“Synetic Theatre takes us all to hell”

“Pushing a performer’s body to its limits has always been a Synetic hallmark, along with an eagerness to incorporate elements of whatever other art forms can help to embroider an evening’s subject. Classic mime, movie horror, military formation all come into play in Synetic’s interpretation of the “Inferno” portion of Dante Alighieri’s allegorical epic poem the Divine Comedy. (The production’s title has been changed from the original ‘Dante’ and then later, ‘Dante’s Divine Comedy.’)

“What remains is a narrative that skims the surface of the poem, as Dante himself, in the guise of the Tsikurishvilis’ red-cloaked gymnast son, Vato, ventures through the circles of hell with Virgil (Alex Mills). In Synetic’s version, Dante, suffering from writer’s block, is in pursuit of an afterlife reunion with his love and muse, Beatrice (an angelic Tori Bertocci).

“The story provides the Tsikurishvilis and their longtime collaborators, set and costume designer Anastasia Simes and soundscape composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze, with a canvas for some ghoulishly sinister stuff — another popular Synetic motif. Simes’s hell is decked out like some really durable parlor of sadomasochism, with demons in studs and leather and Lucifer (Philip Fletcher) looking like a sexy roadie for Marilyn Manson.” [. . .]    –Peter Marks, The Washington Post, October 5, 2016.

You can read more about Synetic Theatre and get tickets for their current season here.

Dante’s Divine Comedy: A journey without end, by Ian Thomson

“IAN THOMSON is a travel writer, and here he attempts the most ambitious journey of all in the company of Dante — ‘to hell and back’, as he puts it in his heading to the introduction. He is well aware that the Divine Comedy was written a long time ago, in medieval Italian, and in a world remote in many of its assumptions from those that he expects his readers to share; so he sets about providing a bridge to take them there.

“His second chapter is a biography of Dante, set in the context of the warfare of Guelfs and Ghibellines in Dante’s Florence, which he sketches with a knowledgeable eye on modern Italian politics. There follows an exploration of the Beatrice story and the place that she — or the idea of her — played in Dante’s emotional and intellectual development as he grew up, and became a poet. Then come chapters on the explosive Florentine political scene where the young Dante was worsted, and from which he went into exile.” […]    –G.R. Evans, Church Times, November 30, 2018

Reviewed: Dante’s Divine Comedy by Ian Thomson

“Ian Thomson’s eclectic and erudite romp through the work of Dante Alighieri – born in Florence in 1265, died in Ravenna in 1321 – features sharp observations and piquant elucidations concerning Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy) and its author.

“Thomson sets the tone from the off, beginning with an amusing epigraph which ran in Private Eye in December 2017, a `Very Late News’ about how the 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri and how he would be glad to see the back of that year, saying  ‘Phew, I’ve been trapped in this circle of hell for so long, I can’t wait to get out of it.’

“As for the matter in hand, this welcome book – whose subtitle is A Journey Without End  – is no skit, despite the Private Eye reference. Dorothy L Sayers offers a more relevant reflection on the work of the great Florentine in another epigraph to the work. ‘To understand Dante is not, of course, necessary to believe what he believed, but it is, I think, necessary to understand what he believed.’

“There have been myriad translations in English of Divina Commedia including a recent offering from Clive James, which appears to have won some and lost some fans – a quote from Ciaran Carson’s version is favoured instead for the back cover.” […]    –Paddy Kehoe, RTE, January 14, 2019

A Profound Meditation on Hell

When I had journeyed half of our life’s way, I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray …’

“So opens the 14th-century poem Divina Comedia (The Divine Comedy) by Dante Alighieri.

“The blurb on the back cover of a new book, Spiritual Direction From Dante: Avoiding the Infernoby Oratorian Father Paul Pearson, tells its readers that no prior knowledge of the celebrated text is necessary to appreciate or enjoy its riches: “Reading Dante not required!” That is because Father Pearson gives an excellent explanation of the poem, and both its cultural and spiritual significance, in just over 300 pages.

“Fusing practical advice about how to live one’s Christian vocation with a piece of high art from the Middle Ages is not an easy thing to do. Father Pearson carries it off superbly, and while doing so, he gives the reader a fresh appreciation of Divina Comedia.

“The structure of the book is a straightforward journey through the 34 cantos that make up the first part of the poem, namely, Inferno (hell). For anyone unfamiliar with Divina Comedia, this epic poem recounts how Dante, accompanied by the pagan poet Virgil, journeys through the many circles of hell, purgatory and then heaven.” […]    –K.V. Turley, National Catholic Register, June 8, 2019

“Michael Wolff’s trip inside Trumpworld, and inside the president’s head, with Steve Bannon as guide”

“So the new Wolff book is much like the last one: a sail through the Trump diaspora and inside the president’s head with Bannon as the cruise director. [. . .]

“In the acknowledgments, Bannon is the only named source whom Wolff thanks, praising him effusively and, in an allusion to Dante’s Divine Comedy, calling him ‘the Virgil anyone might be lucky enough to have as a guide for a descent into Trumpworld.’ In reality Bannon is more like Wolff’s Farinata, the former Florentine political leader whom Dante portrays as banished to the circle of hell for heretics, where, alone in his tomb, he still obsesses about his own era in politics but has no access to current events unless one of the dead brings him a snippet of news from the center of power.” [. . .]    –Ryan Lizza, The Washington Post, May 29, 2019.

