When Graeme Murphy, Artistic Director of the Sydney Dance Company, first approached me to work on 'Mythologia', the brief was concise: a full-length dance work featuring the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir singing text, possibly in ancient Greek, and ideally related in some way to the Olympic Games.
After several months of research into Greek mythology I was ready to concede defeat until, quite by chance, I met Dr Suzanne MacAlister, Senior Lecturer in mythology at the University of Sydney. Together, we quickly came up with the idea of making the entire work an 'Olympic Ode' fashioned after Pindar (Thebes, 518 - 438 BC). His victory odes, or 'epinicians', were commissioned by victors (or their family) from one of the ancient games in Delphi, Nemea, Isthmus of Corinth or at Olympia (the "Olympic" Games). Pindar's odes were sung by a choir of men and boys at a family or celebratory occasion to honour the victor. It is in these choral tributes that Pindar names the great god-hero Heracles as the founder of the Olympic Games, and as the ultimate champion to which all others aspire.
Our own mythologic ode presents Heracles himself as both champion and main subject. Like Pindar, Heracles' exploits are sung by a choir, and like Pindar we digress into other myths and tales linked directly or indirectly to the hero.
We spent many months exploring the work of ancient Greek authors spanning many centuries, looking for passages of text suitable to be sung by choir, and that would also create an interesting and theatrical narrative woven around the life of Heracles. Throughout this process we conferred with Graeme to ensure that he could find sufficient inspiration for his choreography.
From our narrative skeleton Graeme created a remarkable theatrical event by adding extra characters and sub-plots in much the same way as ancient authors treated their inherited myths. What is presented on these pages, and on the enclosed disc, is closer to the original vision of the story - eliminating the additions and extensions required by the exigencies of producing a dance work on stage.
In writing the music my first concern was to create a resonant and cavernous canvas of sound in front of which the dance could revel. I also wanted to be as true as possible to the nature of the original texts: their sound, rhythm and cadence. So little is known of Greek music of the period that I made no attempt whatsoever to reconstruct any 'authentic' sound, although you will notice a preponderance of plucked, blown and struck instruments. (We know they used the lyre, the flute and drums). Apart from the wonderful singing of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir, the music was created entirely on my Macintosh computer.
I would like to thank Graeme Murphy and the Sydney Dance Company for offering me this opportunity, and for also insisting that I didn't give up. Most of all I must thank Suzanne MacAlister for her tireless insistence on "getting it right", and for her encyclopaedic understanding of both the source material and the archetypes with which it resonates. 'Mythologia' could not have happened without her.
© Carl Vine, 2000