Looking into the Ecological Footprints of Michail Marmarinos’s Trackers by Sophocles

Vicky Manteli*

Abstract

In this paper, I discuss the phenomenology and aesthetics of Michail Marmarinos’s Trackers, Summer 2021; in particular, I analyze the director’s stage approach to Sophocles’ drama as an ecologically driven revision of Sophocles’ non-extant satyr play. The director explores the borderline between nature and culture, inspired by a myth of the Satyrs and Apollo, who were mystified by music. The imaginative stage interpretation of the theogony of music, central to the myth of Trackers, resonates with experience of contemporary audiences affected by COVID-19. In the discussion below, I focus on the performances at the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, July 24–26, 2021, and on the plateau of Mount Ziria, July 31, 2021, both of which highlight the director’s talent for open space management.

Keywords: Sophocles, Trackers, Michail Marmarinos, environmental/eco-theatre, site-specific performance, music, Epidaurus, Ziria, COVID-19

Trackers by Sophocles, director Michail Marmarinos, Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus. 24 July 2021. Ηlektra Nikolouzou, Manos Petrakis, Angelos Neratzis, Christos Kragiopoulos, Andromachi Fountoulidou, Alexandra Kazazou, Adrian Frieling, Tasos Karachalios, Theodora Tzimou, Charis Frangoulis (centre stage). Photo: Thomas Daskalakis
Production Details of Michail Marmarinos’s Trackers

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, acclaimed Greek theatre director Michail Marmarinos revisited ancient Greek drama, focusing on satyr drama, he directed Sophocles’ fragmented play Trackers. Originally scheduled to open in the 2020 Athens/Epidaurus Festival but postponed due to the pandemic, the production was finally staged in Summer 2021 at three different venues.

Trackers premiered at Epidaurus theatre on July 24, 2021, with additional performances on the following two nights. A subsequent performance was staged on the plateau of Mount Ziria, i.e., Mount Cyllene of ancient Arcadia, the dramatic setting of Sophocles’ drama; on September 16, 2021, the performance was staged at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Athens. My analysis, however, is based solely on performances staged at Epidaurus and Ziria.[1]

Trackers by Michail Marmarinos, Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, 23–25 July 2021. Official website Athens/Epidaurus Festival
Sophocles’ Trackers (Greek title Ichneutai)

I believe it would be useful to begin with a brief plot summary of this lesser-known play by Sophocles. The main characters are the god Apollo, Silenus the father of Satyrs, the Chorus of Satyrs, the mountain nymph Cyllene and the prodigy Hermes. The story is set in Mount Cyllene, Arcadia, and the cave of Hermes. The play opens as Apollo, displaying signs of distress, informs the audience that he has lost his beloved cattle, and he promises a reward to anyone who can recover them. Eager to win a quantity of gold as well as freedom for himself and his sons, Silenus, assisted by his sons, offers to help.

In the next scene, the Chorus begin searching for the cattle. They discover confused tracks “as though the cattle had been dragged backward into the nearby cave to fool pursuers” (Walton 66). Suddenly, a strange sound from underground frightens the Satyrs, but Silenus helps them track the cattle.  The Nymph Cyllene enters from the cave and informs Silenus and the Chorus that she is nursing the son of Zeus and Maia. She also explains how the baby Hermes “has fashioned an instrument of music from the shell of a tortoise” (Lloyd-Jones 142) which he called a “lyre.” Although they have limited knowledge of the tortoise and its shell, the Chorus recognize the sound they have heard. They also suspect that the cowhide stretched over the tortoise shell may well prove that Hermes is the thief of Apollo’s cattle.

The extant fragment ends at about line 404 “with an altercation between Cyllene and the Chorus, she denying and they insisting that Hermes must be the thief” (Lloyd-Jones 143). The climax of the dramatic situation most likely occurs when the thief is discovered and a confrontation between Apollo and Hermes follows (143). 

Extracts from Trackers Available from epidavrosnews.com. Accessed 20 Apr. 2022
Reading Sophocles’ Trackers as Eco-drama

In summer 2021, Michail Marmarinos staged Sophocles’ Trackers in the Athens/Epidaurus Festival. The play is a non-extant satyr drama, surviving only in fragmentary form. In view of the expanding bibliography on eco-theatre/eco-drama/ environmental theatre, I will review claims supporting my argument that Marmarinos’s Trackers reflects aspects of eco-theatre aesthetics.

