The Roma Europa Festival brought to Rome Milo Rau and his company NTGent with the show Antigone in the Amazon in which the Swiss director rewrites Sophocles’ text, transferring it to the recent history of the Brazilian land at the time of the Bolsonaro regime.
This is the third part – after the play Orestes in Mosul and the film The New Gospel – of the trilogy that the Swiss director has produced, bringing Western myths to the peripheries of the globalised world, in a gesture that he himself – in an interview with Jonas Mayeur that accompanies the programme – defines as the “re-appropriation” and political “occupation” of the ancient myth. For this production, Milo Rau has in fact collaborated since 2019 with the association MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra), which has been fighting racism, sexism and economic inequality in the rural areas of the South American country for over fifty years.
In the foyer of the theatre, red banners with white lettering are hung. In 1970s colours reminiscent of the posters of artists Antoni Muntadas and Barbara Kruger, they stand out against the classical backdrop of the atrium of the Teatro Argentina, communicating in advance the protest content of the show.
Throughout the performance, choral scenes of struggle and violence, music and monologues follow one another amidst the dust that rises on the almost deserted stage covered by a blanket of dark earth, to which three vertical screens, integral parts of the performance, serve as a backdrop. The screens catapult onto the stage the videos of the reenactment organised by Milo Rau of the El Dorado Do Carajas massacre of 17 April 1996, in which 19 peasants were killed by police forces, but also the body of Kay Sara with her speech in which the indigenous activist exhorts the audience to change.
Like the British visual artist Jeremy Deller who in 2001 made and filmed the reenactment of the Battle of Orgreave on 18 June 1984, in the same way Milo Rau re-presents in the form of a video-performance a tragedy that has been forgotten by the television screens, giving it a political visibility that was denied him at the time.
In the prologue to Antigone Sophocles wrote ‘Many monstrosities there are in the world, but none is equal to Man’, and Kay Sara’s might seem to be his and Milo Rau’s response: ‘Let us stop being like Creon. Let us be like Antigone! Because when injustice becomes law, then resistance is a duty. Let us resist together, we are human beings. Each in his own way and in his own place, united by our diversity and our love of life, which unites us all.’
In this exemplary performance, Milo Rau, director and writer, director of the Ghent Ntgent Theatre from 2018 to 2023 and now of the Wiener Festwochen, puts into practice those dictates he listed for his theatre-making in the Ghent Manifesto, in which in the first point he reminds us that for those who want to make theatre, it is no longer just about portraying the world. It is about changing it.
images: (cover 1-2) Antigone in Amazonie- Kurt Van Der Elst. (3) Poster. Antigone in Amazonie. Armin Smailovic