The Body of Dionysus
by Walter Bilderback, Dramaturg
The work of the actor in tragedy under Mr. Terzopoulos’ direction is very different than standard American rehearsal practices, which often approach the plays through the frame of Freud, Stanislavsky, and realistic drama. Terzopoulos’ work begins with intense physical training that puts the actor’s body through a series of increasingly difficult positions while focusing on breathing deeply into the diaphragm, followed by vocalizations in a series of sometimes strenuous body positions. The process is designed to free the actor’s body of its social conventions, and to free their focus from everyday life. “I need the liberation of the body, the free body,” Terzopoulos says. “This is the body of Dionysus. And if the body is free, the mind is free, the soul is free, the thoughts are free, everything is free. If the body is blocked, the voice is blocked, it’s impossible to start.”
“In tragedy we don’t talk about characters, we don’t talk about roles,” Terzopoulos says. “How do you interpret the mania in The Bacchae? It’s impossible to be a character in the Bacchae. You have to bring this emotion of trance, of ekstasis, in your body. You cannot interpret it.” In her notes from the summer of 2014, when she spent a month training in Athens, Blanka Zizka writes: “[Terzopoulos] evokes the image of Dionysus, who looks at himself in the mirror and breaks it. This is the metaphor for breaking fixed ideas, prisons, rules, and re-constructing a new image, or reassembling the image one by one anew. Dionysus came to life during Greek democracy. And democracy is always in conflict. So is Dionysus. He embodies contradiction. He can be a man or a woman, old or young, man or animal, etc…”
Columbia professor Karen VanDyck describes Terzopoulos as “first and foremost a poet: his actors are trained in the sounds, meters and rhythms of the Greek tradition.” As Adnan says of his work with actors, “Terzopoulos’ genius lies in his concept that structure is rhythm.” This technique results, Adnan feels, in performances in which the spoken text “will make us feel as if it came from afar, from before its being written, and that it is reaching us through the visible bodies that are in charge of it. Thus, when performed, the written play becomes a sacred text, sacred because the performance makes its world explode into chaos, and into the following silent, final order.”
Mirror with the relief scene on lid: Dionysus, Ariadne, satyr, & panther.