In recent years, Indiana University’s theater department expanded to encompass contemporary dance. Usually the two art forms operate independently, but in two weeks, they’re combining forces for what’s likely to be the most unusual and innovative production of the theater season. They’ll be presenting Jean Anouilh’s “Antigone.” Now, to clarify, this isn’t the ancient Greek version written by Sophocles; it’s an adaptation written by a French author in 1943.
Though based on the ancient text and featuring most of the same characters, there is a political aspect to Anouilh’s production that pervades. Remember that France was occupied by the Nazis at the time of the play’s creation, and any productions during that time had to be approved by the Nazi censors. Despite this increased level of scrutiny, Anouilh managed to make a strong statement about the need for resistance against oppression.
The plot centers on conflict emerging between the state and the individual. As told in the Greek myth, the king of Thebes decrees that the body of Antigone’s brother must go unburied for what the king condemns as crimes against the city. Faced with such unspeakable dishonor, Antigone must choose between country and family.
IU’s production is making a statement of its own this December — through the language of dance. The production will feature extensive choreography and expressive movement to accompany the spoken words. The dramatic elements will be directed by MFA director Katie Horwitz, and the dance will be choreographed by Adam McLean and Elizabeth Shea.
For Horwitz, the synthesis is perfectly natural. She explains, “Growing up, I did dance and theater side by side. For me, they’ve never been separate forms. I’m always looking for how they can inform each other in my work. It’s going to be an essential part of putting flesh and bone on this amazing text.”
The director says she was inspired to helm this unique interpretation of “Antigone” after watching the National Theater production of “Saint Joan,” which used an inventive visual theatrical style to interpret George Bernard Shaw’s play. “That production was a turning point for me as an artist,” Horwitz says. “I suddenly understood a director’s capacity for exploration.”
“Antigone” could be a bit of a marketing challenge for the department. The play is definitely heady, and in a time of great unrest in the world, such a heavy theme can be a hard sell for those seeking escapist fare. Add to that a dance element, and you definitely have something different on your hands.
But as these talented artists have so often proved, different can be good. IU’s “Antigone” won’t be like anything else you’ll see this season, but I suspect you’ll be talking about it for a long time to come.