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  • Writer's pictureSam Baldwin

Birdsong and Dance

Since my last post, I’ve done some more research on the role of dance/song in Greek theatre. I’ve also re-read Anne Carson, but more on that later. To briefly summarize my previous post/research, song and dance are/were used as additional directives for interpretation. Specific movements are used to represent specific themes and feelings. Think, for example, the pop-culture stereotyping of interpretive dance.

In my research last time, I found some tentative connections between Greek and Kabuki theatre traditions particularly related to instances of dance and intentional movement. I want to note, though, that I am by no means an expert on Kabuki theatre, so please understand that any mistakes are just those. Mistakes. So, in a review of a Kabuki theatrical recording, Samuel Leiter talked at length about how dance specifically was used in the production. “The bird,” he begins, “is enacted as a beautiful girl dressed in white, who dances on a stage suggestive of a snowy landscape, with snow falling on her umbrella. Occasionally, her birdlike nature emerges in her way of walking or moving her sleeves.” Intentional movement. Birdlike movement. Conveniently similar to Carson’s descriptions of Kassandra. James Brandon posits that “voice, bodily movement and dance, rhythm, song, color” are all inherent to performative expression through theatre. These are all aspects of dance and, to some extent, song that are specific to Kabuki theatre, but they’re also, I’ve found, similarly transmitted in descriptions of Greek theatre. Each form of expression focuses highly on the performative aspects of lived (if somewhat exaggerated) experience; movement used to transmit feelings is a theme that connects two hugely disconnected forms of theatre.

So. I’ve been re-reading Anne Carson’s translation of Agamemnon (again). It’s been difficult. Life and school are really ramping up, and it’s been difficult to find the time to give this story the attention it deserves. But I found the time a few weeks ago. I was sitting in the coffee shop on my campus, nursing some caffeinated beverage, chowing down on a lukewarm slice of coffee cake, hunched over An Oresteia, highlighting and marking things I found interesting as I went back over the text. In my first blog post, I talked about how hard it was to read Kassandra’s story. I stand by that statement. If seeing her so deeply punished for things that were never her fault was hard then, it’s downright painful now. I’ve become so attached to this figure, this woman who tried so hard to tell the truth but was never believed. She was killed for something in which she had no role. There’s a piece of marginalia in my copy that just asks, “how dare you, Apollo?”

Kassandra is who I want to take the rest of this post. I think she—her voice especially—is vital to the story, to so many stories. The inherent disbelief attached to her body, to her words, is where I want to focus. In Anya’s adaptation of this story, without giving too much away, Cassandra (and this is how I differentiate the two: Carson’s Kassandra, our Cassandra) plays a much larger role. Cassandra has, in some sense, more agency, but at the same time also a great deal more culpability than Kassandra. I’m doing my best to avoid spoilers here, but I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I say that Cassandra’s voice—compared to a nightingale in Carson’s translation—both opens and closes the adaptation.

In one of our previous blog posts, Anya mentioned the idea of having Cassandra omnipresent throughout the play—when not the focus of the scene, having her barely illuminated just at the edge of the stage—and having her voice, her birdsong, be the sole voice of reckoning in the play. I guess my main question for Anya is how C/Kassandra as a character and, I suppose, a device has shifted throughout this process? I do have a secondary question, though, that’s less nebulous. How does she picture Cassandra physically moving in and through her omnipresence?

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