CULTURE

A new take on Longus’s myth

They met two years ago in Vilnius, Lithuania, and arranged a meeting for September 2006 in Athens. One may wonder what business Dimitris Tarlow had in Lithuania in the first place, but the young actor has been scouring theater festivals in the former Eastern bloc for years in search of potential collaborations. The greatest fear of the 40-year-old Tarlow, who also became a father recently, is becoming rooted to the same spot for the rest of his life. As such, ever since he took over the directorship of the Poreia Theater, his main concern has been not to put on nice tidy plays, but interesting ones. Lithuanian Cezarijus Grauzinis (a former student of Andrey Gontcharov, Mark Zakharov and Tadashi Suzuki) on the other hand is the new artistic director of Helsinki’s Viirus theater. With baggage in hand, Grauzinis is also the founder of the Cezaris Group theater company in Vilnius and a visiting professor at the Malmo and Helsinki theater academies in Sweden, as well as a tutor of seminars and workshops in Finland, the Netherlands, Latvia, Romania and the Faroe Islands. The Lithuanian director’s decision to stage the Greek AD 3 novel by Longus «Daphnis and Chloe» came as a surprise even to Tarlow. «I understand that it is a part of classical education and I was a little embarrassed that he knew it and I didn’t. Reading it, I realized that this bucolic romance between an innocent boy and girl in the pastures of Mytilene set in contrast to what is happening today is a juicy subject for theatrical research. Grauzinis wanted a contemporary take on the work, without role-sharing,» explains Tarlow. «I agreed for another reason too. Lithuanians have a very strong relationship with nature, they used to be pagans, and today they continue to propagate wonderful legends, fairy tales and a look at the world that is a little bit elfish. The novel has a lot of these elements and with them a sense of humor and stunning wit. It is also interesting to see how a foreigner, especially one from a country like Lithuania, sees this Greek myth.» Grauzinis explains the reasons behind his choice: «Seeing as ancient Greek literature is the basis of modern European theater, I was interested in doing something related to ancient Greece. I remembered one of my favorite books as a child. And it is a rare and unique opportunity to direct ‘Daphnis and Chloe’ in Greece.» However, the director is clear on one point. «This is not the story of those two children in the pastures of Lesvos,» he says. «Nor is an attempt to reconstruct the life, rituals and traditions of the people of AD 2 in Mytilene. The audience must make do with the attempts of a group of modern people to approach this story through their times.» How can such an innocent tale be presented in such cynical times? That is the focus of the performance, «without any intention of criticizing modern society vis-a-vis the absolute innocence prevalent in the novel,» says Grauzinis. «As I tried to convince the actors to play out these simple, naive stories on stage, I discovered that a sense of self-protection kicked in. They were constrained. And what is the natural reaction to this? We started being sarcastic about what we were doing so we wouldn’t become emotionally involved. Getting involved in something emotionally means that you are left without defenses. And that is dangerous. It is like being nude. So, at rehearsals, I decided that the performance had to be based on this feeling.» To enhance the apparent simplicity of the play, Grauzinis has applied a very basic body language. «There are no acrobatics, no aggressive theater,» he says. «Simple movement in combination with the text and the tempo invite the audience to use their imaginations. There is a huge difference between the theater you see through the eyes of an aggressive image and aesthetic and that which you see from the heart. We are not trying to excite the audience’s optical nerves.» This down-to-earth approach is the same Grauzinis takes in all his collaborations, even though he spends so much time up in the air, traveling from one commitment to another. But the Lithuanian director says he enjoys this mixture of cultures and all these collaborations, which can only be achieved through extensive travel. «I don’t expect to be readily accepted, but conflict does not intimidate me,» he says. «I have big ears and can hear which ideas of mine are not accepted or whether people understand my sense of humor or not.» As a director, how does Grauzinis differentiate between good and bad actors? «The only difference between a good and a bad actor is that a good actor continues to be interesting off stage,» he says. «An actor can be a bad person. I, however, select people I respect. Two months of rehearsals is a big chunk out of your life to spend with people you don’t like.» Poreia Theater, 3-5 Trikoforon & 69 Tritis Septemvriou, Victoria Square, tel 210.821.0991.