of the group, who supported the artistic leadership of Jessica Henou and Moïse Touré in their work with the Ancient
Tragedy group over the course of the year.
The group’s early exploration included reading Ajax and
the many versions of Antigone, i.e. Sophocles, but also
Anouilh, Brecht and Holderin. Students selected extracts
that resonated with them, and discussed how notions of
honor, revenge, madness and authority felt near – or
distant – in today’s society.
In October, Jessica Henou, a close collaborator with
Moïse Touré for over twenty years as well as a dancer
and choreographer who has lived and worked in Portugal, Greece and Brazil, came to undertake two weeks of
intensive work with the group. Throughout October break,
the group met daily with Jessica. Each session started with
an intensive physical routine that led into exercises building
balance, strength and stamina. Work then focused on more
specific themes and movements related to different facets
of the characters found in Ajax and Antigone. For example,
determined stamps and powerful leaps revealed Creon’s
authority, strong cutting gestures suggested Antigone’s decisiveness, crazed outbursts evoked Ajax’s madness.
The student-artists also developed ceremonies and rituals; they explored choral work and weight-sharing lifts.
They wrote short, personal texts about identity, family,
tradition and ritual. Finally, they read and explored the
plays together, sometimes re-telling the main story line with
improvised movement or narration.
When Moïse Touré worked with the group in November,
he largely focused on table work, including reading sections of Anouilh’s text and also inviting students to develop
some of their own material with a “protocol” similar to that
of the Ancient Tragedy group. Here, students were invited
to bring in family memories, favorite jokes, songs and texts
with personal resonance.
The group then worked only once a week, largely
reviewing movements and exploring text up to February
break, when Jessica Henou again returned to build on the
work undertaken in the fall. By this time, students had been
assigned specific roles, so Jessica worked on a combination of staging individual scenes and developing additional
movement sequences, including jumps and lifts. They
worked intensely through February and into March, with
each session beginning with a physical training routine,
followed by individual and group rehearsal. With his arrival
in March, Moïse worked on final staging and made choices
related to costumes, music, video and choreography.
The final production had two distinct parts. The first, the
treatment of the Antigone, was comparatively traditional, as
the main story was told in a linear manner, with each student assigned a specific role. In a few cases, with Antigone,
Haemon and Creon, multiple students played the same
role, creating a visual and textual conversation between the
contemporary and the ancient. The “conversation” with the
Greeks and America also was found in the mix of costuming, with Chorus members for example dressed in Amish
Costumes and in elements of contemporary music, as well
as certain post-modern, often humorous interruptions.
(At one moment, for example, the Chorus leader, Ansley
Echols, gets a cell phone call mid-way through a scene and
is assured by the actor playing Creon that, “It’s OK, tragedy
is compatible with new technology.”)
In contrast to Antigone, the treatment of Ajax, the second
part of the performance, was much more fragmented and
post-modern. The second half launched with a powerful
transitional sequence in which students changed on-stage
from their Ancient clothes to colorful contemporary clothing, picked up iPhones and iPads and strode through the
space, talking, texting, internet surfing. Layered in the
foreground, Chorus member and parent Tamara Coore-