project image
Robbie Sweeny

first performed on October 4, 2018
ODC Theater, San Francisco, CA
performed five times in 2018


Tara McArthur, Suzette Sagisi, Jane Selna, Karla Quintero

San Francisco, CA


“Extreme Lyric I” was inspired by and featured Anne Carson’s translations of the ancient Greek poet Sappho. Most of Sappho’s work has been destroyed or lost. What is left exists only in fragments. In 2002, Carson published a celebrated translation of these fragments which, unlike previous attempts, do not attempt to fill in the blanks where the papyrus has crumbled. Instead, they let Sappho’s fragments, raw and partial, remain unresolved and wild.

The work was performed for small audiences in the round. A four-sided projection “room” was the translucent set onto which Sappho’s fragments, in both English and Greek, were projected.

We wanted to create a language-based physical performance that evoked the raw and partial nature of Sappho’s fragments, as well as Carson’s rigorously distilled and formal translations. Our process was rooted in co-writing an original performance text. Our text interspersed Sapphic fragments with contemporary, casual speech to ask questions while swinging between ancient and modern modes. We decided that rather than try to weave the performance text and the dancing, as so often happens in dance theater, that we would keep the two elements separate. Thus we performed our text as an embedded micro-play at the start of the performance. After the opening micro-play, the set dropped to the ground, opening up the space for the dancing.

The dancers, an ensemble of four women, began the work as ghosts covered in long veils of thin plastic. The dancers then moved around and through Sappho’s feminist and queer forms of erotic independence and radical embodiment: conjuring rhythmic rituals, eating flowers, and using movement to reach ecstatic states and lose the self.

Excerpt from micro-play:

HOPE and MAXE (orgasmic, gestural, trading lines):

Throw me into the sun. Take my hands off the wheel. Push me into the tunnel. Empty me out through my stomach. Lie to me for power. Love me for my politics. I don’t know what to do—two states of mind in me. Shake my mind like a mountain. Cross over. Change shape. Break my tongue. Send the girls away. With our tongues, bring them back. Live the opposite daring. Swallow the wrong lyric. Make the radical confession. Open up my electrical circuits. Don’t be boring. Drop an oak tree on me. Bite for blood. Remember to shake.