The Lady of Dindymus
A Dramatic Musical Dance Performance
The Great Mother Goddess CYBELE whose ancient shrine was at Dindymus in Asia Minor, was served by priests who performed her ritual of self-castration and ritual domination before the mighty Mother Goddess. The text is from a long poem written by Roman poet Catullus in the 1 st century B.C., which is unique in the history of Greek and Latin literature, both in the subject matter, and the strange verse in which the poem is presented. There are fragments of Greek texts which indicate that the cult of Cybele was well known in the ancient East and had been previously treated in poetry, but this text is the only coherent description of the frightening Ritual of the Great Goddess.
This scenario for a Musical Dramatic Stage Performance CYBELE is the initial text for a project which by its nature will involve the talents of several separate groups in coordinated areas:
Dance and ballet choreography.
The verse-form, which has been called "galliambic", that is basic iambic verse adapted to the uses of the Galli, or castrated priests of the Magna Mater from Asia Minor, is also unparalleled, and even the interpretation of the cadences is in large part unclear. In the later Roman period some felt it was iambic with a great many substitutions, others stated unequivocally that it was ionic a minore, or u u - -, but this only appears in parts of some lines. The rhythms are shifting and erratic, but successions of many short syllables in a row is a striking part of the rhythmic patterning. Since the poem evokes dance throughout, it is fair to assume that the odd metrical patterns were originally conceived as deriving from dance sequences. Working backward from the metrical layout we can consider that we may have at least some basic hints as to what the new dance can become.
The cult of Cybele originated in Phrygia at Mt. Ida (Asia Minor), it spread rapidly into Greece by the 6th c B.C., and in 204 B.C. was introduced to Rome with the importation of a sacred stone which formed the core of a developing cult. In Catullus' time there was a well established temple-cult at Rome, which is assumed to have given him some of the materials out of which to write this poem. The cult lasted well into Christian times and was one of the last pagan cults to disappear. In the later period it was assumed that the Magna Mater was a great earth figure, that Attis was symbolic of renewed life and vegetation, but this may have been an idea derived from the Isis/Osiris cult which was also popular under the Empire.
The following outline has been sketched out in some detail. This is for the purpose of establishing that there are interesting possibilities for developing this Project as a workable, staged performance. There are many talents to be called upon, and nobody must feel that the detailed directions which I have incorporated into this initial draft are intended as more than suggestions. On the other hand, there must be a first, general vision of the project in all its dimensions, and so long as this one is considered usable but at the same time loose, it should serve its purpose.
A note on music and staging parallels to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring is added in the Appendix at the end.
OUTLINE OF THE PARTS OF THE SCENARIO
Section 1: Introduction and Castration
Section 1: Introduction and Castration
This is the introductory section, which begins with a sea motif, then brings in the principal dancer climbing from the pit onto the "sand stage" at front left, slowly developing a tentative dance step as the music motifs begins to sound, as if from far distant Mt Ida (3). Increases of speed and furor over a developing section (4), and then at (5) preparing by an elaborate foot scraping dance to dig a hole at center stage. Does the castration at center stage, back turned toward audience, dropping the genitals into the hole, wheeling half bent in pain, spasmodically straightening to dance in measured, erratic rhythms..........(The sacred stone of Cybele will later be placed on this spot, pivotal until it disappears at the end.)
Over the high seas in a quick boat carried, Attis
super alta vectus Attis celeri rate maria
Section 2: The Role of Attis as a Woman Figure
Now Attis is released from his masculinity (6) and crippled by the operation, she moves slowly, dancing bent over and straightening up convulsively, foreshadowing of the coming musical beats. At (8) with focus on hands (snowy white) we begin sex-change with dance and gesture, focused on a tambourine held rhythmically high. By line (9) a group of the castrated Gallae dancers, moving in slow massed rhythms as a flowing body (1913 production!), begins to tentatively appear from the right stage, carrying in ritual manner a large black stone, which they place at center stage over Attis's buried genitals. ATTIS dances to address "herself" to them, in a complex dance evocations.
