Immersive and multi-faceted, this Three Palaces production is a symbolic springboard for themes of displacement and identity.
There is a certain poetic inevitability to setting the Akhmatova Songs by John Taverner to Of Hell And Exile, an immersive project that forms part of this year’s The Three Palaces Festival programme.
Anna Akhmatova, after all, was one of a handful artists to openly defy the Stalinist regime, choosing to stay on in Russia and to use her poetry as a not-so-subtle weapon against the diktat. Akhmatova used the reality of Dante’s persecution by the Florentines as an allegory to the situation in Soviet Russia. In Akhmatova’s words, Dante’s Hell becomes the hell that the people of St Petersburg are living in.
Her words are stark, raw, the perfect companion to Of Hell And Exile, complemented by Taverner’s Songs and imbuing Gillian Zammit’s, Luke Azzopardi’s and Akos Kertesz’s production with fatalistic passion.
The 17-minute project thus becomes a veritable journey into the exile that is so vividly documented by Dante and re-imagined twice, by Akhmatova and Tavener. Filmed at Blue Box Theatre, the monochrome imagery presents a bare, almost desolate landscape – one that enables the audience to create their own journey, giving their own socio-political interpretation to the themes of exile and displacement that are sparked by the production.
Even when experienced on a superficial level, the notion of Dantesque suffering imbues the piece with sufficient pathos. For those who choose to go beyond, re-interpreting the classical oeuvre unfolding on our screens to 21st-century realities of identity and displacement… the layers to Of Hell And Exile are multi-faceted.
The juxtaposition of the then and now builds upon the experience of the viewer, with Gustav Dore’s illustrations of the Divine Comedy skilfully projected onto Azzopardi’s couture pieces. Zammit’s powerful voice is effectively laid to contrast with a dramatised reading of excerpts from Akhmatova’s poetry, with Kertesz’s solo passages providing a plaintive, potent punctuation.
The production truly gives meaning to the word ‘multi-faceted’, with each individual element integral to the delivery of the whole. Every single exquisite piece of Azzopardi’s couture, every aspect of set and light design, the readings from Dante’s and Akhmatova’s poetry (sur-titled in English, thankfully), Zammit’s and Kertesz’s inspired interpretations… all these elements climax in one, singular experience that transposes the notion of exile from a mere artistic ideal to the stark reality of suffering portrayed in the most elevated manner.