Antigone in the Amazon

Video installation and theater performance


“Monstrous, a lot. But nothing more monstrous than man.”


The images of the burning Amazon from last summer caused quite a stir throughout the world. The attack by the Brazilian agribusiness on the world’s largest contiguous jungle, which was strongly supported by President Bolsonaro, not only threatens the planet’s “green lung”, but also puts the peoples living there and their traditions dating back thousands of years at risk. After the productions “Orestes in Mosul” in the former capital of the Islamic State and the Jesus film “The New Gospel” in the southern Italian refugee camps, Milo Rau and his team travel to the Amazon Basin in Brazil to conclude their “Trilogy of Ancient Myths”. In a new project which will take place on an occupied piece of land in cooperation with indigenous people, activists and actors from Europe and Brazil, the tragedy of “Antigone” will be retold: as a bloody encounter between traditional wisdom and global turbo-capitalism, as an epos of the struggle of mankind against its self-inflicted decline into greed, delusion and hubris.


It is probably due to the archetypal simplicity of the plot that no other classic tragedy has experienced as many adaptations as Sophocles’ “Antigone”, written in 472 B.C.: Antigone buries her brother Polynices even though King Creon has forbidden the burial as Polynices is considered an enemy of the state. According to the philosopher Hegel, the conflict between Antigone and Creon can be read as a dispute between the traditional, divine law and the rational, modern state. To the philosopher Judith Butler, however, Antigone’s destabilisation of the existing symbolic order is much more radical: she undermines it from its utopian exterior, from a fundamentally different concept of human coexistence, of the living and the dead, of man and nature.


After having realized his political and trial-based projects (“The Congo Tribunal”, “General Assembly”) and narrative and representative pieces (“The Europe Trilogy”, “Compassion”, “The Repetition”), Milo Rau has been focusing on the founding myths of modern society for some time now. In Mosul, which was the capital of the Islamic State until two years ago, last April, Rau and his team created “Orestes in Mosul” (2019) in collaboration with Iraqi and European actors based on the “The Oresteia” by Aeschylus. In the middle of the war zone, the ensemble posed the possibly most important question of all civilizations: how to end tragedy, how to forgive and bring about a new beginning. In the “The New Gospel” (2019/20), in which Rau worked in and around the European Capital of Culture Matera with refugees, non-professional and professional actors from the Jesus films by Pasolini and Mel Gibson, he recreated a social-revolutionary message for the 21st century – and at the same time documented the struggle for the rights of migrants who are working on tomato plantations and being exploited by the Mafia.


The project “Antigone in the Amazon” concludes his work on the great myths and issues of humanity, and just like in the previous projects, the central question is: which actors, what kind of political constellation allows this text to speak to us about the conflict between  traditional and modern societies in a new way? That is why, for the production of “Antigone”, the director and his team travel to the Brazilian state of Pará – which is as big as Germany, Spain and Italy combined – where the soy monocultures expand out into the burning forests of the Amazon and capitalism virtually devours nature. In collaboration with MST – Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra, the world’s largest landless workers’ movement – they are creating an allegorical play about the violent devastations and displacements caused by the modern state, which places private property – and accordingly, worldwide trade and speculation – above the traditional right to land.


The battle of words between Antigone and Creon, but also the choral passages, which have been reinterpreted for 2500 years, acquire a new meaning: the liberal world order comes into contact with the holistic cosmology of the indigenous peoples of Brazil, who cultivate a progressive approach to nature in the age of an impending climate collapse. “Monstrous, a lot. But nothing more monstrous than man”: Sophocles’ critique of human hubris, of the ideology of exploitation and feasibility, the question of the justification of state violence and civil resistance are also reflected in the cast itself, in the personal stories of the actors cast in the play and in the debates that develop amongst them. As in “Orestes in Mosul” or “The New Gospel”, “Antigone in the Amazon” also brings European and local as well as non-professional and professional actors together.


The role of Antigone will be played by the indigenous actress Kay Sara, who grew up in a Tukano village in the Amazon. Her sister Ismene and the choir will be made up of local activists from the the landless movement, who defend their right to land use against the big landowners and speculators in the Amazon. In a parallel to the prehistory of “Antigone”, Polyneike’s revolt against the state, the massacre of El Dorado do Carajas, in which 19 landless people were shot by police on a street in 1996, will be at the beginning of the story. The death of Polynices stands for a murdered activist, the production itself takes place on an occupied plantation where bloody conflicts have been fought out between the expanding Brazilian state and the indigenous cultures for many generations. Haimon, the son of Creon and Antigone’s fiancé, is played by the Belgian actor Arne De Tremerie, who – as the director’s alter ego – plays the role of the European – prisoner of his privileges – alongside the doomed Antigone. Finally, the blind seer Teiresias, who predicts Creon’s self-destruction, will be played by a living legend of Latin American theatre: 82-year-old Zé Celso, the inventor of Brazilian theatre based on indigenous traditions.


“Antigone in the Amazon” will be premiered and documented in April 2020 in the Brazilian state of Pará. The production culminates in a re-enactment of the massacre of El Dorado do Carajas on April 17, the anniversary, during which the events at the scene of the crime are reconstructed and re-enacted together with the survivors. In January 2021 the resulting video installation will be shown for the first time in the context of the exhibition “School of Resistance” at the Academy of Arts in Berlin. The theatre performance “Antigone in the Amazon” will have its premiere at NTGent in April 2021, will then go on tour and also return to Brazil.


“Antigone in the Amazon” (video installation and theater performance) is a production of NTGent & International Institute of Political Murder (IIPM) in collaboration with the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (MST), supported by “COINCIDENCIA – Kulturaustausch Schweiz – Südamerika” by Pro Helvetia, Kulturstiftung des Bundes & Goethe Institut São Paulo.



TEXT Milo Rau & Ensemble

WITH Kay Sara, Zé Celso, Maria das Graças Silva Zonta, Arne De Tremerie & many others


COLLABORATION DRAMATURGY Carmen Hornbostel, Martha Kiss Perrone & Douglas Estevam

STAGE DESIGN & COSTUMES Anton Lukas & Ottavia Castellotti

VIDEO Moritz von Dungern & Fernando Nogari

FOTO Armin Smailovic


PRODUCTION MANAGEMENT Mascha Euchner-Martinez & Gabriela Gonçalves

PROJECT COORDINATION MST Maria Raimunda César & Secretaria MST Pará COLLABORATION PRODUCTION Elisa Calosi & Eva-Karen Tittmann