The Ruins

Since 2017 will be the “Year of Nikos Kazantzakis”, the National Theatre of Northern Greece decided to pay its personal homage to the giant of Greek literature with a theatrical version of Salvatores dei (aka Ascesis: The Saviours of God) directed by Andreas Koutsourelis, thus hosting a harmless and ephemeral representation of these spiritual exercises.


In occasione delle celebrazioni per lo scrittore cretese Nikos Kazantzakis, il Teatro Nazionale della Grecia del Nord mette in scena il saggio Ascetica affidando la direzione di Salvatores dei a Andreas Koutsourelis. Tra campane tibetane, bastoni della pioggia e terriccio spiraleggiante, la complessa e abissale analisi poetico-esistenziale sulla condizione umana messa nero su bianco da Kazantzakis stinge e perde mordente in un’accozzaglia di codici che si vanno ad accavallare a quello linguistico, scadendo così in un prodotto più estetico che ascetico, meno autoriale che reverenziale.




Με την ευκαιρία των εορτασμών για τoν Κρητικό συγγραφέα Νίκο Καζαντζάκη, το Κρατικό Θέατρο Βορείου Ελλάδας ανεβάζει στην σκηνή το δοκίμιο Ασκητική, αναθέτοντας την σκηνοθεσία του ΑΣΚΗΤΙΚΗ – Salvatores Dei στον Ανδρέα Κουτσουρέλη. Μέσα απο θιβετιανές καμπάνες, ραβδιά της βροχής και ενως σπειροειδούς εδάφους, η πολύπλοκη και αβυσσαλέα ποιητικο-υπαρξιακή ανάλυση σχετικά με την ανθρώπινη φύση αφηγούμενη διεξοδικά απο τον Καζαντζάκη, ξεθωριάζει και σβήνει μέσα σε ένα συνονθύλευμα κωδικών που συμπίπτει με την γλωσσολογία, και έτσι ευτελίζεται σε ενα λιγότερο ασκητίκο και συγγραφικό μα περισσότερο αισθητικό και ευλαβικό αποτέλεσμα.



«We come from a dark abyss, we end in a dark abyss, and we call the luminous interval life». The biting, blunt forewords of Kazantzakis’s prologue are spelled slowly and monotonously as the six actors take their positions on the scene. They all wear the same attire, they all walk with the same gait and they all try to put the audience on the spot by looking everyone with fiery eyes. The stage is filled with soil (carefully arranged in a spiralling coil that climaxes into a branchless tree) and rocks, recalling a barren and desolate landscape before or after time, and the “odd” paraphernalia scattered here and there forebode a highly-coded play. Expectations are very high, then, both for the nature of the “script”, and the thoughtful words of advice («it’s a very special and unusual performance») given to us by the ushers as we ourselves enter the Foyer of the NTNG.

This being the setting, let us now focus on the object of all this ado. The Saviours of God, written by Cretan Nikos Kazantzakis between 1922 and 1923 and originally published in 1927, is a series of elaborated and learned considerations on the human lay of the land, here faced with an unprecedented quill and an outstanding presence of mind. The essay is divided into six parts (Prologue, The Preparation, The March, The Vision, The Action and The Silence) which, ideally, describe and prescribe the path to ascesis (hence, Ασκητική), that is, the journey to recognition and self-acquittal as gods among gods, victims and perpetrators at the same time. Salvatores dei is thus a theatrical play based on a classic of existentialist philosophy/poetry, and as such, it has to come to terms first and foremost with the sacredness bestowed upon the text at hand.

Dealing with a classic is, indeed, an arduous task, and stage instructor Andreas Koutsourelis (assisted by Stathis Voutos) seems to have chosen the easiest way out, avoiding any conflict with the original and dodging the potential literary-critics’ bullet before it was even fired. «Thus, […] through minimal theatrical form – minimal set, musical sounds produced by the actors on stage – we created a “ritual act”, prioritizing the text over the image», he claims. So, leaving behind any desire to meddle with the written word, the director opted for a rather academic “musical reading” of Kazantzakis reflections, adding only a smidgen of that interpretation that fed artistic creation and renewal throughout the centuries.

As the Italians saying goes, chi non fa non falla (he who does nothing, does not fail), but this time a little bit of action was probably needed. The six actors – which stand for the five senses plus a «Sixth Power, call it the heart» imprisoned in the holy enclosure of the human body as described by the Nobel-prize nominee – share the lines between them with bored arbitrariness, without typifying any of their “characters” and consequently invalidating the choice of having so many performers on the stage in the first place. As a matter of fact, given the lack of dynamism and actual clash between the forces at play, this multitude of indiscernible voices resembles a filler ruse rather than a critical choice. And the same goes for the music (and the scenography). In his quest for composed deference, Koutsourelis creates a whole world of codes and enigmas that require our attention, eventually distracting us from «Kazantzakis’ though-agony» he so much wishes to focus our attention on.

The quid, then, is to run into the mistake of addition for fear of omitting something, to be so absorbed by structures to be unable to see how tall and thick is the wall we’re raising around the opus we’re so desperately trying to liberate. The truth is, then, that he who does nothing, does not leave any trace of his passage, and every non-action disappears instantly, as if it were never even experienced. The solution, as actor Carmelo Bene would say, is both simple and frightful: «we have to ruin our ruins».


The show was played in
Foyer of the Theatre of the Society for Macedonian Studies (ΕΜΣ)
Ethnikis Amynis str. 2 – Thessaloniki
from 9 to 12 March 2017
Thursday, Friday and Saturday 21.00, Sunday 19.00

The National Theatre of Northern Greece (ΚΡΑΤΙΚΟ ΘΕΑΤΡΟ ΒΟΡΕΙΟΥ ΕΛΛΑΔΟΣ) presents
ΑΣΚΗΤΙΚΗ Salvatores dei
written by Nikos Kazantzakis
stage instructor Andreas Koutsourelis
assistant director Stathis Voutos
sets-costumes supervision Maria Mylona
production manager Natalia Lambropoulou
cast Stathis Voutos, Kostas Itsios, Andreas Koutsourelis, Christos Mastrogiannidis, Nikos Nikolaou, Dimitris Paleochoritis


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