And when he saw that his body was now without man,
Itaque ut relicta sensit sibi membra sine viro,
Section 3: The First Song of Attis
At this point the first sung parts (low contralto singer in pit miked to backstage, to seem to come from the dancer) begin to accompany the music, in alternating discrete parts rather than one long song. This first part of the Song of Attis is sung toward the fleeting chorus of dancers who spread across backstage, constantly moving in groups which break up and reunite. Attis can do much of the dancing with rotating steps, facing the audience for a second, then swinging and dancing toward the Gallae, which aids the sung voice which seems to come from the dancer. This is Attis's frantic protreptic to the cult- dance, as addressed to the group of dancing, white costumed Gallae
"Come, priestesses, together to the high forests of Cybele,
"agite ite ad alta, Gallae, Cybeles nemora simul,
Section 4: Choral Song of the Gallae
(It is my decision to split the speech, here:) Now the group responds with only fragments sung/screamed from a hidden chorus backstage, echoing phrases from the text below, picking up the line of cult- frenzy, while dancers are keying the dance closely to a carefully constructed musical texture, which is marked by words indicated in the text (never used simultaneously as pantomime!). Cymbals clash, drums of various sizes sound, a low horn + bassoon note pulses in, as wild screams strike through the song sequence.
Make you joyous the heart of our Lady with wandering dancing,
mora tarda mente cedat, simul ite, sequimini
Section 5: Dance of Attis with the Gallae Priests
Now we get static glimpses of Attis in a rigid, posed position, hands up in the eastern "eunuch stance", or a la Nijinsky's stiff stances in Rite Of Spring. These must hold unbearably long, then (27) everything breaks out into penetrating wails of voice, music doubles up instruments and amplitude, all the dancers move wildly with Attis is always phasing in and out of their group, always exiting the group as leader for a sequence, then returning into their herd. At (28) music comes on very aggressive, slowly winds down by (31) to become tamer as the lines of dancers verge toward backstage which is set as deep forest with a rising platform (set bleachers) to Mt. Ida.
As Attis, now a woman, sang these words to her companions,
simul haec comitibus Attis cecenit notha mulier,
Section 6: Dance of the Heifer
At (33) we have a separate little section of the "Dance of the Heifer", a kicking, leaping action trying to get something off the back, with musical development complementary rather than keyed...
Section 7: Dancing in the Forest to Rest
Here begins a quieting mode, light footsteps of the dancers back and forth, finally starting movement with forward-reversed steps on the winding staging to the woods (backstage, some paint and much trees). By (34) they are tiring, slowing down and faltering, body tired and hand/mouth gestures asking for water/food, hands : "give me..".
At (36) the Sleep Motif appears, largely developed with languor by the music score, middle range woodwinds drawn long and slow, open vowel sounds, bodies slowing to patches of rests, at (37) weak reminders of the cymbal, drum and pipes lightly puncture a yawning musical line of muted tones, as the dancers one by one step down from the forest onto mid stage and with natural body rhythms (choreographed!) fall to sleep across the forestage.
The devotees moving fast follow their fast foot leader,
Slow slumber with sliding languor slipped over their eyes.
rapidae ducem sequuntur Gallae properipedem.
Directions for lights: Darkening from start of this section slowly until at the sleep-section, when the stage has gone completely dark for a short period, as a gentle moonlight spreads over the sleeping bodies.
Section 8: Orchestral Interlude
This is the space for a musical Interlude, suggested by the on-stage sleeping figures. This can last eight minutes or more, while the sleeping dancers move as in sleep, just enough to keep the visual connection with the audience. Bodies rolling, arms moving, changing positions --- these are choreographed carefully as a slow-motion "horizontal-dancing" sequence.
During this period we go through the stages of night, the moon is clouded over for a short period, wind sighs gently, branches rustle visually with a fan, everything is muted visually and in the graduated lighting. As morning approaches continue with gray light, becoming ruddy, then at last bright daylight..
Section 9: The Awakening to Daylight
For (39) a soundtrack can superimpose over the musical score, with air-sounds, then horses trampling on the hard earth, borrowed from the words in line (39): the roar of the sea at a rocky shore. Line (39- can be seen as an acoustic "aside", change of scene for the moment.
But when with the radiating SUN with eyes of its golden face,
Sed ubi oris aurei Sol radiantibus oculis
Section 10: Solo Dance of Pasithea
The goddess-spirit (43) Pasithea (Sleep) as a transcendental dancer, hovers over Attis while still enfolded in sleep, embracing him and as if blessing him with the benison of Somnus, this being complementary with the clearing of his mind before awakening. This can be a danced interlude in its own right.
