Returning to the Source of Ancient Hellenic Theatre
Gathering a select group of artists, researchers and teachers, Imalis began in 2003, as part of a wider movement in modern Greek theater, to stage Ancient Greek plays in their native tongue. Today, Imalis has grown into a unique experiment in the renewal of contemporary theater and performance research. As an organic creative process Imalis developed out of the discovery of strong links between Stanislavski-based acting systems and Ancient Greek performance practices and esthetics generally, and prosodic and musical forms specifically.
Our artistic approach begins with reconstructing the vocal and physical techniques that make-up a preverbal language encoded in the poetic verse of the ancient dramaturges, known as prosodia. Our process involves the exploration of the primary texts in their original tongue as dramaturgical scores composed of raw sound forms (vocalizations), ritual and improvised movement and archetypal patterns. This score leads us to an inner fusion of sound and movement within a dilated dimension of rhythm and tone, a continuously evolving time and energy signature which the ancients termed orchesis, feeding and structuring the presence of the actor on stage, and out of which emerge the voice and mask of the role, in that order.
Our contact with this underlying structure of ancient performance practice, made evident its relationships to parallel sister traditions, not only Greek, but from many peoples around the world, that are still alive today. Thus our research process began linking the ancient theater forms through these living “sister” performance traditions to the rich practices of contemporary performance. We recruit living masters from these traditions to contribute to our research and training programs, from vocal traditions like the Greek amanes and Persian tahrir, Japanese butoh and gagaku, to the martial arts applied to performance, kalaripayattu, yoga and tai chi. It is in this sense that our practitioners and teachers contribute as much to a historic revival project in ancient theater as they participate in the renewal of contemporary theater practice.
Imalis, is an ancient word that fell out of use only recently with the death of rural society in the past century. Old villagers still remember the reality to which it refers: the moment of the rising of the waters in springtime around the source which the community celebrated with dancing and singing. Imalis is based on an integral approach to ancient performance which we term “native tongue staging,” and which we identify as that source of pre-verbal and verbal encodings that our practice-based research extracts from the primary poetic texts.
By staging the primary poetic texts of the ancient playwrights in their native tongue, Imalis is also establishing a renewed basis for translation, as well as new play development (in Modern Greek as well as other languages). The exploration of these significant lines of research and their integration into a more fundamental understanding of ancient drama as a source of renewal for contemporary theater practice is the ongoing aim of Imalis as an artistic process. A significant documentation and publication project of our progress will be carried out and excerpts posted here on a regular basis by the members of our research groups.