Nekyia Festival 2018

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Editorial for the 2018  Myth and Theatre Festival

From June 19 to July 1st, 2018
at Malerargues, Roy Hart Centre, Southern France
Classes - Laboratories - Performances - Lectures

Nekyia is the Greek word for descent, and specifically for the descent into hell, into the pagan hell, the Kingdom of Hades, the abode of the dead. James Hillman, in The Dream and the Underworld, says the Nekyia takes place along a two-way road whose traffic is all the more intense since, according to him, dreams are assembled in hell and take the same royal road as the dead do. Each dream brings together a cast of ghosts, ancestral ones or ghostly replicas of the living, often of the dreamer himself. Permission is granted them to visit us, the so-called living, usually at night, when the gates of hell open.


There are, in fact, two gates to hell: one of horn, supposed to be that of « true » dreams, and one of ivory, supposedly of « false » dreams. It is this double-door passage chamber that intrigued me the most in the Nekyia: the idea of a place, a ghostly agora, a theater where true dreams and counterfeits mingle, barter, make deals, exchange ideas and scenarios, or steal them, while plotting connections and one-night-stands. A transit airlock, a caravanserai for night travelers. The double crossing gates of the dream factory.

In Virgil’s Aeneid, the descent of Aeneas unfolds without much difficulty; he most likely passes through the horn gate, the one of true dreams. He is accompanied by none other than the Sibyl of Cumae, a high class smuggler whose sibylline voice mystifies and seduces guards and gawkers. Aeneas carries Anchises, his old father, now a venerable shriveled old dead man, on his shoulders. He has all the assets to succeed his descent to hell. But then, for his return trip, things get a lot tougher because absolutely nobody can exit hell while alive. Anchises advises him to settle for the ivory door: the border police rarely search false dreams.

Aeneas resists; he considers it unworthy of the initiatory Nekyia of a hero who is following the footsteps of Heracles, Orpheus, Dionysus. Anchises insists nevertheless and Aeneas finally accepts. Good for him, though I do not think he understood why he had to go through the door of fake dreams, and scuttle through the curtains and wings of theater… In my view this was precisely the path of the initiate, the false-true gates of fiction and theatre. But by then the times were changing: Jesus Christ, (a virtual contemporary of Virgil), was soon to undertake his Nekyia and establish a new world mythology. He proclaimed he had vanquished death. He started the refurbishing of the heathen’s palaces, turning them into torture chambers for the damned, the disbelievers. He also started developing a New Age paradise above the clouds.

A few centuries later, Dante organized his own descent as part of the a grand tour: hell, purgatory, paradise. He asked Virgil and, again, the Sibyl, to guide him – and to then hand over to Beatrice. Curiously, one of the first encounters he makes near the entrance to the Inferno, is a large tree whose leaves are covered with epigraphs: hundreds of messages for passers-by, who add their own. Dante clearly understood the literary stakes of the Nekyia. This is a writing chamber, both oratory and laboratory, for divinatory work with texts. The Sibyl herself composes her Sibylline oracles by recombining the leaves scattered by the wind, and playing with her voice to improvise with the polysemic and polyphonic echoes of the texts. Hers is ultimate voice performance, and it includes the interpretation of texts. We are fully into choreographic theater.

At this point I hear my Italian buffoon master, who wears a French gendarme hat, blowing his whistle furiously and yelling at me: « Enrique: Manuel! Manuel! Manuel!” He wants me to get manual: basta poetry! “Where are the manual workers, the labor force of the laboratory?” I point to the inscription above the gate : « You who enter here, roll on the ground and scream”. The rite of passage is first of all expressionist praxis; it unleashes Roy Hart’s famous « unchained voice », possessed inspiration, voodoo crisis. Or to put it in Orphic terms: « The performance begins when the performer puts his or her hand on the floor. Touches the ground, touches the grave, goes down, enters Nekyia, necromancy, theurgy: hands-on, voice-over, under-stand.

As we all know, the inscription that greeted the damned in Dante’s Inferno was: « Abandon all hope — Ye Who Enter Here. »

Enrique Pardo

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