‘The Disciplined Vitality of the Dancing Bodies:
Sophocles’ Trachiniae at the Ancient Theatre of Syracuse in 1933’
This chapter examines the staging of Sophoches’ Trachiniae which took place at the Ancient Theatre of Syracuse in 1933 in a production by the Istituto Nazionale del Dramma Antico (INDA). At the time INDA had an established presence in Sicily and their project of staging Greek drama in the ancient site also enjoyed the support of the fascist state. Mussolini consolidated the Institute into a state organisation in 1925 after attending a double-bill production of Antigone and Seven against Thebes in the theatre of Syracuse the year before.
The production of The Trachiniae was INDA’s first take on a Heracles play, marking a departure from the Atreidan and the Theban cycles. Unsurprisingly, the press welcomed INDA’s choice to present audiences with the heroic figure of Heracles, but the reviewers also praised the graceful dances of the Hellerau students who participated in the performance.
The collaboration between INDA and the Hellerau-Laxemburg School of Eurythmics began in the mid-1920s and continued intermittently until the post-war period. In The Trachiniae a group of nine dancers executed the choreography of Rosalie Chladek, whilst the lines of the chorus were delivered by four chorus leaders. Chladek drew inspiration from classical art, but like several other choreographers in that period, she employed techniques of modern dance to do away with the static representations of classical antiquity. The dancers mimicked the dramatic action, using their bodies to express emotional states ranging from compassion for Dianeira to a frenzied lament over Heracles’ death.
The chapter will argue that more than the theme of the dying hero, the aesthetics of the Hellerau dancers evince a dialogue with the historical and ideological context. The use of modern dance in the INDA production reimagined classical antiquity through the practices of disciplining the body which were prominent in inter-war period.
Provisional content for Hercules Performed