Antigone Interrupted presented by Scottish Dance Theatre and ideated by Joan Clevillé reconfigures the homonymous 5th c BC Greek tragedy by Sophocles to question the role of civil disobedience in the contemporary world. Breaking away from traditional Greek tragedies, rather than an array of characters dressed in fancy clothes and masks, only dancer Solène Weinachter and her BSL interpreter Yvonne Strain take the stage dressed in simple white shirt and formal black trousers.
Weinachter shapeshifted during the performance interpreting all the roles of this tragedy. She demonstrates well-rounded skills as dancer and actress as each character was marked by different mannerisms, attitudes, body posture and movements. The choreography leads the audience into the psychological state of each character. For example, Antigone often moves with incredible strain and effort as if restrained by physical chains. Her voice is cut short by what seems a sharp physical pain as if her grief was punching her as she attempts to talk. Weinachter also demonstrates incredible vocal skills by contributing live to Luke Sutherland’s eery soundtrack entirely made of human sound as she sings, growls and harmonises during the performance.
Because of Weinachter’s ability to differentiate roles using her movements and voice, some of the best scenes included the dialogues among different characters, as she quickly morphed in and out of multiple roles with incredible precision. The most impressive moments were probably those involving the chorus- the assembly of citizens who in ancient Thebe would be sat just like the audience assisting the performance in a semi-circle participating in the political decision of the city. Spectators fill in the role of the chorus by listening to King Creon address the public and being invited to clap for him just as a fifth-century Theban would do.
It is through this parallelism and the representation of the chorus that the production expresses one of its key messages. In fact, the audience is led to reflect about their role as citizens in the face of systemic injustices. Spectators are shown the option of blindly following the command of despots like Creon, just like the chorus in the production does, or to put their bodies on the line for what they believe in like Antigone.
Clevillé’s production satirically represents the chorus by drawing parallels between ancient democracy and contemporary politics as Creon addresses the masses with slogans like ‘make this city great again.’ Weinachter characterises Creon as a despot by standing tall, walking and dancing with swagger and maniacally laughing on the upbeat tones of Sirtaki – a form of music popularised by the 1964 movie Zorba the Greek – while crowning himself. On the other hand, the chorus is represented through shrinking movements, crawling on the floor, addressing the king as ‘sir’ and promising obedience in squeaking voices. The citizens’ lack of individual thoughts are expressed in another scene as Weinachter represents them like a pack of wolves, howling and whining in chorus she expresses how they act and think like one.
The satirical representation of the chorus is even more evident as they visit Antigone’s cell and perform to the notes of Sister Suffragette from Mary Poppins. Weinachter dances with marching movements, a fixed gazed and an idiotic smile, encouraging the audience to clap their hands as she claps her feet doing a handstand. The song recalls a kind of cheap privileged activism which in the 1964 movie is embodied by a middle-class white woman singing with joy this song as other put their bodies on the line – getting chained and arrested by the police- for her own rights and freedom. Here the chorus celebrates Antigone’s bravery telling her ‘We’re on your side’, but lacking any initiative to actually help her.
The meaning of this performance is given by the actress in the following scene, when the tragedy is interrupted by anecdotes of Weinachter’s memory of the play Antigone throughout her life, up until her current interpretation. As the dancer reconnects to this present moment, she addresses the audience-chorus explaining that this is a story about the people who put their bodies on the line. Bodies that protest and fight back against laws that don’t protect them. Queer, black, disabled bodies who chose to remain sat, to fight back and to resist. Breaking the fourth wall, she creates a connection with the audience stating that she can see us, but she cannot see our thoughts, nor prejudices, nor hopes, nor who we vote for. However, we can see each other. Weinachter smiles softly as she says the last sentence. Building a relation with the audience, spectators are drawn to reflect on the political power which can derive from sympathy.
The performance acts as a call to action about our ability to change the world to make it fairer for others moved by our capacity to empathise with fellow human beings. With this message Antigone Interrupted maintains the structure of a Greek tragedy educating the spectators and leaving them with a morale about how our individual choices can lead to systemic changes.
Antigone Interrupted is part of the Edinburgh International Festival, showing at Dance Base (Studio 3) August 17-28 at 20:40.
Image credits: Permission granted by author, provided to The Student as press material.