Marmarinos has indeed chosen a text which centers on the battle between nature and culture, the division between environment and civilization. Moreover, in my view, he has grasped the modern quality in a classical Greek play and transformed it as a contemporary theatrical experience, recognizing spectators’ precarious position in a world impacted by the encroaching virus. As the drama itself reflects on the dualism between nature and culture, the performance likewise re-imagined the analogous situation of the audience, who, due to COVID-19 lockdowns, were subject to physical restrictions and requirements for vaccination certificates. I will argue that the director’s imaginative approach to Sophocles’ fifth-century drama and the performance’s aesthetics as primers reflect how the contemporary theatre audience is caught between living and not living. Such an approach, as I see it, reflects the perspective of eco-theatre’s modern aesthetic “to redefine our relationship to the world” (Slagle).

The director makes a meaningful choice to work on a fifth-century fragmented satyr drama whose key function is to merge nature with cultural expression, particularly musical expression. There are certain ecological elements in the myth that motivates Trackers; one of these is the mountain personified as Nymph Cyllene. When Cyllene appears on stage, she is disturbed by the loud beating and uproar of the Chorus. “Wild creatures, why have you attacked this green and wooded hill, haunt of wild beasts, with loudest uproar?” (The Searchers 221–22).[2]

Trackers by Sophocles, director Michail Marmarinos, Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, 24 July 2021. Adrian Frieling, Tasos Karachalios, Andromachi Fountoulidou, Lampros Grammatikos, Christos Kragiopoulos, Amalia Moutousi (centre). Photo: Thomas Daskalakis

Clearly, the mountain enters because it is annoyed and wishes to set limits to the environment populated by wildlife. The Satyrs’ wild behavior is seen as a potential danger to the ecosystem of the mountain. At this point, the director makes a purposeful comparison between nature’s “fundamental disturbance” in Trackers and modern people’s indifference to the environment.[3] In other words, the play’s metaphor can be read as a reminder of damage inflicted on the environment and the need to preserve the harmony of nature.

At this point, the director draws an apt comparison between the “fundamental disturbance” of nature foregrounded in Trackers and the indifference of contemporary communities to the natural environment. In other words, the central metaphor of the play represents modern day damage to the environment and the need to preserve harmony in the natural world.

The text abounds with suggestions of land, earth and nature portrayed as a mystic and fluid environment. Despite the absence of textual references to nature itself (Sykoutris qtd. in Tsitsiridis 27), nature is portrayed holistically through inhabitants’ perceptions of visual, acoustic, haptic and olfactory impressions. The following three extracts are significant:

Chorus. Listen yourself for a moment, father, and learn what sort of noise terrifies us here and maddens us; no mortal ever heard it yet!

The Searchers 142–44

Chorus.  Ah no, do not assail me with taunts, but readily disclose the secret—who is it here below the ground, who spoke to amaze us with a voice divine?

247–50

A΄ semi-Chorus
1  Ah! What’s this blond flat
2  thing on the earth?
3  Phew! How it stinks! Don’t you
smell the shit?
B΄ semi-Chorus
1  Come on feel it with your hand
2  what is it? Look at it.
3 Good! We got it!
It’s cattle’s…candy.

Trackers
Trackers by Sophocles, director Michail Marmarinos, Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, 24 July 2021. Angelos Neratzis, Theodora Tzimou (Chorus). Photo: Thomas Daskalakis

There are certain allusions in the myth which offer an ecological perspective to modern audiences. To start with, the dramatic space in Trackers is the natural world. Most importantly, the mountain is a dramatis persona, as Cyllene’s representation suggests. The mountain is an asylum and a site for peace and seclusion; hence, Cyllene is disturbed by the noisy Satyrs. The mountain is also a protective niche for theogony, the birth of the god Hermes. The earth is portrayed as home to mysteries and secrets. It is the secret hiding place for Apollo’s stolen cattle and, literally, a playground for the Satyrs’ tricks and tasks, games, foolery and Bacchic cries. It is a portrait of wilderness but also a setting for joyful life, the imaginary topos of bliss for the Chorus. The final scene, with the image of freed Satyrs running down hills and dales to meet beautiful nymphs and play, is a case in point. Seen from a modern perspective, Trackers is a play rich in allusion to an expansive ecosystem and a dialogue of conflict with nature that ends in harmony.