Contributor Michael VanValkenburgh offers a correction to Lizza’s Farinata comparison, commenting “He is wrong to say Farinata is ‘alone in his tomb.'”

‘The Bright River’: A Hip Hop Version of Dante’s Inferno

“Quick lives in the City of the Dead, and pays his rent by finding souls lost in purgatory. Scouring the water-bound city for a red-headed girl named Calliope, Quick finds the soldier who loved her, a pager-carrying bouncer named King of the Birds, and a demon who claims to be toiling for the good of the world. With a live soundtrack of cello, flute, drums, and vocal calisthenics, The Bright River follows Quick’s journey through the dingy underworld – from the bus station of purgatory to the rooftop of creation.

“Deep and dark as the River Styx, this neo-gothic tale of love was first performed by energetic bard Tim Barsky to sold-out Berkeley crowds in 2005. Resurrected from the theatrical graveyard, this musical reinvention of Dante’s Inferno is set for a three month run. With music that thrums through your bones and a story that yanks your still-beating heart straight out of your ribcage, The Bright River is proof that hope comes at man’s darkest hour.” [. . .]    –7×7 Editors, 7×7, December 11, 2009.

Amanda Craig, In a Dark Wood (2000)

“The dark wood in the title of British writer Amanda Craig’s third novel (her first to be published in the U.S.) is the same one a certain Florentine poet got lost in 700 years ago. Benedick Hunter is halfway through the journey of our life and, like Dante, discovers that he’s wandered into a murky and threatening place, metaphorically speaking.

“A London actor whose career is idling and whose novelist wife, with her ‘air of terrifying competence,’ has left him for her prosperous publisher, Benedick slinks off to bunk in the attic of a family friend’s house, where he can hide from his overbearing father. (‘He is a columnist, so judging others comes naturally to him,’ explains Benedick with false nonchalance.) […]” —Laura Miller, Review of In a Dark Wood by Amanda Craig, Salon.com, Feb. 21, 2002

See the author’s page here.

Michiko Kakutani Review: Books on Donald Trump

Donald-Trump-Books-Michiko-Kakutani-Dante-Hell

“To read a stack of new and reissued books about Mr. Trump, as well as a bunch of his own works, is to be plunged into a kind of Bizarro World version of Dante’s Inferno, where arrogance, acquisitiveness and the sowing of discord are not sins, but attributes of leadership; a place where lies, contradictions and outrageous remarks spring up in such thickets that the sort of moral exhaustion associated with bad soap operas quickly threatens to ensue.” — Michiko Kakutani, “In Books on Donald Trump, Consistent Portraits of a High-Decibel Narcissist,” The New York Times (August 25, 2016)

Yahoo! Movies: “Did Inferno Get Dante Right? We Asked an Expert”

inferno-dante-tom-hanks-deborah-parker“In Inferno, based on the Dan Brown novel, the only thing that stands between humanity and a devastating plague is Robert Langdon’s knowledge of Dante’s Inferno. In reality, if you were trying to outsmart a Dante-obsessed bioterrorist, you’d probably want to ring up Deborah Parker before you called in Tom Hanks. A professor of Italian literature and art at the University of Virginia, Parker is the general editor of the website The World of Dante, a multimedia resource for studying Dante’s 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy (of which Inferno, the author’s imagined journey through the nine levels of Hell, is the first part). She’s also the co-author of Inferno Revealed: From Dante to Dan Brown, which takes a deep dive into the Dante references in Brown’s novel. On the heels of Inferno’s lackluster opening weekend at the box office, Yahoo Movies spoke with Parker about what the film gets right, what it gets very wrong, and why the Map of Hell on Parker’s website is more authentic than the one in the film.” —Yahoo! Movies, “Did Inferno Get Dante Right? We Asked an Expert” (Oct. 31, 2016)

Marco Santagata, Dante: The Story of His Life (2016)

“Unlike Shakespeare, whose corpus one searches in vain for insight into the author’s selfhood, we have abundant access to Dante’s psyche, thanks to the self-editorializing drive in all his major works, from the Vita Nuova to the Convivio to The Divine Comedy. Dante funneled everything—history, truth, cosmos, salvation—through his first-person singular, the famous “I” who finds himself “in the middle of our life’s way” as the poem opens. Yet despite his bold self-exposure, the writing of the Comedy remains a mystery. How did the vision come to him, and how much of it did he have inside his mind when he began writing?

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“Marco Santagata, a professor of Italian literature at the University of Pisa, has written an impressive new biography that takes into consideration every bit of reliable and semireliable information available to us about Dante’s life, from his birth in Florence in 1265 to his death in Ravenna in 1321, yet you reach the end of its 485 pages without getting one step closer to understanding how an electrician joined the ranks of Einstein and Fermi. That is because little in Dante’s life story helps us understand how he conceived, composed, and completed the Comedy, this despite the fact that much of what was going on around him at the time found its way into his poem.” — Robert Pogue Harrison, “Dante: He Went Mad in His Hell. Review of Marco Santagata, Dante: The Story of His Life,” New York Review of Books, Oct. 27, 2016

Contributed by Pamela Montanaro