Originally, Iphigenia in Tauris is a drama by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides, written between 414 BC and 412 BC about Iphigenia, daughter of Clytemnestra and King Agamemnon ( the leader of the Greek coalition against the Turkish Trojans) who decides to sacrifice Iphigenia to Artemis (Diana) so that his troops might set sail to fight the Trojans to preserve his honor because Paris of Troy had earlier abducted his other daughter Helen but at the last moment, Artemis (Diana) replaces Iphigenia on the the sacrificial altar by a deer and carries her off to Tauris where she is made the high priestess at her own temple there with the irksome duty of overseeing the ritual death of any stranger who may land on the shores of King Thoas of Tauris. But Iphigenia hates such cruel and grim duties and longs to resume contact with her family in Greece and to tell them that she's is still alive. Earlier she had a dream where columns of her former house fell and she took it as a sign that her brother Orestes is dead and mistakenly thought that it was truly so. In fact, at the urge of his sister Electra, Orestes with help from his friend Pylades has already killed their mother Clytemnestra, who, earlier, not knowing of Artemis/Dianas's last minute swap and wishing to avenge Iphigenia's death, had killed Agamemnon whilst he was taking a bath after he returned from battle to Troy. Orestes has since been endlessly tormented by the Erinyes ( the equivalent of the Furies in Roman mythology) for committing the crime. He is told by an oracle at Delphi to go to Athens to be brought to trial. Although his trial ends in his favour, the Erinyes continue to haunt him. He is then told by another oracle at Delphi that to be free from the Erinyes, he must steal a sacred statue of Artemis from Tauris and bring it back to Athens to atone for his sins. He does so with Pylades, who is caught. Orestes whose true identity was not discovered, then pleads with Iphegenia to kill himself instead of his friend Pylades. Iphigenia agrees on condition that Pylades were to return to Greece and tell her family that she is still alive and that she wishes to rejoin them. But at the last moment of the ritual sacrifice, Orestes and Iphigenia recognize each other from certain details of their childhood which Orestes recounts to Iphigenia at his dying moment in his reminiscences in response to her question as to why he and his friend came to Tauris. Iphegenia is overjoyed. In breach of her sacred duties to Artemis/Diana, she spares Orestes but she is pursued for her betrayal by those in Tauris. The play has since been turned into an opera by Christopher Willibald Gluck whose music is now used by the Tanztheaterawith its dance sequences choreographed by Pina Bausch who also co-designed the set and costume with Rolf Borzik.
According to the Programme Notes;
In Act I, a storm is raging in Tauris and Iphigenia is plagued by nightmares of her parent's deaths whilst Orestes and Pylades were running around in Tauris and were seen by its people as a welcome sacrifice to the gods.
In Act II, Orestes is tormented by the thought that his friend Pylades would have to die and also has visions of his dead parents and in his grief, he informs the priestesses that he is a Greek and the fate of Agamemnon but giving the impression that Electra is the only one still alive
In Act III, Iphigenia offers him freedom so that she may send a message to Electra and Orestes persuades her to release his friend Pylades so that he may die in his stead
In Act IV, during the preparations for the ritual sacrifice, Orestes speaks of Iphegenia who shared his fate and they recognize each other. In the meantime, Thoas has found out about Pylades' escape and storms in to punish Iphegenia for her betrayal.
The orchestral music by the Hong Kong Sinfonietta under the baton of Jan Michael Horstmann and the choral music by the Hong Kong Arts Festival Chorus (drawn up mainly from the members of the Die CKonzertisten) under Felix Yeung were remarkably good, the minimalist stage setting and lighting excellent. I like in particular the way they use black and white and the way they focus the light on the pairs of dancers on the stage. The dances, though fairly limited in terms of the variety of steps do blend in very well with the expression of human emotions of grief, of torture, of hope etc, through the different ways the human body can be contorted and stretched through the dancers' body postures and gestures and their facial expressions. The strict division of the dance theatre into 3 separate and apparently self-contained sections of dance, instrumental music and human voice such that they seemed to be relatively independent of each other but joined together only through the common thread of the narrative action, together with the minimalist stage setting all seem to embody the Brechtian notion of making the theatre a space for reflection, not just for the enjoyment of its rich sensual excitations, through such "distancing effects". It was a completely new experience for me.
The scene of Pylades and Orestes fighting to be the one to die
The scene where the priestesses were preparing for the ritual sacrifice and Iphigenia is expressing her dissatisfaction of her role as Artemis/Diana's high priestess having to preside over the ritual execution of any trespassers to Tauris and her longing to be free of such cruel duties