On September 23 and 24, 2011, a group of scholars and practitioners from different fields and parts of the world assembled at the Greek Cultural Foundation in Berlin to discuss aspects of Terzopoulos’theatre related to its Dionysian qualities. Scholars of theatre studies, classical studies, psychoanalysis, psycho- and neurolinguistics met with writers, dramaturges, directors, and actors to share their views on the particularity of Terzopoulos’ theatre. The symposium was held in his honor.
With contributions from:
Etel Adnan | Konstantinos I. Arvanitakis | Penelope Chatzidimitriou | Alexander Chepurov | Freddy Decreus | Matthias Dreyer | Erika Fischer-Lichte | Gonia Jarema | Kerem Karaboga | Frank M. Raddatz | Georgios Sampatakakis | Savvas Stroumpos | Dimitris Tsatsoulis | David Wiles
In the twentieth century, European directors invented and realized new forms of theatre by distancing themselves from established realistic-psychological acting styles and redefining the art of acting through the creation of specific new acting techniques. Meyerhold, for instance, founded his biomechanics in the 1920s by taking recourse to the machine, the work process, and the concomitant principle of Taylorism.1 From the 1950s onwards, Jerzy Grotowski established his theatre laboratory in which he came up with a via negativa leading to the ‘total act’ of the actor – an act that requires the actor to ‘reveal’ himself.2
Theodoros Terzopoulos, meanwhile, took a rather different route in the 1980s and after. His theatre is closely linked to the god Dionysus. One could even go so far as to state that it is an ongoing attempt to lure the god into returning from his exile. After a four-year stint at the Berliner Ensemble (1972-1976), Terzopoulos staged his first productions at the State Theatre of Northern Greece in Thessaloniki, among them Brecht’s Rise and Fall of the City Mahagonny (1977) and Lorca’s Yerma (1981). At the latest during the preparations for his production of The Bacchae (1986), the result of a nine-month rehearsal period with his newly-founded Attis Theatre, Terzopoulos began to refer back to Dionysus. In a talk about The Bacchae he stated:
‘I began to search into the mysteries, the Greek theatrical events, to explore the popular festivals, to search for all information about Dionysus. I found one vital information in a book which was found in Leipzig, an edition of the seventeenth century. I read there that in Attica, where there is the hospital of Asclepius, the patients had to follow a certain ritual. When the sun was setting, they had to walk naked in a circle on wet sand, on wet earth, one around the other. In the second hour, they had to quicken their steps, in the third more. In the fourth, they had to bend their knees just as in Kabuki. In the fifth, they had to bend the elbows, and little by little advancing and quickening this motion, with the extremities bent, the physical pains started to go away, and the clots to break up. One had pain in the heart, another in the stomach, and suddenly it was gone. Little by little these people, for eight hours, did this same thing and they began to have so much energy. This is like what happens in Kabuki. The Kabuki actor can walk with bent knees for ten hours, and plays with the same secret. And from this, gradually, the pains began to break up and go away.’3
This search for Dionysus seems to constitute the driving force behind Terzopoulos’ theatre. By evoking the god, Terzopoulos developed a completely new form of theatre, based on a very particular use of the body.
Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Semele. According to the myth, Hera, Zeus’ wife, became so jealous that she goaded on the Titans to kill the child. They ripped Dionysus to pieces, boiled and then devoured him. Only his heart remained intact. Out of it, Zeus recreated Dionysus anew.
The tearing apart of Dionysus, his restoration to wholeness and his rebirth functions as the leitmotif for the actor’s work in Terzopoulos’ theatre. S/he must persistently destroy something of and within her/himself in order to restore her/himself to a new whole. The actor’s body is at the centre. Terzopoulos proceeds from the assumption that ‘the real source of our energy and knowledge comes from the interior of the body, from memories which have been printed inside us from long ago. There exists an inner energy which carries images and repressed memories of other lives and of other eras. Namely, there exists all the knowledge of the world inside our very bodies, and there is no need for us to refer to a hundred books in order to extract this.’4
The actor turns into a disciple of Dionysus, re-performing again and again the tearing apart and restoration of her/his body’s fragments into a new whole. Similarly to the patients at the hospital of Asclepius, the actors have to transfer themselves into a state of ecstasy – a state that Terzopoulos fundamentally differentiated from that of a trance: ‘In order to enter a state of ecstasy, the body must become aware of its feet. In trance you don’t have feet’.5 Through the state of ecstasy, the actor comes close to Dionysus and reveals her/himself as his disciple.
