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Eva Palmer-Sikelianos / The Second Delphic Festival



Eva Palmer-Sikelianos
The Second Delphic Festival


    The days were over when I had to struggle to get a chorus, when girls would come and girls would go, and I was constantly beginning over again. For the Prometheus Bound I had started with the plan of having a chorus of fifty, but finally, after three years, I gave the play with only thirty, though I must have taught about a hundred. This time again I wanted fifty; but they assembled in a few days, and no one ever dropped out.

    Anghelos wanted to give The Suppliants of Aeschylus, and I was delighted. The oldest of all existing plays, the nearest, not doubt, to the condition I was dreaming about. If the archaeologists would only dig up a play of Pherekydes, or of Pratinas, or of Thespis, I might have been better pleased, but here at least was a play where the Chorus itself was the Protagonist. There was of course an outcry. Why choose the least dramatic of all the Greek Plays? Why not do something of Euripides: the Medea, or Hecuba, or The Trojan Women? Professor Gilbert Murray wrote a very courteous answer to a question I sent him about something else; but in the end of it he said that he did not understand why we had chosen The Suppliants. It could not possibly stand up theatrically.

    These opinions were right from the point of view of modern drama. But I did not think twice about them. I was extremely excited about something else: can a chorus as protagonist be, not as dramatic, or as beautiful as actors on the stage, but much more dramatic, more harmonious, more beautiful? And in my mind, of course, this question changed its context: can groups of people, nations, races, be not as intelligent; as harmonious, as their leaders are at present, but much more so?

    This last sentence sounds communistic. It is not. The Soviets are not concerned with these problems. The question might be more clearly expressed as follows: did the ancient Greeks, in creating the form of a Tragic Chorus, do it consciously or not? Were they presenting a working model of a perfect State, much better than Plato’s, in which social harmony is in equilibrium with individual expression, or was the fact that they did this by pure chance?

    I divided my fifty girls into five groups, and gradually chose a leader for each. In one of these groups my leader realized my original vision. When I first started teaching the Prometheus, I had hoped that all fifty of my girls would approach the work individually, and produce her own interpretation, so that each one of the Oceanides would be a living entity, conscious of the general harmony, but conscious also, and expressive of her own soul. In feeling my way for the second play, I quickly realized that, in the fourth group, one of my Suppliants was a born leader. She had been with me the first time, but either I had not recognized her then, or, in the meantime, she had changed. This was Annetoula Kolyva  Angeliki’s sister. We went over the music together, then started working on the movements for her group: and she was so alive, so full of suggestions, that I saw I was not needed at all, that she could compose her dances, and direct her group quite well without me. From then on, I did nothing for these ten girls except teach them music. The interpretation was entirely Annetoula’s.

    For all five leaders I had to have people who not only could sing and dance, but who also could recite poetry properly. For this reason, the other four were not chosen from my first chorus. I had three excellent amateur actresses and one professional. Their names were Koula Kalliga, Ismene Dimakopoulou, Lela Isaia, and Anna Gallanou. They all had beautiful voices, poise and grace on the stage; and Anna, who was leader of the first group, had the power of rocks and rivers when her voice rang out in her prayer to the Earth. But none of these four had worked with me before, and had no idea how to express meaning and rhythm in movement. So only Annetoula could train her own group; and hers had a life and a vim which made them better than the four groups I trained myself. But she had the advantage of me, because I used to compose dances while I drove around in a cab from one group to another, and then I would sit down in the evening with a pencil and paper to figure out the movements of all five groups as a geometrical problem. This was somewhat difficult, because, although we all met about twice a week in the large hall of the Greek Archaeological Society, this hall was not, in fact no hall in Athens was, the right size and shape. They were all long and narrow; and I desperately needed the sized and shape of the Delphic Orchestra to rehearse in. So that until we all went up there, to the real theatre, I had no idea what the Chorus was going to look like. The first rehearsal in Delphi was, just as it had been in 1927, a revelation.

    We had again asked Mr. Psachos to write the music. But I begged him this time to have a mere simple accompaniment. I should like, I said, a single flute, or an oboe whose function it would be to play introductions, and short interludes between the phrases of the chorus, which would give time for one group to retire and another to advance, and would also give the mode or key, and the pitch for the entering voices. Mr. Psachos came occasionally to my small rehearsals, but not very often. I hardly saw him during these months of preparation. He gave me new manuscripts from time to time, and that was all.

    I had no trouble with the weaving the second time. The Chorus was to be dressed all alike, without embroidery. The design of the dresses was to be Egyptian, because the Suppliants came from Egypt. The stuff should have been transparent, as many Egyptian monuments lead us to infer, but this was considered immodest, so I did what was desired by the mothers of my girls, bought the threads, hired a few weavers, and set them going. I did no weaving myself.






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