Culture, on the other hand, is represented as music, a melody resonating in the wilderness, an unknown voice, an aural sign created by a divinity, albeit aided by nature itself, a tortoiseshell and Apollo’s cattle. “Scared as babies” (The Searchers 161), as Silenus states, and the Chorus pleads with him: “Listen yourself for a moment, father, and learn what sort of noise terrifies us here and maddens us; no mortal ever heard it yet!” (142–44). And later, when Cyllene exits from the cave, the Satyrs ask her to “disclose the secret—who is it here below the ground, who spoke to amaze us with a voice divine?” (248–50).

As suggested above, the text has a strong ecological vision which projects the intertwining of nature (physis) and culture (nomos), extremely important in the poet’s own era (Cless 23). At this point, it is also pertinent to note Marmarinos’s acknowledgment of Sophocles’ Trackers as “an extremely ecological play” and his appreciation of “any form of outdoor theatre as ecological theatre” (see endnote 3).

The Dramaturgy of Marmarinos’s Trackers: The Fragment as an Ecological Footprint, Asides of the Chorus, and Enunciation of the Actors

In my view, the director’s choice to present, in the Athens/Epidaurus Festival, a fragmented dramatic text about the encounter between nature and culture rather than an alternative extant play is ecologically meaningful; in particular, I see Marmarinos’s production of Trackers as a sustainable choice. The director favored a fragment rather than an extant play, merged classical and modern resources for the dramaturgy of the performance and created a script based on the following elements:

  1. an undated text by Sophocles which could have been written as early as the fifth century B.C.[4]
  2. the reconstruction of the lost parts of the drama by German philologist Carl Robert in 1913;
  3. the translation into Modern Greek free verse by Greek philologist Emmanuel David in 1933.

Marmarinos has expressed his admiration for the above mentioned Modern Greek translation of the text, calling it “a second monument of language” (Bozoni). In public interviews, he has referred to the production as “a memorial of gratitude” and has praised David’s text as a model of language and translation in which “no word can be changed” (Harami).

Significantly, the fragmented status of the text was integrated into the dramaturgy of Trackers. In the performance, this was acknowledged by the Satyrs through devising theatre techniques.  Consider the scene which follows the exit of Cyllene, when Apollo learns to play the lyre and Hermes becomes the leader of Apollo’s herd of cattle. At this point, the Chorus perform an aside as they speak to the audience: “The play is a fragment. There are no surviving lines henceforth.” This devising theatre technique is characteristic of the director’s work and informs his idea of “directing as playwriting,” an expression which he coined (Marmarinos, “National Anthem” 33). This concept refers to a performance aesthetics which abolishes theatrical conventions, alters the distance between actors and audience, and expands the dramatic action into the historical time of the audience.

The fragmentary quality of the text was also conveyed by the distinctive speech style of the actors, especially prominent in Amalia Moutousi’s articulatory innovations as Nymph Cyllene. Cyllene narrates the story of Hermes’ birth and describes the construction of a musical instrument by the prodigy infant, Hermes the god. Moutousi’s elision of final vowels can be interpreted as a theatrical subcode hinting at the non-surviving verses in the Trackers papyrus discovered in Egypt at the beginning of the twentieth century. The same pattern of omitting vowels, consonants or entire syllables was also adopted by those who performed the Chorus, particularly when they discovered Apollo’s cattle in the cave. Overall, the aural dramaturgy of the performance echoed the environmental subtext of Sophocles’ satyr play. For example, the actors of the Chorus created a pastoral soundscape when their movements caused their bells to ring. In addition, during the opening monologue, the panting speech and hurried enunciation of Apollo, played by Charis Frangoulis, suggested an organic reading of the drama.

