“Who is Antigone for you today?” This is the central question posed by the company MOTUS of Rimini, Italy producers of Alexis, Una Tragedia Greca, presented in Montreal at the Festival Transameriques.
The play finds its Antigones everywhere in contemporary popular uprisings from the Greek anti-government protests in the face of radical economic austerity measures, in the Occupy movement and most interestingly for me, as a researcher interested in the real on stage, in the printemps erable (the maple spring) happening in Montreal.
In the retelling of the Antigone story through a contemporary lens, the production makes several early references to “red squares” on the pavement and to police surveillance and suppression of public demonstrations. The ripples in the audience at tonight’s performance — many of whom where wearing red squares — some cut from fabric, some knitted — were palpable. There were sighs and rustlings. The stage floor itself constituted a large red square on the black shiny dance surface. As the connections from the Classical Antigone to contemporary civil protests became clearer and clearer the reactions of the audience to points of self-recognition became more audible.
At the climax of the performance, two actors mimed throwing a rock. This was an action that had been performed multiple times throughout the play. Mimed in slow motion, the action of dancing forward, rock poised, the throw and then a skipping retreat had become a choreographic trope. The two actors stood very close together nearly touching as they threw their invisible rocks. One actor stepped back to observe that some actions are better doubled than single. She then began to count. One — Two — Three — Four. At each number, another member of the cast stepped on to the red square to perform the skipping-throwing gesture. When she reached four, all the actors had been used. She then continued to “Five” looking pointedly at the audience. A man stood up and walked forward joining the actors on the stage and seamlessly joined the piece, miming the same movement. Six, seven, eight. Slowly more and more people gathering on stage forming a rock throwing crowd. Eventually the stage was filled with 40 or more people all improvising on the basic pattern. It was electric — as you can imagine!
This electricity and its uses is one of the core theatrical “problems” that I am interested in. Here the “real” on the stage is the audience itself. The real audience rock throwers were uneven and awkward but as a crowd absolutely beautiful and compelling. With the Montreal student protests as real world background to this theatrical revolt, the feedback between actors, onstage audience, and the seated audience was incredibly moving. We could see the protest before our eyes. It was real and it was here. On the one hand, it seemed almost like a rehearsal for the protests outside. One could almost (almost) imagine the crowd spilling out into the street. The physicality of pretend rock throwing linking one somatic experience to another. The body action repeated. On the other hand, the safe frame of theatre did what it almost always does and contained and diffused that energy inside the fiction, releasing the audience at the end back to ordinary life — walking calmly out in to the world — leaving our imaginary rocks behind.