Dionysus is also the god of endless transformations. He appears as man and woman, as god and beast, as a lion, snake or bull, permanently blurring the line between madness and reason, order and chaos, I and non-I. He is the god of liberation, who dissolves all borders. The actor is supposed to emulate him in this regard, too.
The transgression of borders spans even that final frontier – the one separating life from death. Dionysus thus also appears as the god of a mystery cult. The mystery of this cult was the conviction that the tearing apart is always followed by a restoration to wholeness and life. Although Dionysus is not the ruler of the underworld, he ensures the well-being of the initiates in it. He frees them in the face of death – another variant in which he appears as liberator.
Terzopoulos specifically describes his theatre as being ‘set in the Prothanatos, the waiting-room of Hades […] My theatre creates enlargements of this [our life as path towards Hades] waiting-room of death, the Prothanatos’.6 In this sense, Terzopoulos’ theatre can be regarded as Dionysian – it is not merely dedicated to Dionysus but even tries to persuade the god to return from his centuries-long exile.
In this respect, it is highly relevant that Dionysus is not only a Greek god. In Syria, he was worshipped as Adonis, in Egypt as Osiris, and in Phrygia as Attis. According to another tradition, he came to Greece from India. There are also gods in a number of other cultures bearing a striking resemblance to Dionysus. Wole Soyinka equated him with the Yoruba god Ogun. Terzopoulos himself mentions Yarupari, a pre-Colombian god from Latin America. In this sense, one could regard Dionysus as the god of globalization, who is not so much in exile as on his journey through the world – as is Terzopoulos’ theatre.
In this theatre, Dionysus’ journey through the different cultures is made possible by the actor’s body that is torn apart and revived in new ways. In Terzopoulos’ view, the human body is universal. Knowing full well that there are no ‘natural’ body techniques as they are all culturally dependent, he claims that these body techniques can be un-learned and new ones acquired, which open up a completely unknown dimension of the human body. This is why Terzopoulos firmly believes that the particular body techniques and exercises he developed can be transferred to all cultures – a linkage that his work with actors in different cultures has repeatedly confirmed.
The process of un-learning is equated to the tearing apart of the actors’ culturally formed body, while the development and training of new techniques function as rebirth and transformation into a new wholeness. These new techniques refer to patterns of breathing, the usage of voice, the movement of limbs, and of the body as a whole.
At the beginning of The Bacchae, for instance, one figure squatted in front of a large crystal globe and another behind a drum, her mouth agape. She was breathing loudly – as were the other five actors on the circular stage. Her body was erect. She alternated lifting each arm to her shoulders, forming a right angle at the elbow and the base of the palm. The loud, rhythmic breathing was occasionally punctuated by a drumbeat. When Dionysus and Pentheus faced each other for their agon, their bodies were never upright. Their legs were bent at the knees and their upper bodies leaned forward at a sharp angle. The feet were firmly planted on the ground, leaving footprints in the sand that covered the floor, as if the two wanted to draw energy from the earth and channel it into their bodies. With each audible breath, with each movement of a limb, energy was set free to circulate in the space and be transferred to the spectators.
This view of the human body as universal explains why certain body techniques aiming to activate and produce energy can be found in various cultures. As Terzopoulos’ comment on the bent knees in the above quotation suggests, this posture is Greek as well as Japanese – and pre-Colombian, as we might add. It is a posture that can be learned and practiced in each and every culture – given that the actor succeeds in un-learning the previously acquired techniques of walking and standing. As such, they must not be regarded as quasi-natural body techniques but as methods that can be developed in every culture under particular circumstances.