Trackers by Sophocles, director Michail Marmarinos. Mount Ziria plateau. Amalia Moutousi as Nymph Cyllene dressed in bridal gown. Chorus members lie on the earth (background). Photo: Courtesy of Michail Marmarinos
Movement and Choreography: The Freed Body

Theatre, like all performing arts, was negatively impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Specific measures for protection were strongly advised, such as self-isolation, social distancing, social/household bubbles, teleworking, and digital spectatorship, while curfews and lockdowns were enforced around the globe as instances of governmental policy. As part of the audience of Marmarinos’s Trackers, I could not help but contrast the Satyrs’ intense bodily action with the immobility of life and arrested movement during lockdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. I also recognized similarities in the freedom gained by the Satyrs at the end of the drama and the lifting of Covid-related restrictions after a long period of restraint. Viewed in a contemporary context, the production of Trackers resonated with the spectators’ recent experience. Of course, any theatre production during Summer 2021 would have been felt as a liberating experience for both actors and spectators, embodying “the fundamental laws of live theatre making and reception” (Meerzon). But the play itself is also inherently uplifting: as the director notes, “Trackers is a choral play par excellence, and its Chorus is a celebration of body and coexistence” (see endnote 3).

Trackers directed by Michail Marmarinos. The Chorus in full swing. Amalia Moutousi as Nymph Cyllene (background right). Stamatis Kraounakis as Silenus seated in the garden of the set (background right). Apollo’s wreath hangs right above the stage of Epidaurus theatre. Photo: Patroklos Skafidas

The movement and choreography created by Tasos Charachalios explored in depth the liberating aspect of the myth and the intense physicality of the play.  The performance featured a variety of physical actions, enacted both individually and in Chorus. Thus, actors were constantly crawling, hounding, running, walking on tiptoe, performing acrobatics, or completing yoga exercises, and thus formed “a well-trained versatile body of primitive persons whose movement style was reminiscent of the horse or goat like Satyrs” (Kaltaki).

Trackers directed by Michail Marmarinos, Mount Ziria plateau. The Chorus track the ground, looking for the stolen cattle. Silenus (Stamatis Kraounakis) sits in the background. Photo: Courtesy of Michail Marmarinos

A characteristic scene occurs when the Chorus of Satyrs are tracking the ground for footprints of the lost cattle, portrayed by actors who perform on hands and knees as if they were digging the ground. Apart from skillful acting and vibrant choreography in the scene which depicts the discovery of confused prints, the stage representation, alluding to the history of the lost papyrus, is both thoughtful and subtle.

Charis Frangoulis as Apollo and Stamatis Kraounakis (background) as Silenus in Sophocles’ Trackers directed by Michail Marmarinos at Mount Ziria plateau. Photo: Courtesy of Michail Marmarinos

The stage of the Epidaurus theatre, designed by Yiorgos Sapountzis, was covered in white paper, torn to reveal Apollo’s cattle; Apollo, interpreted by Charis Frangoulis, crawled under the torn paper to search for his beloved animals. In the performance at the Mount Ziria plateau, the created scene was blocked, and the natural environment was perfectly integrated in the stage design. As no paper was used for the set in Ziria, the actors were literally digging the earth. An ensuing cloud of dust soon surrounded the spectators, abolishing the distance between themselves and the acting/performance space, making them part of the Chorus of trackers.

Another example of the ecological components in the Trackers dramaturgy is the full and joyous sensory experience of the natural world depicted by the dramatis personae. The Chorus and Apollo touch the ground, listen intensively to the unprecedented sounds and sniff at cattle dung. It seems to me that after such a performance, both the audience and the performers would have experienced a sense of gratitude. The engagement of the senses was a tribute to the living body and a recognition of the deep-seated fear of death and various phobias. In this sense, the production of Trackers can be seen as a therapeutic experience, offering participants a fresh perspective. As the director noted, “After such a production you may feel that you are above the pandemic. You may look down on it and say ‘OK, life’s more powerful.’” (see endnote 3).

To sum up, the choreography by Tasos Karachalios foregrounded the energy of physicality, characteristic of the Satyrs in the drama, and referenced a long-awaited release from slavery promised by Apollo to the Chorus and Silenus. These ideas might be experienced as allusions to pure joy, a return to normalcy and a kind of freedom given to audiences of the production. After a long period of fear, restrictions, lockdowns and social distancing, Marmarinos’s Trackers had a revitalizing effect on the audiences. On the one hand, the production downplayed the sense of nostalgia for co-existence and co-presence; on the other hand, it ignited enthusiasm for bodily action, embodied experiences and sense of community.

