Olga Taxidou is Professor of Drama and Performance Studies at the University of Edinburgh, and has been Visiting Professor with New York University for the last couple of years. She has published extensively on modernism and performance, and also works on adaptations of Greek tragedy. She is completing a book on Greek Tragedy and Modernist Performance, and her most recent adaptation of Medea (2018) was directed by Lee Breuer for Mabou Mines in New York City.
For years I have been staring at Edward Gordon Craig’s designs for the famous (or infamous) Craig/Stanislavski Moscow Hamlet (1909–11) alongside Edmund Dulac’s designs for W. B. Yeats’s equally celebrated production of At the Hawk’s Well (1916), trying to find some connection between them. Which came first? What acted as inspiration for both designers, and were they aware of each other’s work? What is the constitutive role of Noh, and the specific contribution of the dancer Itō Michio, in the development of the aesthetic of these theatre makers? Of course, there are answers to some of these questions. Craig’s models of the Moscow Hamlet were exhibited in London’s Leicester Galleries in September 1912, probably bearing little resemblance to the actual production. These hawk-like cut-outs for the actors appeared in print later in the 1930s in the equally celebrated “book-beautiful,” funded by the notorious “red” Count Harry Kessler, The Cranach Hamlet. It is fascinating the way these designs mirror each other, and equally fascinating that Craig chose the bird-like figures for the meta-theatrical aspects of Hamlet, most vividly portrayed in the two-tone pages of the Cranach Hamlet. And this theatricality of the stage (and page) clearly has a Noh inflection. Beyond the obvious questions of influence and/or appropriation, perhaps these encounters/events between modernist theatre makers, almost always manifested or conceptualized through the performing body, could be read as a constellation of concepts and practices extending beyond the received binaries of understanding modernism (source/influence, authenticity/appropriation, understanding/mis-understanding, tradition/innovation, radical/reactionary, center/periphery—to name a few) to pose a more “eventful” but unfinished and ephemeral perspective/lens that may be less clearly defined but possibly more dynamic and speculative.