What a day, June 26, 2015! President Obama gave a eulogy for the Reverend Senator Clementa Pinckney that turned into a speech that will be forever counted among his greatest–and then he sang. The Supreme Court ended its big week by taking us another giant step closer to a more perfect Union with its decision on marriage rights. And then, Soledad Barrio danced Antigone on the big stage of the DPAC, as the American Dance Festival continues. Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca‘s Antigona repeats tonight, and if you weren’t there last night–well, everything else can wait. It is stupendous.
After living 10 days of such high civic drama, no stage drama could be more appropriate than Sophocles’ ancient story of Antigone and her accursed family. Often, Antigone’s struggle to bury her brother is framed as defiance of the state, but recent events have made it easier to consider it as her demand that the state not usurp her natural rights as a human. There are, I think, a few natural laws, and one of them is that the living must be served by properly honoring the bodies of the dead. Sophocles makes a couple more perfectly clear: don’t kill or sleep with your parents; brother fighting against brother under different flags leads only to tragedy. The poignancy of Antigone’s insistence–even unto death–that brother Polyneices be accorded the same honorable burial as brother Eteocoles was made even more piercing last night by the honorable funeral so many of us had just witnessed.
The terrible stories of Antigone and the Rev. Pinckney and the others of the murdered Emmanuel 9 are not parallel, but there are enough commonalities to make the ancient fresh–again. Artistic director Martin Santangelo adapted and created this Antigona for Noche Flamenca after realizing how the story lived on in the struggles of Spanish families to properly bury their dead left in mass graves by Franco’s murderous forces. It is impossible not to think that the manner that the Rev. Pinckney and his parishioners are being honored in death does not contain an element of expiation by officials of the state (the state in the broad sense) for all the murdered black people left to rot in nooses or stealthily buried without care or prayer by their murderers, while the state denied the people’s natural rights and blinded its eyes. Our American tragedy has been playing out for centuries, but as the President said yesterday, maybe now we can see. Antigona commands us to look.
From whatever path you enter the serial carnage of Antigone, it’s a story that explodes inside you. Translated into flamenco, it’s a 90-minute series of detonations that go on and on in the mind. Noche Flamenca has given it the full operatic treatment, with singing that pins you to your seat, music that raises the hairs on your skin, masks that will haunt your nights, and dancing that makes the supertitles supererogatory. The production contains many energizing surprises, thanks to the influence of consulting director Lee Breuer (the Living Theatre, Mabou Mines).
Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca last appeared at ADF in 2006, and in 2009 were on stage at Carolina Performing Arts. Both times I’ve seen her, I’ve sensed that Barrio’s emotional force, although tremendous, was not being given full rein. In Antigona, however, she has the scope for her stunning power. Her Antigona dancing the scene with her sister Ismene (Marina Elana) was one of the most searing expressions I’ve seen on a stage. As always, Antigona realizes at the end of this fruitless encounter that she is all alone–not even her sister will stand with her. She will do the right thing, alone, and she will die. It is all in the ferocious dancing. The entire cast is great, but special mention must be made of the incendiary Juan Ogalla, who danced Haemon. Like Barrio, he combines sculptural form, forceful polyrhythmia and emotional veracity into each sizzling dance.
Flamenco dancing is not something that can be done at this level forever. Don’t miss your chance to see these dancers, for whom “awesome” is the correct descriptor.
You may also wish to purchase tickets for another Antigone coming soon. Carolina Performing Arts has booked the new version starring Juliet Binoche for October 9 and 10. Friends who saw it in Paris called it “devastating.”