This point is worth emphasizing: The ‘archetypical body’ which can be discovered and made to appear via this technique should not be misunderstood as a ‘natural’ body. Rather, the idea is to abolish the Cartesian separation of body and mind, and the related domination of the mind in order to allow the actor to appear as body-mind. Ideally, this allows deeply buried and hidden memories to become accessible – not in a psychoanalytical sense but with a focus on physioanalysis, i.e. ‘the tearing apart’ of the body and its restoration to wholeness. Even in this regard, Dionysus appears as a traveler and a ubiquitous god who can summon disciples in all cultures. However, the human body is able merely to approximate the Dionysian without ever fully appearing as such – except in the case that the god returns and lends his power to the actors. Until the day of Dionysus’ epiphany, Terzopoulos’ theatre will no doubt be recognized as the one that comes closest to him.
On September 23 and 24, 2011, a group of scholars and practitioners from different fields and parts of the world assembled at the Greek Cultural Foundation in Berlin to discuss aspects of Terzopoulos’ theatre related to its Dionysian qualities. Scholars of theatre studies, classical studies, psychoanalysis, psycho- and neurolinguistics met with writers, dramaturges, directors, and actors to share their views on the particularity of Terzopoulos’ theatre. The symposium was held in his honor. The contributions posed questions on the aesthetics and politics of his theatre, highlighting a number of its elements, such as the actor’s body and, significantly, its cross-cultural dimension. It was a very open discussion that avoided general conclusions, mirroring the fact that a final and conclusive statement about Terzopoulos’ theatre is not appropriate, given that he continues to develop his approach with each of his new productions.
1 Cf. Meyerhold, 1922/2016.
2 Cf. Grotowski, 1968.
3 McDonald, 1992, p. 164.
4 McDonald, 1992, p. 163.
5 Terzopoulos in Raddatz, 2006, p. 158.
6 Terzopoulos in Raddatz, 2006, p. 160.
Grotowski, Jerzy (1968) Towards a Poor Theatre. London: Methuen.
McDonald, Marianne (1992) ‘Theodoros Terzopoulos’ Talk’. In: Ancient Sun, Modern Light: Greek Drama on the Modern Stage. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 159–169.
Meyerhold, Vsevolod Emilevich (1922) ‘The Actor of the Future and Biomechanics’. In: Braun, Edward (2016) Meyerhold on Theatre. London: Bloomsbury, pp. 199–200.
Raddatz, Frank M. (ed.) (2006) Reise mit Dionysos. Das Theater des Theodoros Terzopoulos. Journey with Dionysos. The Theatre of Theodoros Terzopoulos. Berlin: Theater der Zeit.
Prefacevon Erika Fischer-Lichte
I. The Aesthetics of Terzopoulos’ Theatre – Anthropological and Political Perspectives
The Theatre of Theodoros Terzopoulos
Aesthetics and Ideologyvon Georgios Sampatakakis
Deep Bodies Light. Theodoros Terzopoulos’ Vertical Choreographiesvon Matthias Dreyer
Performing Cultural Trauma in Mauser: An Exilic Perspective on the Greek Civil Warvon Penelope Chatzidimitriou
II. The Body as Foundation and Epitome of Acting
Bodies, Back from Exilevon Freddy Decreus
The Psychoanalytic Foundation of Terzopoulos’ Theatrevon Konstantinos I. Arvanitakis
Bodies in Revolt
The Art of Performer’s Psychophysical Transgression in Terzopoulos’ Theatrevon Savvas Stroumpos
III. Breath – Voice – Language
The Character of the Respiration
Notes to Theodoros Terzopoulosvon Frank Raddatz
Tongue in Presence – Speech in Exilevon Dimitris Tsatsoulis
Dionysus in Revenge: The Fractured Voice in the Theatre of Terzopoulosvon Gonia Jarema
IV. The Aesthetics of Terzopoulos’ Theatre – Crosscultural or Greek?
Transcending the Borders Through Tragedy: Terzopoulos in Turkeyvon Kerem Karaboğa
Theodoros Terzopoulos’ Oedipus Rex in the Context of Russian Theatrevon Alexander Chepurov
On the Greekness of Terzopoulosvon David Wiles