CULTURE

United by common folklore

«Today is a great day for us all,» beamed director Sotiris Hatzakis at the press conference for his new creation, «The Dead Brother’s Song.» Flanked by Romanian actress Maia Morgenstern to his left and Albanian tragedian Margarita Xhepa to his right, he explained his reasons for making this performance of the oldest poem written in the demotic Greek language into an inter-Balkan effort. Hatzakis was approached by the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation to produce something that would illuminate oft-ignored aspects of Hellenism as well as promoting good will between neighboring countries. «We are not interested in making quaint folklore,» he stated firmly. «We seek fragments of continuity between our ancient civilization and folk traditions.» It is not a new project for him, as he has been tinkering with the Byzantine-era poem since 1994. This comes as no surprise, as Hatzakis is fascinated by countries’ cultural heritage, and his most creative work emerges when he retools traditional folk tales, turning them into mystical journeys, as in «The Night of the Goat» and «Dybbuk.» He chose this particular poem for the collaborative effort because «I found nearly 300 variations of ‘The Dead Brother’s Song’ in all five of the languages in which we perform it… There are wedding songs and funeral laments but all derived from this poem, and we use bits of all of them in the performance.» «The Dead Brother’s Song,» written in iambic pentameter, is memorized – and made fun of – by schoolchildren all over Greece, despite – or because of – its macabre theme. It tells the story of a mother with nine sons and one daughter. Her son, Costandis, persuades her to marry Areti (the Greek word for «virtue») to a man from a distant land. Soon after Areti is uprooted from her home, all nine sons die of the plague. The lonely mother is left to curse over her dead son’s grave, until he rises from the dead, conjures up a horse and gallops off to bring back his sister. The dead rider and his living sister are commented on by the birds, but she does not know her brother is dead. Areti realizes something is wrong only too late and, as she embraces her mother, both expire. «Art can bring people together,» Hatzakis insists. «The fact that an Albanian and a Serb are embracing here instead of killing each other in Kosovo makes a statement.» Maia Morgenstern added that «being a Balkan is not a negative thing. On the contrary, it is a huge, loud, deep and dangerous thing. We are making art, not handing out verdicts – you will give us the verdict.» In this production, which premieres March 26 at the Kappa Theater and leaves on April 6 for Sofia, Bucharest and Tirana, the role of the mother is performed by three actresses (Margarita Xhepa, Maria Katsiadaki and Maia Morgenstern) in Albanian, Greek and Romanian respectively. Areti is played by Kiti Selmani Djecevic and Costandis by Nikos Arvanitis. The rhythm of the performance is characterized by the daouli drum and the chorus of mourners, who sing traditional songs from Florina, Serbia, Bulgaria, Premeti, the southern coast of the Black Sea and Thrace. «The Dead Brother’s Song» plays March 26 – April 5 (except Monday) at the Kappa Theater (2 Kypselis, tel 210.883.1068).