The Cretan

Dionysios Solomos (adapted by Sofia Kazantzian)

Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Hellenic Centre

On 18 March 2017

Review by Howard Loxton

Search for tickets

This is an adaptation of a poem, written in 1834, by Dionysios Solomos whom Greeks think of as their national poet—he wrote their National Anthem. Intriguingly, Solomos was technically a British subject for he was born on Zakynthos when it was administered by Britain.

In the poem, a Cretan fighter against Ottoman domination tells how his bride to be was shot and how the ship on which he tried to escape with his wounded beloved was set on fire, forcing them into the water. He swims, trying to reach land, trying to support her, but by the time he reaches it she is dead.

This dramatic combination of verse, dance and music, presented to mark the 160th anniversary of the poet’s death, is making a tour of European capital cities under the auspices of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In her adaptation, Sofia Kazantzian has given some passages to the dying woman or her spirit and introduced text from other authors: Lorca, Goethe and Homer’s Odyssey, and made this a present happening that concludes with the man’s suicide, not the poem’s later retelling as he mourns life without her.

It is performed in Greek, with an English translation of the poem text supplied to the audience and a brief outline of the plot of the adaptation. Performers Marios Iordanou and Sofia Kazantzian have expressive voices and the text is delivered clearly but you need much better Greek than mine to follow the text or match performance to poem. I think I recognized insertions of lines from the Moon scenes from Lorca’s Blood Wedding and the Calypso episode from The Odyssey. Lorca’s Moon is close companion with Death and dancer Valentino Valassis as Death is the third performer in what is at least equally a dance work.

The stage is almost covered with a sheet of silk and, in venues more theatrically equipped than this, a sky projected behind it. A snatch of music, a traditional Cretan song or an extract from one by Yannis Markopoulos begins things (later there’s what could be a part of that composer's setting of Kornaros’s Erotokritos) as Sofia Kazantzian’s maiden enters dancing her joy at her coming marriage, lifting the silk to form angel wings then slipping her arms into sleeves that make it her bridal gown.

Now Death appears, a chalk-smeared face and torso in red trousers. Death and the Maiden: a classic combination, cliché almost, in what now dominates the performance, its rather conventional choreography and verse speaking making it seem a little old fashioned, but it is done with feeling. Fresh imagination is brought to the way in which the flow of silver also becomes the billowing waves of the sea that engulfs them while another enwrapping fabric becomes a shroud or a shimmering vision of the goddess upon whom the swimming Cretan calls for protection.

Death fires a shot at the bride and she falls, spilling red rose petals of blood. We hear the sea now and a black figure appears. Death in another manifestation? They begin a dance, mirroring each other. It is not Death but her Cretan lover. Separated, she sings (is this a memory) picking at flower petals: “He loves me, he loves me not…”

Death returns and it becomes a trio of dancers.

The dance drama relies on the text to clarify its statement. The content is far too complex to follow without it, but the emotional conflict comes over in the swift movement of Death, the way in which the Maiden becomes wrapped in the coils of the sea or turns into the Moon vision, in the Cretan’s arms slowly extended in longing and especially in the rich voice of Iordanou and his romantic good looks.

The production held an audience that included a group of Greek schoolboys and at this venue probably drew mainly Greek speakers, but if it is to be properly understood by international audiences without Greek it needs surtitles, more supporting information or some rethinking to make it easier to understand it.