of events. At home and abroad Cankarjev dom is well-known as a major presenter and promoter of Slovene as well as foreign cultural and artistic exchanges, and as a strong creative force it also stimulates and unites artistic and cultural events in the city. Cankarjev dom is visited by half a million people each year and over 1000 cultural and artistic performances and 200 congress events are hosted annually.
WRITINGS AND REVIEWS
Testing the Live Pulse of Theatre. Dnevnik, January 27th 2015, p. 21.
Instead of insensitive modern visuality, Lorenci focuses on the myth's auditive character (from times long past, when man still had a sense for hearing the world, nature and other "fellow-beings"). Hence the show resonates as a big rhythmical and vibrating organism, inside which the actor is some kind of instrument, an amplifier, a messenger and a conductor of the original sound and meaning of the show. Each performer breaths the show and all its elements (lightning, scenery, costumes, music...) and forms an indispensable part of the harmonically tuned whole. - Nika Leskovšek
Homer: The Iliad, Cankarjev dom. Delo, 26. 1. 2015, str. 13.
On stage, the whole is being built of both: bloody battles and love, the political and the personal, friendship and hate, cooperation and revenge, success and defeat. A democratic image of reality is being created, conceived from different perspectives and constant amplitudes, where the only certainty is that the (non)importance of human faith sooner or later faces its own mortality.
There is a majestic consistency of all co-creators and the key complementariness of acting, scenery and light, music and soundscape, language and movement, which in a dramaturgically cleanly framed whole, with a fine sense for tempo and suggestion of folk-like simplicity enables the viewer's active attention to tune in and get caught in the common play of forming a collective (past, present and future) story. - Nika Arhar
Cruel Selection. Pogledi, 28. 1. 2015, p. 15.
The high point of barbarity and violence which war brings – as well as a perverted delight of watching it – is represented by the final battle between Achilles and the explosive Hector (Marko Mandić). At this stage the show finally stops all sweet talk and attacks with »shock«. At first the reckless pounding on another man, whose body is replaced with a metaphor – a half-sliced torso of a swine. The concept of a slaughterhouse drifts from an animal to a human environment (and vice versa). It has nothing to do with (war) strategy anymore, only with the will to power, to possess and to gorge on (the weak, the unwanted, the threatening). The final plastic clearness of death and bloody slaughter leads to the finishing break of the show: the action and the actors finally step out of the chronology of the epic, singing a mockery toast or a lullaby, noticing our existential transience. A kind of ironic catharsis and a poetic twist that should save us from the atrocity and tragedy of the Iliad – but not from our own lives. - Zala Dobovšek
REFLECTIONS BY KELLIE
In preparing for the opening of this production, which was set to be performed on Slovenia’s largest concert hall, Director Jernej Lorenci and his creative team decided two things up front: the entire piece would be set on the lip of the concert hall’s massive stage, with the fire curtain down; and the ear would be the most important organ for the audience’s reception of the tale. The theatrical experience that grew from these early decisions was nothing short of extraordinary.
In choosing to present this piece as a primarily aural experience, Lorenci is true to the DNA of The Iliad, a tale that was birthed out of an oral tradition. I got a sense of the power of The Iliad, a piece with a rhythm and musicality that drives it forward, fueling the grand proclamations of its passionate, rage-filled, deeply flawed characters. There is something, too, in the tension between the larger-than-life tale of war and the Gods, and the small-scale way it would have been told by one man to a group of rapt listeners gathered close. I felt this tension in this production: actors’ amplified voices and commanding performances fully fill the space, but they are doing so much with so little. They speak directly to us, their voices carried by sound waves directly to our ears, making The Grand Hall feel surprisingly intimate. Later, when Achilles “kills” Hector by slamming a large stick on his shield again and again, the sound was a kind of assault on our senses: one’s body automatically recoiled with each stroke.
All of this is aided by the choice to stage the entire piece on the lip of the stage. For the bulk of the production, staging is minimal: focus is instead placed on the voice and presence of the actors. In the second act, when the company introduced some movement into the piece, the physicality remained contained and clear. During Hector’s war dance, he barely moved from one spot on the stage, but the little movement he offered communicated so much: he vibrated with the fervor of his intent to slaughter, eyes rolled back in his head, like a man possessed. The result was captivating and terrifying. In moments like this and throughout, The Iliad found a language that relied on simplicity, seriousness, and focus. The success of the piece relied deeply on the cohesion of the Ensemble, working together to create something massive, hubristic in its defiance of visual spectacle, relying instead on the performers as tellers of a thrilling story and makers of spectacular sound. There is simultaneously a humility here, a privileging of the text and tale, an acquiescence to the oral tradition. Tensions like these are at the heart of what makes this piece so breathtaking, what made me sit on the edge of my seat the entire evening.
Another such tension existed between the Ensemble’s collectivity and the fiery feuds between the characters they embodied. The characters in this piece were cruel, power-hungry, revengeful, violent, and always at odds with one another: the spat that begins the piece between Achilles and Agamemnon, two Greeks meant to be on the same side, set the tone for the rest of the evening. And yet, the Ensemble was deeply connected and attuned to one another. Their final song read as a sweet act of love, for one another, for their director, for the project as a whole. During the curtain call, tears fell from the eyes of several cast members. I spoke to Lorenci after the performance and he said, “I just love this cast so much. I am feeling very fragile.”
The Slovenian dramaturg and critic Nika Leskovšek describes this production as, “as a big rhythmical and vibrating organism, inside which the actor is some kind of instrument, an amplifier, a messenger and a conductor of the original sound and meaning of the show.” This aptly gets at the effect of the aforementioned choices. The production embraced the tensions between the huge and the miniscule, the ambitious and the humble, the personal and political, all to create a piece that is wholly organic to its source material, and a truly masterful theatrical experience.