Slovak National Theatre – Drama, Bratislava, SLOVAKIA
directed by Rastislav Ballek
Ways to freedom / the struggle for freedom / use of freedom / abuse of freedom.
Who would have guessed that one of the most acute theatrical analyses of the moral crisis of today’s society would be an interpretation of an ancient Greek tragedy? In their orgiastic frenzy, the Bacchae – Dionysus’ female retinue – interrogate the limits of individual and collective freedom.
Milan Ondrík as Pentheus versus Daniel Fischer as Dionysus, in an unequal fight of man against god. The first Slovak translation of Euripides’ famous play spans the millennia to offer a cruel, bloody yet cathartic tragedy of a contemporary individual bound by moral extremes. Philosophically and visually compelling scenes depicting the ecstasies of a hedonistic society kept in check by the rule of power and order tell of the limitations imposed on the will and freedom by necessity and fate. Reason and emotion are mirrored in the opposing models of absolutism and anarchy.
In antiquity, the struggle of man against god is an unequal fight doomed to fail from the very outset. In Thebes, Dionysus is opposed by the unsuspecting King Pentheus. The tragedy culminates in suicide, committed unwittingly under Dionysus’ influence by Agaué, Pentheus’ mother. Director Rastislav Ballek and his creative team bring, among other things, a new theme onto the table of current social discourse: that of ananké, a destiny or necessity of sorts, with which the individual has to come to terms during his lifetime. The Bacchanalian orgies contain a reference to extremes and crisis, be it in connection with ecstatic frenzy motivated by religious fanatism or the shifting limits of value in a hedonistic society. Are we destined to perish?
The cast in this production offers a confrontation between two distinctive generations of actors at the Slovak National Theatre, as well as additional guest appearances. Anna Javorková, Dušan Jamrich, Štefan Bučko bring sophisticated expression and detailed work with a difficult script. Milan Ondrík, Dominika Kavaschová and Daniel Fischer do not lack in original interpretation of the text in physical choreographies – anyway, this is a new translation by Peter Lomnický. Guest actors Martin Hronský, Michal Noga and Michal Kiník complement the anachronism of the stage interpretation.
Three ingenious visual artists – Katarína Holková, Markéta Plachá, Ivan Martika – bring their distinctive conceptual-scenic vision and peculiar stylistic nuance. The set is made up of panels depicting parts of the Pergamon Altar. The Altar, as a symbol of the mythical fight against and victory over chaos, portrays the struggle of the Gods and the Giants. Arranging the panels in the form of a tunnel creates a clever passage – a rift in time that serves as a conduit onto stage for the powers of the Bacchanalian craze, in order to strip the human being of his strength and self-control. The costumes and set pieces play with the intellect, tradition, and provoke by their proportions and eccentricity.
As director Radislav Ballek has said about the play: “The important thing is that it, symbolically and in fact, concludes the monumental effort of the Greek spirit with a suggestive image of a fall into barbarism, the downfall of individuality and the polis, the city-state, of human society built on reason and morality. I am no expert, but even a layman will be struck by what the play describes, almost sadistically: a sudden, terrifying, undignified and incomprehensible decline of the individual, family and state. The cause of all this is the influence of some new god, Dionysus, who – as it happens to be – is also the mythical progenitor of theatre as such.” Dramaturge Miroslav Dacho adds: “This is the third production of The Bacchae in Slovakia, the previous ones were more or less loose interpretations of the original, they used different translations, because a Slovak version had not existed and was only commissioned now by the Drama of the Slovak National Theatre. The Bacchae is a polemic about rationality and pragmatism on the one hand and emotion and hedonism on the other. A polemic about the right way to govern society, an open-minded to borderline anarchist way or a strictly pragmatic, almost cruel or tyrannical, that is the principal theme posed by the play.”
If man today acts inconsistently in the eyes of contemporary psychology, it is precisely the man of Antiquity and the limits imposed on his behaviour, action and will that offers an important impetus for reflecting on our own existence and freedom. And last but not least, gory brutality and the cruelty of tragedy portrayed in a theatre hall still holds cathartic potential for the audience. “The best way to relax and clear your mind or even to have fun is to watch a juicy tragedy filled with human misfortune and suffering. I am always surprised when someone thinks this is a paradox,” says director Rastislav Ballek.
direction: Rastislav Ballek
translation: Peter Lomnický
dramaturgy: Miro Dacho
masks, objects: Ivan Martinka
set design, objects: Markéta Plachá
costumes: Katarína Holková
music: Marián Lejava
movement cooperation: Petra Fornayová
characters and cast: Dionýzos: Daniel Fischer, Pentheus: Milan Ondrík, First Messenger, Second Messenger: Martin Hronský, Kadmos: Dušan Jamrich, Teiresias: Štefan Bučko, Agaué: Anna Javorková, Choir: Dominika Kavaschová, Michal Kinik, Michal Noga
Rastislav Ballek (1971)
studied philosophy and sociology at the Faculty of Arts of the Comenius University in Bratislava, later also graduated in theatre directing from the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. He has directed at several acclaimed theatres in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. In 2003 – 2008, he was artistic director at the Žilina City Theatre. He authored the cult original production Tiso at Aréna Theatre (Divadelná Nitra 2015) and directed Kukura (Divadelná Nitra 2012), The Holocaust (Divadelná Nitra 2013) or Rosmersholm (2013). At the Opera of the Slovak National Theatre, he directed the world premiere of Martin Burlas’ chamber opera Coma (2007). Ballek’s productions and theatrical projects regularly appear at local and international theatre festivals (Plzeň Theatre, Sterijino pozorje in Novy sad, Serbia, New Drama Bratislava, Divadelná Nitra, Eurokaz Festival in Zagreb, Expo 2000 in Hannover). Ballek is twice-nominee for Best Direction in the Dosky annual critics survey. He earned Dosky for Best Production of the Season 2004/2005 with Tiso, written for and directed at Aréna Theatre. In 2017, he received the Stano Radič Prize for Discovery of the Year at the festival Kremnické GAGY for The Economy of Good and Evil, and his production The Principles of Newspeak earned the title ‘Počin [Poučn]’ at KioSK Festival 2017 for lighting design.