This "awakening dance sequence" must be slow starting, a gradual progression from the horizontal sleep-scene with the Gallae on stage, stage by stage rising. Attis rises first alone while the others move more convulsively but stay half asleep. Against their somnolence, Attis awakening, moves right and left crossing the stage several times, a slow but nervous motion, and finally locates himself standing still at front stage left, behind the "stone", ready for the sung episode.
Now rising from soft rest, the wild madness gone,
Ita de quiete molli rapida sine rabe
Section 11: Attis: Dance with Song. Part I
Attis has moved to audience's stage left, at the sand strip where he entered, dancing as if mentally reaching out to a far place, his homeland, his home, with slow moving, swinging arm and body gestures. Using hand gestures and mode stances from Indian classical art, the woman-role stays with him, while his sadness reaches out to some point beyond the theater audience. By being at that place on stage, a contralto voice behind him can work song (as here in text) into his dance movements, being behind him as he moves takes attention away from his non-singing mouth. The pitch range of the voice part can be worked from high to low to high at the end, coursing between quasi high male and low female voice.
"My country which bore me, my country which created me,
"Patria o mei creatrix, patria o mea genetrix
Section 12: Flashback to Attis' Home Village
Lighting: Bright lights for this next section, which is a backflash to his former happy life, with the glare of an Aegean island, as this starts. The lights must be white-yellowish, island-daylight. Now the dancers appear with changed costumes, boys in tunics with color stripes at the hem, girls in gowns, the friends of his former life dancing in an atmosphere of joy, pleasure in daily life. A touch of a wrestling duo, two squat at the line, rise and sprint right off stage to the right. Carrying garlands they crown the athletic victor, flowers appearing everywhere, his parents arm in arm watching, a joyous village scene. And Attis, as if back at home in changed costume, now comes on stage from the left as if just waking up, sleepy as a late riser but glad to greet everyone, they circle him with a flower- dance.
Section 13: Attis Dance with Song: Part II
Return to the cult-inspired reality of the situation: For three seconds the house lights go completely dark, when they return slowly, there is a blue-green shimmer to them, forecast of horror and the deep forest behind, which now becomes a mysterious bluish hue. The dancers are now back in their Phrygian costumes, center stage massed from the left they proceed in wavering blocks across the stage to stop at the right, as if waiting.........waiting.......
Song begins, dancer at front left stage, voice behind him cued to his body gestures, Attis turns and rotates in agony, also to work with the voice from behind without showing it.
"Am I to be borne into these far off forests, far from my home?
Egone a mea remota haec ferar in nemora domo?
Section 14: Attis: Dance with Song: Part III
Music now is soft, with echoes of the maddening pulses and orchestration of the earlier section, but it is still there in his mind, a mark of his committed role, even in quiet and sadness. His voice now is a thin, plaintive wail, rising higher in pitch as he thinks of the cult, the mountain, the wild forest of animals and trees. Rising pitch again signifies his sex change somehow.........Song again sung from behind him, but if strong complaint above section, now a air of sadness coupled with sheer disbelief! Here much less dance motion, rather stepping from stance to stance with Nijinsky-style holds of position to contrast with above sung episode.
"Shall I now be priestess of the gods, handmaiden of Cybele?
Ego nunc deum ministra et Cybeles famula ferar?
Section 15: Attis' Aria of Regret
This next line with its four repeats, in two sections, deserves an aria of some proportions, best done with the singer now taking the stage in pace of the dancer, in identical costume and makeup, and singing in pure Palestrina style an "In-gloria". But she must look very sensual, delicately done makeup, live female appearance with dominantly strong bright lipstick (as from (73).
Palestrina block chordal chunks, against which a cadenza-like aria fills in runs of passing notes (authenticity is from a transcription of Palestrina from a 16th c. copyist, a surprising twist)
Now now I feel the pain of what I did, yes, now now I rue."
Iam iam dolet quod egi, iam iamque paenitet."
As the song ends, she stands still, bright light on face showing lipstick and makeup very focused, while backstage up aloft and to right another light slowly comes on to focus on right upper backstage..
