60 European citizens committed to creating theatre that proposes new storytelling experiences about the recent financial crisis.
The Greek project, directed by Ioannis Andreadis, responded to the crisis through the story of The Destitute Dervish, by Alexandros Papadiamantis, told by action, narration, and live musicians. The story was set in Athens, in 1896, when more than half of today’s Greece was under Ottoman occupation. On a cold night, the strange, sad figure of a Muslim Dervish (Dionisis Christopoulos) appears. Finding it difficult to find enough food to keep his strength up, the dervish is moved from shelter to shelter, finding solace in playing the nay (a wooden flute). The yolk of the story is that the dervish is treated as a stranger, a foreigner, as the ‘other’ – not welcome in Greece. Given the cultural context, shortly after the war of independence against Ottoman rule, and before mass immigration or the quality of travel services we have today, it was ‘normal’, and perhaps more understandable that a Muslim person would find difficulty settling in Greece. However, the irony lies in the fact the music that the dervish plays on his nay is actually derived from the seed of earlier Greek music, and therefore a number of cultural patterns and practices are shared unbeknownst, to the Greek people.
The message of the story relates to the EU crisis through themes of survival and identity. On one level it can symbolize Greeks in Europe; on another it can symbolize Greeks within Greece since the crisis has made Greeks feel they are treated as enemies in their own homeland. Although the story proposes no ‘solution’, it promotes understanding as the most important quality to nurture and develop, for without understanding one another – from a personal to a national level – there can be no solution.
Set on the terrace outside the cultural centre, the piece started with performers dressed in black and white seated in a circle. On the left-hand side lay a table with a large bubbling pot brewing, on the right-hand side stood three musicians: a violinist, a flautist (referring to the Nay flute of the story) and a bouzouki player. The work was performed in Greek with key points, and a prologue and epilogue, spoken in English to allow non-Greek speakers to follow the story.
The story was illustrated through action, but largely told through narration from performers Alexandros Moutzouridis, Dionisis Christopoulos, Elisavet Papoutsani, Elsa Papagiannopoulou, Klairi Litsi and Alexandra Vetta, and some English excerpts by members of the British group: Haakon M. A. Smestad and Tim O’Hara. This required the actors to give a lot of vocal energy – something which they carried off perfectly, neatly bouncing the energy from person to person, smoothly matching the tone and then transforming into something else, following the shift in the story and always keeping it fresh.
Multi-sensory aspects added different dimensions to the performance: music formed an accompaniment and used to carry the story forward, interludes between segments of the narrative. Dance was central to the cultural context of the story, with Christopoulos performing the whirling movements typical of the sufi meditation and worship. Incense was used, transporting the audience deeper into the world of the play, adding a ritual aspect, and feeling of authenticity. Salep – an turkish drink made from orchid tubers – was brewed on stage and then served to the audience at the end of the production.
The piece ended powerfully, with a call to action: “Thousands and thousands of young graduates are fleeing abroad in an unprecidented wave of brain draining. Like the Dervish of Papdiamantis, the average Greek feels today exile and destitute in their own country.
We must be able to accept the stranger whether he comes from the outside or inside, even from inside our souls. But to give real solutions, we music fight against warm and cold wars, effective and white genocides, denounce any rhetoric that, behind kind words about human rights and salvation of engendered economies, promote plans that tend to make all of us exiles and not only in our country but also in our own body and souls.”