Hope Mohr Dance Company’s adaptation of Anne Carson’s translation of “The Bacchae” is a resounding success, bringing into a modern context the ancient story of how Dionysus, son of Zeus, demands that he be worshipped as a god. When Pentheus, King of Thebes (and Dionysus’ cousin) refuses to cooperate, Dionysus uses his godlike power to unleash a murderous madness among his followers in Thebes, who set out upon a rampage of slaughter. Pentheus is ultimately killed by his own mother, caught up in the grip of Dionysus’ influence. It is horrifying.
I just stated that this production brings the story into a modern context. But in what modern context do contemporary parents get drawn into a madness that might cause them to literally tear their own children apart?
Let me proceed with an admittedly pedantic digression before engaging the question.
Nothing devestates like Greek drama. Developed at a time when theatre and religion had not fully separated (assuming they ever have), the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripdes are almost universally recognized as the greatest masterpieces of dramatic literature, and have been for over 2,000 years.
A Greek tragedy, in essence, depicts a sacrifcie to the gods. In every instance, the climax of the play is the brutal destruction of the tragic hero, and the intended effect is to produce the experience of catharsis — an intense and overwhelming experience of emotional release — for the audience. Even after two thousand years, these ancient stories succeed in that intention as reliably as the most carefully engineered clock ever invented.
Can this modern dance company update the story and bring an audience to the point of catharsis? Yes they can.
Because the company’s publicity has been open about their approach, I am not offering a spoiler when I tell you that their image of Bacchanalian madness in which parents would destroy their childen is an out-of-control gender reveal party.
The idea is current and funny, and, indeed, it is played for laughs. But by the time this hour of dance is complete, the attentive audience will experience, in a visceral way, the shocking reality that denying a child’s gender identity, forcing them to conform against their will and their instinct, is literally to tear them apart, limb from limb, self from self, as a bloody and heartrending sacrifice to the gods of conformity. Cathartic? You bet it is!
Several members of the company are themselves transgender, and this piece is as much from the heart as anything you are ever likely to see.
When you watch and listen to transgender performer Silk Worm as Dionysus plantively ask the audience, “How do I look? Convincgly human?” — well, let me just say you will, I think, be very much moved.
I won’t spoil the astonishing close to “Bacchae, Before,” but I can assure you it’s a stunner. See this, and your understanding of the feelings and experience of transgender children and adolescents will never feel quite the same.
“Bacchae Before,” is a wonderful achievement.
“Bacchae Before,” is not currently in production, but the company is actively seeking performance opportunities and may make this piece available for streaming at some future date. To keep informed, visit Hope Mohr Dance.
Rating: ***** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“Bacchae Before,” a dance theatre adaptation of Anne Carson’s translation of Euripides’ “The Bacchae.” Adapted by Maxe Crandall. Produced by Hope Mohr Dance. Co-Directors: Maxe Crandall & Hope Mohr. Choreographer: Hope Mohr, in collaboration with the performers. Object Animation: Mike Chin.
Belinda He, Wiley Naman Strasser, Karla Quintero, Silk Worm