An Ecological Scenography: The Performances in Epidaurus and the Site-specific Performance at Mount Ziria Plateau

Marmarinos as director reimagined Sophocles’ eco-drama and appropriately staged Trackers in three open-air spaces. Two productions were enacted in Greek theatres: the ancient theatre of Epidaurus in Argolis, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a Roman theatre situated next to the ancient theatre of Dionysus in Athens.[5]

The third open-air space of the Trackers production was the Mount Ziria plateau in the Corinthia prefecture. It was an unlikely choice for a theatrical performance, yet reflects the director’s interest in environmental theatre and unconventional theatrical spaces.[6] It was a site-specific project, realized in a natural, borderless, open space unspoiled by human intervention. Nevertheless, it was in line with the director’s focus on performance space (Manteli 29) and the suspension of spatial limits (Tsatsoulis 198).

The ancient theatre of Epidaurus. 23 July 2021. Photo by Vicky Manteli
The performing space and the audience’s sitting-area for Trackers at Mounta Ziria plateau. Photo: Courtesy of Michail Marmarinos

Research on contemporary stage approaches to classical Greek drama in Epidaurus, specifically tragedy, has shown that directors often recycle long-established scenographic choices and utilize the prominent landscape of Argolis in many of their productions (Kangelari 451). In his productions, Marmarinos also integrated into the scenography both the landscape of the ancient theatre of Epidaurus and also the structure of the auditorium, particularly the lower and upper parts. Thus, numerous spaces around the theatre and auditorium are embedded in the scenography of the performance. For example, the Chorus enter from behind the theatre and run to the background in terror when the strange sound persists; they abandon the orchestra of the theatre and move close to the lower tier of the auditorium next to the audience when their father Silenus scolds them for being cowardly and boisterous.

The most significant use of the theatrical space in Epidaurus is to block the four musicians and the countertenor of the production. The musicians occupied four different positions in the center of the auditorium, standing between the upper and the lower parts of the theatre. Later, they changed position, moving to the right side of the orchestra and into an area which symbolized the garden. The character of Hermes, interpreted by countertenor Steven Katona, stood on the highest tier in the middle of the auditorium. Near the end of the performance, he left this position in order to introduce himself to Apollo. First, he walked slowly and imposingly around the orchestra, and then ran through the orchestra before disappearing in the background outside the theatre, only to reappear to negotiate with Apollo about the stolen cattle and then disappear again with Apollo at the end of the play.

Part of the set design of Trackers at Epidaurus. The musicians play the tumba and the euphonium on the stage of the ancient theatre. Photo: Patroklos Skafidas

There were no sets or buildings to obstruct the audience’s view of trees and scenery behind the orchestra. The set design depicted a wild garden with pots, plants and scattered earth. The platform functioned as a focal point in the performance: first, it was the meeting place for the Chorus of Satyrs, who entered the space to search for the lost cattle, listening to strange sounds from the ground; second, it was the entrance point for the god Apollo, who informed the audience of his suffering before meeting Silenus. The platform was also exploited for sound effects, since it reverberated to the abrupt physical movements performed by the Chorus and Apollo.

Trackers. Set design (Yiorgos Sapountzis) at the ancient theatre of Epidaurus. Apollo and the Chorus next to the platform. The musicians in the space designated as garden. Photo: Thomas Daskalakis
Trackers. Ancient theatre of Epidaurus. The Chorus and the stage of the theatre covered in white paper. Photo: Patroklos Skafidas

The theatre orchestra was fully dressed in torn white paper, suggesting that the Satyrs and Apollo were looking for the cattle into the mountain cave. Another important scenographic element was a huge canvas painting of cattle which appeared to depict Apollo’s lost cattle. When the Satyrs discovered the stolen animals and brought them to Apollo, two members of the Chorus appeared in the background of the Epidaurus theatre. The actors held the prop while facing the audience. Finally, Apollo’s golden wreath, the trophy promised to the Chorus, hung from a blue string suspended over the orchestra of the theatre; it was eventually given by Apollo to Silenus, interpreted by Stamatis Kraounakis.  

