Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sardinian Rituals - Arestes E S’Urtzu Pretistu - Review

Arestes E S’Urtzu Pretistu ‒ Ancient rite of the village of Sorgono – Sardinia ~ Life, death and rebirth

It is inevitable that not everything at a festival will be a hit. So far the 2017 Fes Festival of World Sacred Music has delivered some gems. Sadly, the Sardinian contribution was not one of them.

The Sidi Mohamed Ben Youssef Cultural Complex is a superb but under utilised venue. However, on a night like tonight, with a very small audience, it felt rather empty.

Elaborate costumes - many adorned with bones

The event got off to a very poor start with an unnamed man walking around in the gloom of the dimly lit courtyard, delivering an introduction that went on for just on half an hour. To make matters worse, the introduction was entirely in French with no translation. Given what followed, it would have been advisable to give a (short) English explanation. At one point a group of Americans leaned over and quietly asked if I knew what was going on. I was unable to enlighten them.

Then stage hands lit a small fire beneath the central fountain and a light came up on the ramparts. Wild, unintelligible cries rang out accompanied by the sound of a cow's horn being blown. From time to time a shadow of a horned beast was glimpsed. Then a beast, or at least a man dressed as a bull, stumbled around the courtyard, making wild grunting noises.

More creatures followed and it became clear that a sacrifice was being made.
According to the programme notes ... "By the light of the moon, a frightening procession of wild animals looms. These creatures are wearing the masks of our ancient beliefs … Incantations and masked dances from a village in Sardinia immediately take us back to the origins of our pastoral soul."

Unfortunately, the lack of lighting made it hard to journey back to the origins of our pastoral soul, or even discern the good beasts from the bad beasts. Poor stagecraft exacerbated this, as for a lot of the time the chaos that ensued was performed in the gloom with the performers backs to the audience.

There is no doubt that the survival of such ancient rites is a valuable cultural heritage, but to be appreciated they need to be presented in a manner that can be not only seen, but comprehended. And, no matter how it was dressed up, tonights offering fell a long way short of being "sacred music".

Review and photographs: Sandy McCutcheon


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