Włodzimierz Staniewski, Introduction to Iphigenia at A...
That summer in 2008 was incredibly hot in Greece. Even on the high slopes of Parnassus,
the mountain goats—the precursors of mythical satyrs, were hiding from the sun in the
deep shade inside caves.
During my numerous journeys throughout the world—often to places rarely visited by people, or at least by our fellow citizens—I saw many peculiar, astonishing phenomena on the borderline of the impossible, therefore miracles.
However, I have never experienced before such surprise, astonishment and incredulity (even to this day). We were going to make a film based on Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides. Together with Yana Sistovari we made an off-road tour to document the possible film locations on Parnassus’ slopes. By the way, the film would not have been possible without Yana.
The Corycian Cave, the cradle of ancient Greek civilisation, was familiar to me for years. I have pilgrimed there many times and almost like a speleologist I immersed myself into its deep and vast chambers.
The cave resembles an immense cathedral with labyrinths and numerous connecting passages; its natural architecture exceeds anything constructed by human design. That is a creation of the gods. After its period of service as a sacred space for the ancients, for hundreds of years it was visited by the great and the good: Nero, Plutarch, Goethe, to mention but a few.
The final scenes were planned to be filmed in the cave without much preparation, with no chance for second takes, because the permission allowed us to enter only for a couple of hours. Getting this permission was nothing short of a miracle (I am unable to imagine what kind of forces had made their efforts successful, facing those authorities). Another miracle-maker was Wojciech Staroń—an author of the camerawork, with his crew.
Everything was shot live, while walking, with no chance for repetitions, under the pressure of running out of time.
A supervisor, sent by the Greek authorities, was short-tempered and he was constantly threatening us that he will call the police to come by helicopter. He kept measuring decibels inside the cave, to present some evidence that our singing produced such noise it could cause the stalactites to break off. Alexia, the beautiful Greek actress, was delegated to placate the supervisor, so that afternoon and early evening she performed the role of her lifetime: the Placator.
By the way, the cave is neither a sanctuary, nor a museum, not even a preserved space. It remains in the wild. Until 2004 it was hardly reachable through the thorny bushes and rifts on steep slopes. During the initial stage of my acquaintance with this cave, I considered leasing it. When I met Yana, I asked for help in the process of leasing or even buying the cave, using her father's contributions to tourism development on Parnassus. During those years I was often invited for the festival in Delphi as well as conferences, so I imagined that near this cave I could create a kind of theatre-mystery. Only in preparation for the 2004 Olympics, the Greek government partially maintained the road that leads to the cave.
Let us return to the beginning, to the most extraordinary phenomenon during the filming process. I mean this goat—the satyr, the alpha male, the incarnation of Dionysus—starring in our film.
Together with Yana, we prepared some of the locations in advance. We arrived in Athens on 8 th or 9 th July 2008 and from there we travelled to Delphi and on Parnassus. My team in the car included Krzysztof Globisz and Wojtek Staroń. I remember, I asked to stop on the mountain path to look at an old, rusty Volkswagen van commonly known [in Poland] as the Cucumber (automotive enthusiasts might remember this iconic model). This one must have
fallen down the slope and burned years ago.
I was saying “We're going to shoot here” when my mobile phone rang. It was Yana. She tried to tell me something, but I can only hear exclamatory scraps of information, “Goat! Monumental! Satyr! Tragos!”
After a while, I realised that she is inside the Corycian Cave and on one of its rocky stalagmite platforms, she has seen a large animal with horns, a wild mountain goat who stands still and remains motionless as if enchanted. Unbelievable, but he remained in place, was still there all the time, while we approached the cave after an arduous trekking and rock climbing with the whole company. The first scenes were with that goat. The goat—in Greek
is Tragos, which is the source word for Tragedy.
Before Gardzienice; I had made attempts to establish a theatre in Kozłówka near Lublin. I created my first performance there, around 1975. On top of the gate of the Kozłowiecki Palace, there is an image of a goat in a particular pose. Jan Tabaka performed such poses in front of the rural audiences in our Evening Performance from 1977. Spectators reacted to this performance with vitality and cordiality.
We kept performing through the villages continuously and Andre Gregory filmed these Songs of the Goat in 1978, with the commentary by John Helpern.
Years later, other people who were our apprentices, established their own theatre called Song of the Goat.
Every single scene of this recording of texts by Euripides, as I wish to call it—not performance, nor theatre—this seance of texts by Euripides, spoken by actors-rhapsodists, wandering the wilderness, as in the times when theatre was born. Every single scene may be supported by everyday life situation, on the borderline of the real and surreal. On this occasion, we can enquire if the great texts of humankind should not be treated as sacred,
and they should not be spoken only in sacred places? This would be the Oikologic Theatre of my dreams.
A short story about Globisz, who was on the mythical execution site, preaching this Cassandran text foretelling the collapse of Troy—words that are so fitting to our times.
There, Aesop, who was an author of the blasphemous fables, was thrown off the cliff centuries ago. That is how executions were carried out in those times. Globisz, secured by a climbing rope, was assisted by an alpinist and myself. We went through a narrow path to the top, near the cliff. Then, we removed the harness and we saw the fear. The camera was far ahead, 30 meters from the ridge, but Staroń managed to capture that fear. I was hidden behind a stone and I kept encouraging Globisz with my instructions—not to look down the abyss. There are eagles circling over our heads, we could hear their piercing noise, howling wind… We finished this scene, we led Globish back through the sharp top of the ridge to the safe path, and the sound person politely said with her pleasant voice “Would you mind repeating the scene?” She was not satisfied with the poor quality of recording. Then, Krzysztof Globisz, that notably gentle person, erupted unexpectedly. He strongly denied the request. Of course, there was no other take.
We have a multitude of stories about our collaboration with highlanders from that region. But the time is running out, so let me just mention that some sparkles and traces of those stories are reflected in this film. For instance, the legendary wild boar breeder, son of the heroine of the civil war—the Greek Dolores Ibarruri, who built a fortress in the mountains to protect his mother, as the mother was chased by the military junta. It is time to end the talk as time is both running out and chasing us simultaneously. I will finish with a phrase from Herodotus: “Some say this, while others say that. I am bound to tell what I am told, but not in every case to believe it.”
Włodzimierz Staniewski, 24.04.2020