Trackers. Performance on the plateau of Mount Ziria. The canvas painting of Apollo’s cattle. Photo: Courtesy of Michail Marmarinos

The unlikely choice of Ziria as a performance space was crucial to the director’s project of linking the dramaturgy of Trackers with the audience of the performance. Significantly, the space resembled Mount Cyllene of ancient Arcadia. According to the dramatic myth, Hermes was born there and was subsequently raised by the Nymph in a mountain cave. Marmarinos, by looking for an appropriate space in the mountain area of Ziria, came to resemble the Chorus of Trackers, who similarly searched for an ideal location. The director’s selected locale is far removed from other places in the area used for either music festivals or mountaineering, yet is also close to Hermes’ cave, thus directing the audience’s attention to this important dramatic space.

In a discussion of Marmarinos’s site-specific production of Yiorgos Veltsos’s Empire, Sakellaridou compares the director’s “aesthetic intentions and methodology” with “the aims and effects of environmental theatre” (12). Following Aronson’s approach to environmental theatre (qtd. in Sakellaridou 12), I will now analyze key aspects of the staging of Trackers in Ziria.  

The first of these has to do with the position of the audience, who were incorporated into the scenographic frame as they sat on the level ground of a plateau surrounded by two slopes. The actors, on the other hand, performed in a space above the audience. The four musicians playing wind instruments occupied the highest point of the performance area; they were seated overlooking the audience.

Trackers. Performance on the plateau of Mount Ziria. The audience. Members of the Chorus and Silenus (Stamatis Kraounakis) perform in the background. Photo: Courtesy of Michail Marmarinos
Trackers. Performance on the plateau of Mount Ziria. Musician. Photo: Courtesy of Michail Marmarinos

At first glance, the audience’s seating area may have not seemed privileged. However, they enjoyed an unhindered view of impressive natural surroundings, especially relevant at the end of the performance, as they observed a striking theatrical image of two gods heading toward Mount Olympus.

Trackers. Performance on the plateau of Mount Ziria. Countertenor and performer Steve Katona (Hermes) and Stamatis Kraounakis (Silenus). Photo: Courtesy of Michail Marmarinos

Specifically, actors Charis Frangoulis and Steve Katona moved upward and away to the top of a hill overlooking the cliffs, and then disappeared from the audience’s view. Accordingly, the four musicians followed Frangoulis and Katona to the top of the hill before they too moved out of the audience’s range of vision. The sky, the trees, the adjacent hills, the remote mountains and the spectacular sunset in a natural landscape were clearly components of the dramaturgy and set design of Marmarinos’s Trackers in Ziria.

Trackers. Performance on the plateau of Mount Ziria. Musician. Photo: Courtesy of Michail Marmarinos

Finally, the ecological components of the performance in Ziria were further highlighted by a limited use of technology.  For example, artificial lighting was not used; instead, the performance exploited natural lighting, and different shades of daylight were incorporated as sunset approached. As for the sound design, created by Kostas Bokos, Studio 19st, in collaboration with Billy Bultheel, the technical effects complemented the natural soundscape of the production.  

I would like to conclude this section with a brief commentary on the complex effects of Marmarinos’ technique of linking the audience with the dramaturgy and scenography in the Trackers performance at the Mount Ziria plateau. On July 31, 2021, with fires blazing across the country, the audience travelled from urban centers to Mount Cyllene in Corinthia; they undertook a long journey in a scorching heatwave to watch a theatre performance which started at 18:30 instead of the standard 21:00.

Transporting the viewers for the purpose of a theatrical performance resembles an initiation ceremony, and the director acknowledged the power of such an initiation route to the Mount Ziria plateau (see endnote 3). Marmarinos also noted the presence of a something akin to religious fervor, in that the audience travelled to experience Sophocles’ drama, staged on the very site specified in the myth. By allowing the modern audience to become part of the dramatic space of the Trackers’ plot, the director broke the convention of the fourth wall, merging the audience with the Chorus. Furthermore, the dramaturgy and scenography created a complex of symbolic bridges between the ancient past of the myth and the present experience of the viewers, the mythical birthplace of Hermes and music with the real performance space, the rural area where the spectators gathered and the urban centers which they left behind, the natural environment and the inclusion of culture and music as key components of the plot.

