Sheathed in red, she wordlessly walks to the center of the stage. Antigone, the eternal, who always affirms the human duty to our families and gods above the petty claims of the state.
But after rose petals fall from her uplifted palms upon the ruined form of her brother, the arms and body of the despot Creon's cousin take on an improbable pose. A Spanish guitar starts a classical lament as Antigone begins a slow flamenco dance.
A more unlikely cultural splice is difficult to imagine, but Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca have created it in Antigona, a musical, dance and theatrical retelling of the Sophocles tragedy that comes to DPAC as a part of the American Dance Festival.
This cultural juxtaposition makes more sense than first meets the eye. Flamenco concerns itself with the deepest of passions, pursued at all costs to the end. For choreographer Martín Santangelo, recent Spanish history resonates with a text more than 2,500 years old.
In 2010, a heavily financed right-wing publicity campaign convinced the Spanish to oppose efforts to exhume and test the DNA of those killed and buried in mass graves under dictator Francisco Franco. "Their families wanted to bury their loved ones in an honorable way," Santangelo recalls, "which is the dilemma in Antigone. The right-wingers actually said, 'What's the point of remembering?' The point of remembering is to reassemble—to re-member—our families."
Though Sophocles' text has been read politically in translations by Anouilh and Brecht, for Santangelo, its focus is on cultural and individual responsibility to the family. "The whole myth begins when a man does not take responsibility for his actions," he observes. "From that moment, the gods determined that tragedies would occur and continue to occur, generation after generation. Only when the family loves each other, respects each other, will the tragedies stop. Antigone recognizes that."
The hardest part for Santangelo involved adapting Sophocles' words into Spanish song. "At first, it was tedious work: building the new lyrics, the new meanings into the traditional songs; trying to find the meaning of the lyrics through the hills and valleys of the voices of the cantaores," he says.
For Santangelo, Antigone "is religion and psychology rolled into one play." After partial showings in New York, his version has reached its final form. "But I hope I never stop working on it," he says. "It's helped me question my life, and become a more compassionate and richer person."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Sophocles in Spain."