SAIIER 2013:Rodogune

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Odissi Dance
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Twelfth Night
A play by Sri Aurobindo

We started working on Rodogune in July 2012, aiming to perform in January 2013. The cast consisted of 16 main characters with a number of other characters or players including soldiers, dancers and musicians.

Rodogune is one of the five complete plays written by Sri Aurobindo. It can be considered a tragedy in the sense that is has a sad ending. At the same time tragedies put us in contact with archetypes, with ancient, eternal forces that keep moving humans and circumstances around them.

Moreover, I wanted to find a way not only to reduce the pathos that usually is attached to a tragedy, but also to have a luminous ending: I was looking for a way to “transform” the sad end. But how to do that without any alteration of the text?

Then the idea came of having the actors come on stage from outside the auditorium, slowly moving through the audience space, down the aisles, completely veiled. They reached the stage already ready with props, disappeared back-stage, removed their veils, and came back onstage each in turn when their time came to perform. At the end of the play they went out in the same way in reverse: from the stage towards the public, chanting the ancient mantra of immortality: “Lead me from non-being to true being, from the darkness to the Light, from death to Immortality”, from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad as translated by Sri Aurobindo.

The idea was to have the actors “entering” into a situation, going through it and at the end leaving it behind, going towards the Light.

Rehearsals with actors, musicians, dancers and other preparations for stage sets, costumes and props went as scheduled, and we performed in January 2013 at the Sri Aurobindo Auditorium, Bharat Nivas. A synopsis of the play was prepared to be published and handed out prior to performances. It was an extremely rich experience for all of us, with a feeling of harmony, joy and togetherness.

Once more a text from Sri Aurobindo proved to be something very special. It brought us to a different level, uplifting and at the same time quite “real”, here and now. For a long time afterwards we kept this atmosphere within, this space of universal grace, gratitude and understanding.

Rodogune - A synopsis of the play in five Acts by Sri Aurobindo

The king Antiochus is dying, and queen Cleopatra, his wife, is exultant, because now she can call back her twin sons, exiled in Egypt since early childhood by order of the king Antiochus. These boys, Antiochus and Timocles, are sons of the previous king, Nicanor, Cleopatra first husband and brother of the dying monarch.

One of the twins will be declared king, but no one knows who is the first born, except the queen Cleopatra and the nurse, Mentho. The upheaval provoked by the arrival of the twins excedes all expectations. The queen is deeply distressed because one of her sons, prince Antiochus, does not show outward signs of love towards her, only a respect that for her is not enough. Timocles, the other son, on the contrary, bestows on her all the love and tenderness of a child kept for so long far from his mother. As the queen wants to keep her power through the future king, she begins to think in announcing Timocles as king, instead of Antiochus, the first born, and try to convince the nurse to hide the truth. Mentho refuses.

The two brothers both fall in love with Rodogune, princesse of Parthia, kept in the palace as attendant and slave of the queen. This love makes the brothers enemies, and Timocles, for the first time in his life, shows how jealous he is of his brother, that all believe will be the future king. This jealousy is used by Phayllus, a counsellor to the court, and his sister Cleone, to convince prince Timocles that he can be king, and at the same time have Rodogune. During the ceremony where the new king will be announced, realising that she can not oblige Antiochus to follow her decisions, the queen decides to announce Timocles as king. The court reacts and two factions are created.

Antiochus goes to the mountains with his guards and the two princesses, Rodogune and his cousin Eunice. From there he leads a battle against the army of his brother. In the beginning he is the winner, but soon Timocles’ army receives help from allies, and Antiochus’ army is being beaten. Then we learn that the father of Rodogune, king Phraates, has come with his army to the rescue of the husband of his daughter. Antiochus can not accept his help, because he knows that to accept it is to surrender his country to king Phrates, and therefore to betray Syria.

He then decides to go back to Antioch and offer his sword to Timocles, even after an Eremite comes to tell him that Fate and doom are waiting for him if he goes back. Timocles expects his brother to give him Rodogune, certain that after this time together in the mountains Antiochus has grown weary of her. Antiochus publicly declares Rodogune as his wife, and Timocles’ jealousy has now no bounds. Phayllus convinces him that Antiochus has come back as part of a plot to dethrone him. Timocles gives Phayllus the freedom to do whatever is needed to rid him of Antiochus, but he wants it to be done under the accusation of a plot, and not to be an assassination. Antiochus, conscious of his fate, awaits the moment, and is ready. He is seized and killed. He dies as nobly as he has lived. Rodogune gives herself to death at his feet. Queen Cleopatra asks Timocles to deny being the instrument of such a crime, but he insists that it was a necessity due to Antiochus’ plotting against him. At the end, realizing that he has lost Rodogune in spite of all he has done, Timocles gives the power to Nicanor, the commander of the army and member of the royal family.

Lead me from non-being to true being;
From the darkness to the Light;
From death to Immortality. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Translation by Sri Aurobindo)