In conclusion, I have analyzed the revival of Sophocles’ satyr play at Mount Ziria as a rejuvenating excursion into nature and culture, after living through months of deprivation due to the pandemic; in my view, the performance was an instance of cathartic ritual.  As the audience could also join a site-specific tour to Hermes’ cave during the morning after the performance, the Mount Ziria weekend event offered a rich and varied experience to participants, both individually and communally.

The natural landscape at Mount Ziria. Photo: Courtesy of Michail Marmarinos
The Theogony of Music in Marmarinos’s Trackers

The play dramatizes the birth of music in the world. The Satyrs and Silenus become alarmed by an unprecedented sound for which they do not possess a word. From Cyllene’s narration about a cowhide stretched over the tortoise shell, the Chorus soon presume that Hermes is the thief of the god’s cattle. But they are more astonished, even shocked, at the strange sound, as they lack a term to describe it. In my view, the drama at this point alludes to the preconceptual stage of cognitive development. Sophocles thus represents the advent of music as an “extreme phenomenon,” in the words of Marmarinos (see endnote 3), a miracle beyond the realm of language. Towards the end of the restored text, it is Hermes who names all sounds as music. Consequently, Sophocles’ play is about the theogony of music (Marmarinos, “After the Tracks of TRACKERS” 32).  

The music of the production featured interesting combinations of atonal and baroque sounds. Billy Bultheel created the atonal soundscape and composed the music; the musicians utilized the acoustic qualities of the ancient theatre of Epidaurus as a reverberating instrument, or Apollo’s lyre, as noted by Harami. The soundscape was based on tone whistles and prolonged buzzes; in contrast, countertenor Steve Katona delivered a baroque harmony, combining melody with high-pitched atonal sounds, thus challenging the audience, like the Satyrs in the play, to comprehend the ensuing sounds and atypical performance. A brass quartet consisting of two euphonia, played by musicians Leonidas Palamiotis and Spyros Vergis, and two tubas, played by musicians Dimitris Alexandrakis and Menelaos Moraitis, charged the atmosphere with lyrical sounds and bass rhythms. Given the prominence of music in the production, the director wisely chose musician and singer Stamatis Kraounakis for the role of Silenus.

Listen to three musical scores from Trackers directed by Michail Marmarinos. Music by Billy Bultheel. Music for counter tenor, electronics and brass quartet. Available at official website of the artist. Accessed 20 Apr. 2022

The performance at Ziria thus foregrounded the role of music in human experience. Marmarinos brought together an impressive team of dramatis personae on an imposing mountain slope “inadvertently functioning as the Epiphany of god” at the point at which Apollo and Hermes were reconciled with a modern audience and modern music.  It was claimed that “The music goes downhill and—on its birthday, on the break of dawn of humankind’s consciousness—embraces us all in its mythical bosom in midsummer” (“After the tracks of TRACKERS” 33). Press releases also referred to the performance as a “healing meeting” (Tigaraki). At the Mount Ziria plateau, Trackers featured in a double bill with a special music concert. The duo “Soul of Epirus” brought together well-known clarinet player Petroloukas Halkias and Vasilis Kostas, a top jazz musician and a lute virtuoso, who performed on-site after the performance. The promotional poster and press releases by the Ziria Festival organizers quite appropriately described the event as “Once in a lifetime,” and “A life performance, full of oddities.”

Promotional poster of the Trackers’ production at Mount Ziria, 31 July 2021. Accessed 20 Apr. 2022

I believe that staging Sophocles’ Trackers was an apt choice during the COVID-19 era, when people were craving aesthetic feeling and sensory stimulation. Moreover, the production offered the audience a reintroduction to culture through the experience of music. Michail Marmarinos’s Trackers was a gesture of gratitude to theatre, music and life, merging the director’s distinctive theatrical approach with the concerns of environmental theatre.

Conclusions

In this paper, I have attempted to demonstrate that Marmarinos’s stage approach to Trackers was an ecologically driven interpretation of Sophocles’ non-extant satyr play, and fostered a phenomenological, environmental and ethical approach to nature. The director’s purpose is clear from the very beginning, with the introduction of an ancient fragment focusing on the battle between nature and culture. This theme is further developed through the dramaturgy of the performance, merging classical and modern resources, while at the same time clarifying numerous ecological elements in the myth behind Trackers, alluding to an all-encompassing ecosystem and a conflicting dialogue in nature which ends in harmony and melody.

