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Ioannidou Abstract

The Sweet Vitality of Dancing Bodies: Classical Embodiment, Modernist Poetics, and Fascist Visions in Sophocles’ Trachiniae at Syracuse in 1933

Eleftheria Ioannidou

The chapter examines the theatrical staging of Sophocles’ Trachiniae at the Greek Theatre of Syracuse in 1933 in a production of the Istituto Nazionale del Dramma Antico (INDA). At the time INDA had an established presence in the Fascist state and their stagings of Greek drama in the ancient theatre enjoyed the support of the regime. Mussolini consolidated the Comitato per le Rappresentazioni Classiche into a state organization renamed as INDA in 1925 after attending a double-bill production of Antigone and Seven against Thebes the year before. The production of the Trachiniae was INDA’s first take on a play based on the myth of Hercules, marking a departure from the Atreidan and Theban cycles. The new verse translation by the classicist Ettore Bignone used by INDA glorified the theme of the dying hero whilst exalting the gentleness and grace of Deianeira. Unsurprisingly, the press welcomed INDA’s choice to present a play revolving around the heroic death of Hercules, but the reviewers also praised the graceful dances of the Hellerau students who participated in the performance. The collaboration between INDA and the Hellerau-Laxenburg School of Eurhythmics began in the mid-1920s and continued intermittently until the post-war period. In the Trachiniae a group of nine dancers executed the choreography by Rosalia Chladek and four chorus leaders delivered the lines of the choral parts. Chladek drew inspiration from classical art but, like several other choreographers in that period, she employed techniques of modern dance to break away from the static representations of classical antiquity. Her dancers mimicked the dramatic action, using their bodies to express emotional states ranging from compassion for Deianeira to a frenzied lament over Hercules’ imminent death. The chapter argues the translation of the tragedy combined with the aesthetics of the Hellerau dancers evince a dialogue of modernist poetics with the historical and ideological context of Fascist Italy.