Section 16: Cybele, Lady of Dindymus
CYBELE on her throne (archaic Greek style block throne), on each side a leashed afghan hound (= lion, use trained dog to avoid stuffed animal). An orchestral, paced Cybele theme appears, culled from compacted parts of the revel music at the early section, jammed together with sharper snare drums and oboe/piccolo.. When she speaks, it is a male's voice, but the appearance is completely drag- female, dress, arm motions floating, triple turbaned traditional Cybele headgear. She can use sprech-stimme with some notes coinciding with the music at unexpected intervals. After (80) the afghans = lions begins to move restlessly on their leashes, as if eager to leap.
The sound went quick from his rosy red lips
Roseis ut huic labellis sonitus abiit celer
Section 17: Fright and Return to the Forest
Now the Afghan hound on the left (= lion!) on hidden commands goes across the bleacher-forest and stops, then down the ramp to another trainer on other side, pauses, turns, waits, on a signal barks ferociously without advancing. Attis does a dance of whirling fright, going left as if to the sea, right as if to the forest, back and forth in increasing frenzy, until THEN the dog yelps and run right at him in attack. They both go off left stage together. Pause in shock.
With threat she spoke and with her hand untied the rein.
Ait haec minax Cybele religatque iuga manu.
A few seconds later Attis is seen ascending the forest, up and to the right toward the still lighted seated figure of Cybele --- in broken steps, slowly, hunching over until to midstage, then straightening up and resignedly stepping toward her throne, where he prostrates himself.
While he kneels there, dancers come on stage from the right and with great effort lift the black stone (symbolic fetish) from the burial spot at center stage, and carry it off the left ---- the sacred Stone of Cybele's cult, held high as a ceremonial object..
Section 18: FINALE
The curtain falls. Faint mixed tape ambiance sound of winds, sea and trampling on the hard earth, almost inaudibly: A Speaker comes from split curtain forward, and with raised hand gestures (90), then arms akimbo (91), and finally hands clasped in an angali /\ (92), while speaking with a tone of awe-inspiring FEAR --- these final three lines:
Goddess, Great Lady, O Cybele, Lady of Dindymus,
Dea, magna dea, Cybele, dea domina Dindymei,
Lights fade slowly, as a POSTLUDE is heard weakly, lingering decrescendo while the audience gets its breath. Silence with full lights, then slowly house lights start to go down to gray.
F I N I S
Appendix: Stravinsky's Rite of Spring
There is a strong parallel with the original production of Stravinsky's Sacre de Printemps in 1913 , an unusually complex piece of work, involving obscure Russian mythology which Stravinsky collected, Stravinsky's slowly evolving musical score, and development of a ballet on stage through the agency of Diaghalev, with Nijinsky doing the choreography and a lead dance role. Since then the music has become a standard art-piece, while the dance part which was not notated has virtually disappeared, although there is information about its general tenor. Costumes were an important part of the original production, as was lighting, but again we have only scrappy information regarding that actual format of the premiere.
From the start there were problems as to the concatenation of music and dance within the storyline, in later performances Nijinsky's work was not followed, although there are important features which were much later appreciated. There has never been a wholly successful recreation of the Sacre, which is surprising in view of the fact that the music became a standard concert piece of great popularity. Stravinsky himself preferred to think of the music as the core of the work in later years, unfortunately. Much has been written by music historians on the origin and development of the Sacre, from which we can see many of the difficulties in combining music with ballet within a dramatic framework. This Project will no doubt run into the same problems of parallel development and coordination between composer and choreographer, that is to be expected.
I mention all this in reference to the Domina Dindymi Project, which many years later can be seen as moving into the same art-space of the original Sacre. The strange and alarming subject matter, the need for a complementary music score, and a newly conceived ballet part developed for the cult of Cybele --- these do remind us of the Stravinsky piece. We can learn much from the Sacre and from its history, but there can be no imitation on any level. All must be created fresh and new!
In the area of stage presentation, scenery, sound effects and especially lighting, we are in a much better position now than Stravinsky was so many years ago. Here problems of cost are more important, as well as the expectations of an audience which has become accustomed to productions which spare no expense. Again, new thinking without acceptance of stage standards about set and lighting, must be developed.