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Mention one of their names and the other inevitably follows. Mark Antony and Cleopatra, forever a couple. Their relationship mixed love and politics in such a way they invented the politics of love. Shakespeare wrote about them, as did the Greek philosopher Plutarch. In 1963 Joseph L. Mankiewicz made the monumental film Cleopatra, starring Elisabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The Portuguese theatre maker Tiago Rodrigues, whose work is described as subversive and poetic, uses all these sources in a theatrical quest for the core of this doomed love between an Egyptian queen and a Roman leader. Sofia Dias and Vítor Roriz play a contemporary Antony and Cleopatra. Together they create an amusing and moving universe in which the roles are reversed.
Tiago Rodrigues’ production of Antony and Cleopatra is a contemporary version of an age-old love story about the Roman general Mark Antony and the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra.
In the year 41 (BC) a republican general is assigned to the eastern part of the Roman Empire and a young Egyptian queen is afraid her people will be subjected. The two meet and become lovers for a turbulent period of ten years. Mutual passion leads to their downfall, but combining love and politics they discover a politics of love.
Director and theatre maker Rodrigues has written a modern deconstruction of this historical story, partly inspired by William Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name (1623). Rodrigues focuses mainly on the many dichotomies in Shakespeare’s text: east and west, reason and passion, male and female, stern Rome and exotic Alexandria, love and war, comedy and tragedy. Another source is Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, from the second century AD – a series of historical biographies Shakespeare took as the basis for his play. Rodrigues also incorporated elements of the Hollywood production Cleopatra (1963) directed by Joseph Mankiewicz.
Despite these extensive citations, Rodrigues’ Antony and Cleopatra is an original work, constructed from the memories of the various different interpretations of the two historical figures. Even though, it is a romance based on real events, through the centuries the details of this love story have evolved, faded, amplified and changed. The core is all that remains. Rodrigues reduces the story to a confrontation between two dancer-actors: the duo of choreographers (and real-life couple) Sofia Dias and Vítor Roriz. As themselves, they embody, in the here-and-now, the Antony and Cleopatra of there-and-then. In the process, Rodrigues consciously creates a distance between the actors and characters. At the same time, a striking mirror effect is at play: Antony describes the world through Cleopatra’s eyes, and vice versa. This reversal is a central theme of the performance. As the play proceeds, Dias and Roriz come closer to their characters. Their choreography, which includes playful, mathematical and poetic elements, is placed within a dynamic set, designed by Ângela Rocha, with lighting by Nuno Meira, creating an universe of instability and perpetual motion.
Antony and Cleopatra premiered in 2014 and has been staged in various European theatres and at the Festival d’Avignon. The production marks Rodrigues’ debut at the Holland Festival.
In this production the audience is invited to experience the world ‘vice versa’, through the souls of Cleopatra and Antony. As Rodrigues puts it himself: ‘This is going to sound a little pompous, but I believe that in love like in politics one has to have the will, humility, and courage to destroy a part of oneself, to leave some ideas and dreams behind so as to have the space and the possibility to see the world through the eyes of the other.’
Tiago Rodrigues (1977) has been the artistic director of the Teatro Nacional D. Maria II (TNDM II), the Portuguese national theatre in Lisbon, since 2015. He is known as a versatile theatre-maker and has
been active as an actor, dramaturge, director, producer and playwright. In 2018 he was awarded with the Europe Prize Theatrical Realities. Rodrigues appeared in the film Mal Nascida (2007), directed by João Canijo, and was the creative director of the cult television series Zapping (2016). At the age of 21, Rodrigues left his studies at the Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema and joined the Belgian collective tg STAN. There he co-created various productions, taking them on tour through 15 countries. The non-hierarchical working method of this collective, emphasizing creative exchange and freedom of choice, was a great influence on his vision as a theatre-maker and artistic director. In 2003 Rodrigues founded the company Mundo Perfeito together with Magda Bizarro, producing no less than 30 productions over a period of 11 years. His subversive, poetic stage productions earned him a reputation as a pioneer. Rodrigues has contributed to various European festivals and outside of Europe his work has been staged in Lebanon, Singapore and the United States. He teaches dramaturgy at P.A.R.T.S. in Brussels, the drama school of Stockholm and in various programmes in Portugal. He also works with international kindred spirits such as Tony Chakar, Rabih Mroué, Tim Etchells and the group Nature Theater of Oklahoma. He has been lauded for his minimalist style of ‘living theatre’ and original approach to dramaturgy. With TDNM II, Rodrigues recently won the Globo de Ouro prize for the production Sopro (2018). In 2014 Rodrigues presented his poetry performance By Heart at the Théâtre de la Bastille, shown later at the Frascati theatre in Amsterdam in 2016. That same year saw the debut of the production currently on show during the Holland Festival Antony and Cleopatra.
The Teatro Nacional D. Maria II is located on the famous Rossio square in the heart of Lisbon. This national theatre officially opened on 13 April 1846, to mark the occasion of the 27th birthday of Queen Maria II (1819-1853). However, the theatre’s roots go back to a decade earlier. After the 1836 revolution the politician Manuel da Silva Passos requested, by royal decree, that writer and politician Almeida Garret created a plan for a national theatre that could, ‘as a school of good taste, contribute to the civilization and moral elevation of the Portuguese nation’. In the decade between its legal foundation and inauguration the national theatre was housed in the dilapidated Teatro da Rua dos Condes. Eventually, the current Teatro Nacional D. Maria II was constructed on the ruins of the Estaus Palace, the former seat of the Inquisition. For many years, the TNDM II was managed by various theatre companies, including Companhia Rosas e Brasão (1881-1898) – responsible for the first stage productions of Shakespeare in Portuguese – and Companhia Rey Colaço-Robles Monteiro (1929-1964), Portugal’s longest-standing theatre company. In 2004, the TNDM II came under the management of the Ministries of Finance and Culture. Apart from its own productions, the TNDM II is also a partner in various international platforms including PERFORMART (the association of performing arts in Portugal), the European network Advancing Performing Arts Project and European Theatre Convention (ETC). Tiago Rodrigues has been the artistic director of the TNDM II since 2014.
- Tiago Rodrigues
- with quotes from
- William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra
- Tiago Rodrigues
- Sofia Dias, Vitor Roriz
- Ângela Rocha
- Ângela Rocha, Magda Bizarro
- Nuno Meira
- excerpts from the soundtrack of the movie Cleopatra (1963), composed by Alex North
- artistic collaboration
- Maria João Serrão, Thomas Walgrave
- set construction
- Decor Galamba
- English translation
- Joana Frazão
- executive production
- Rita Forjaz
- executive production on the original creation
- Magda Bizarro, Rita Mendes
- Teatro Nacional D. Maria II naar een origineel werk van MundoPerfeito
- Centro Cultural de Belém, Centro Cultural Vila Flôr, Temps d’Images
- artistic residence
- Teatro do Campo Alegre, Teatro Nacional de São João, alkantara
- thanks to
- Ana Mónica, Ângelo Rocha, Carlos Mendonça, Luísa Taveira, Manuela Santos, Rui Carvalho Homem, Salvador Santos, Toninho Neto, Bomba Suicida
- Museu de Marinha