Dancing with Philoctetes:
Reflections on Pain and Remembrance
includes my English version of Philoctetes, adapted from the Greek of Sophocles, and an essay about loss and grief, pain and memory, dancing and not-dancing.
My adaptation of Philoctetes was performed in Leipzig in early March, 2020, as COVID-19 was shaping up to be catastrophic and just before Germany implemented drastic measures to contain the pandemic. Soon after the premiere, we realized we would not be able to complete our scheduled run. But even more obvious at that point in time was how pertinent the play had suddenly become in view of the global health crisis. Philoctetes, so explicitly about empathy and pain, offered itself up as a litmus test for Sophocles’ relevance, for the value of theater tout court.
As a huge Philoctetes-shaped void opened up in my life where rehearsals and fittings, make-up tests and sound-checks, and people—so many people I could hug, so many faces I could kiss—used to be but were now verboten, I found myself sitting in the dark on the floor of my kids’ bedroom, waiting for them to fall asleep, stunned, exhausted, grieving. willing myself to believe that there is, must be, a lesson in all this. Sophocles is your teacher, I tell myself, his characters are, well, not quite your friends, but they’ve been through a lot with you. You are used to thinking things through with them. Wait a while. Listen. Write about it. Go back to Sophocles and you will get an answer. You will feel it in your body.
But an answer failed to materialize.
Now, more than a year later, I have a self-imposed deadline to finish this book which is, purportedly at least, about Philoctetes. I am, again, starting from Philoctetes. Coming back to the memories, the smells, the retellings, the made-up self- narratives. The visceral experiences.
Coming back to the literal deadline.