Alexis. A Greek Tragedy
nytheatre.com review by Will Fulton
January 5, 2012
A millennium and a half after the foundation of Athenian democracy, Greece remains a laboratory for the Western world. In 2008 policemen shot and killed fifteen-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos in the Exarchia district of Athens, long a center of youth culture and rebellion as the site of Athens Polytechnic University. This sparked a series of riots around the country and abroad, expressing a long-growing dissatisfaction of the Greek youth at the outmoded fiscal and political models that had brought Greece (and soon the rest of the world) to its current economic meltdown. In retrospect, the Alexis Grigoropoulos murder and its consequences were an important early manifestation of the general unrest that has since spread across the globe in the Arab Spring and Occupation movements. Alexis has taken on the mythic status of a martyr for many, which is why his death is the subject of Italian company MOTUS' latest piece. They have spent the last few years creating work that explores the myth of Antigone and how it relates to contemporary political resistance, including their contribution to last year's Under the Radar Festival, of which this is the fourth and culminating piece.
Their work has a fluid, pastiche structure, with played moments transitioning into discussion between the actors about playing those moments, intercut with projected footage of the riots or the company's subsequent interviews with Greek social and cultural thinkers. Silvia Calderoni, the Antigone of their three prior pieces in the project, serves as the driving force of inquiry, continually asking everyone who they think Antigone is now. Vladimir Aleksic, Creon, often plays devil's advocate, giving voice to the position of established authority trying to maintain balance. The Athenian Alexia Sarantopoulou adds an element of biographical authenticity, relating her experience of the incident and resulting turmoil as a young person who lived through it. Benno Steinegger, however, steals the show as Polyneices/Alexis and as the originator of the show's central image, the young protester about to throw a stone.
Throughout the show they continually return to the question of what they as young people, and specifically as artists, can and should do in the face of such systemic injustice. That sort of transparent reflexivity, a show built around questioning its own purpose, is emblematic of the entire project. The ensemble is clearly engaged in an involved and ongoing artistic inquiry into the current situation of the world and their role in it. There's an almost disarming honesty in the roughness of their work. At its best, this sort of slapdash self-awareness gives the work an earnest flavor that is hard to find in comparable American experimental work.
However, this looseness also proves to be ultimately detrimental to the effectiveness of a piece at this scale (of both duration and subject). The work has a strong feeling of ensemble development, enhancing the impression of the individual performers' investment in the piece, but perhaps at the expense of a stronger editorial principle to shape the overall experience from directors Enrico Casagrande and Daniela Nicoló in collaboration with Michalis Traitsis and Giorgina Pilozzi. Each gesture is played with equal weight, and so without a clearer framework to organize them and provide cues for how to process them, the moments unfortunately tend to wash out and lose some of the efficacy they might have had in isolation. This becomes increasingly problematic as the show goes on and becomes mired in a series of “endings,” each affecting in its own right, but made impotent by confounding the audience's structural expectations for finality and closure.
Conversely, this frustration may be entirely appropriate to the show's inquiry. The questions asked are enormous and necessarily unresolved. Much like criticisms leveled against Occupy Wall Street, perhaps reduction of their message into coherent theses is fundamentally against the entire spirit of their enterprise. Such living, open questions must engender forms and processes that are comparably unfinished and messy. My critical frustration with MOTUS may be a valid and desirable effect, though acknowledging that does not necessarily reduce it. Regardless, the passionate artists of MOTUS deserve commendation for creating work that is vital and risking failure because they strive to ask questions beyond their known capacities.