With respect to the performance, the acting and theatrical codes emphasized the environmental subtext of Sophocles’ play, while the production’s aesthetics, particularly the choreography and music, were reminiscent of the audience’s recent experience of COVID-19. I have argued that the play’s physical, musical and choral qualities provided the audience with a liberating, almost therapeutic, experience in the middle of the pandemic; the revival of Sophocles’ Trackers by Michail Marmarinos at the ancient theatre of Epidaurus and at the Mount Ziria plateau was a cathartic theatrical experience.

The aesthetics of Marmarinos’s production re-imagined the myth of the boundary between wilderness and civilization, appropriately linking the audience with the dramaturgy and the environmental scenography, particularly at the Mount Ziria plateau. Specifically, the Ziria performance demonstrated a sensitivity to the natural environment, using the natural landscape in the dramaturgy and limiting the use of technology and artificial lighting in the set design. As I have proposed in this paper, the Ziria staging of Trackers was an outstanding site-specific performance, incorporating the environment and the viewers into the dramaturgy and the scenography.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Michail Marmarinos for elaborating on aspects of the play and providing me with the visuals of the Ziria performance. I would also like to offer my special thanks to the editor of the Essay section Yana Meerzon, and the editors of the special issue on Theatre and Ecology, Vicky Angelaki and Elizabeth Sakellaridou.  Their illuminating commentaries have helped me to develop in greater depth the original themes of this paper. 


Endnotes

[1] For the documentation of the Epidaurus performance, I draw on my experience as part of the audience on July 26, 2021. In addition, I was granted special permission to watch the official video by the Athens/Epidaurus Festival. The video recording was from the opening night (July 24, 2021). For the documentation of the Ziria performance I draw on my discussions with Michail Marmarinos, one of which particularly took the form of interview (see endnote 3), and a variety of photographs with his kind permission.

[2] For the Sophoclean fragment, I follow Lloyd-Jones’s edition and English translation. For the restored lines, I follow Emmanuel David’s MG translation and translate it into English for the purposes of the paper.

[3] On March 13, 2022, I had a long discussion with the director about his production, the concept of ecological theatre, the aesthetics of the Trackers in Epidaurus and the site-specific performance in Ziria. The discussion was recorded with Michail Marmarinos’s permission.

[4] The Trackers papyrus was discovered in Egypt around the beginning of the twentieth century by Bernard Pyne Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt.

[5] The theatre of Epidaurus, transmitting a mystic experience to modern audiences, has been designated as a site of heterotopia and sanctity (Tsatsoulis 54–59; Ioannidou 385–403).

[6] The productions of Dimitris Dimitriadis’s Insenso at Peiraios 260 at the Athens/Epidaurus Festival 2012 and Yiorgos Veltsos’s Empire in the New Concert Hall (M2) of Thessaloniki in 2015 are two prominent cases. While I was preparing the first draft of this essay, Marmarinos’s mobile production Once to be Realised (Six Encounters with the Unclassified Project Files of Jani Christou) was staged in Athens (April 15–17, 2022). The production took place outside Stegi Grammaton & Technon and in the auditorium of Stegi. The audience moved from Panteion University (opposite Stegi) and walked through the adjacent underground passageway before taking their seats in the auditorium.

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*Vicky Manteli is a member of the Special Teaching Staff, Department of Theatre, University of Patras, Greece. Her area of specialization is Anglophone theatre with an emphasis on translation theory and practice. Her research interests are theatre translation/adaptation, modern productions of classical Greek drama, theatre and humour, contemporary drama and performance. She has published in peer-reviewed journals, including Didaskalia, European Journal of Humour Research, New Voices in Classical Reception Studies, Theatre Journal, Theatre Polis [Θεάτρου Πόλις], Theatrografies [Θεατρογραφίες]), and in edited volumes by Benjamins, Bloomsbury, and Continuum. She has also authored a book on Greek playwright Loula Anagnostaki, and has served as a reviewer for the European Journal of Humour Research since 2015.

Copyright © 2022 Vicky Manteli
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