Finding Modern Day Ithaca
Performer Luka Lesson was teaching a poetry workshop in a high school years ago in Brisbane. The school in Yeronga had a high population of refugees. “There was this one kid, from Africa, who did a poem about his life and how hard it was to come on this journey on a boat. And afterwards I asked him his name, and he said his parents had called him Odysseus, because he was one of the few who made it home.”
The parallel stuck with Lesson. Years later, he is on stage performing the pilot of his stage show at the Sydney Conservatorium about the great King, the great storyteller, and the great warrior, “Odysseus”, who he tells the audience, was also just a refugee trying to get back home.
“The refugees of today are faceless and nameless to us. But any one of them could be Odysseus. Each one of them would have a story that is just as epic. How incredible to survive this landscape, this internal journey of resilience, violence, hope, and love and come to find a place. I wanted to humanize Odysseus and bring to light their sameness.”
“Will it take 3, 000 years to see that history repeats, And it doesn’t matter if the Odyssey is Muslim or Greek.”
– Luka Lesson
The collaboration is the first between Luka Lesson, composer Dr James Humberstone and US music producer Jordan Mitchell, video artists Claudia Dalimore and 70 students from the Conservatorium. Luka met with Humberstone two years ago in a residency in Beijing, and after doing some poetry classes at the Conservatorium they decided to work on a residency. Throughout the process, Lesson says, Mitchell was sending in beats, while Humberstone was sending through the orchestrations and Lesson was walking around with these on his headphones, walking and writing.
Lesson was born in Brisbane and both his parents came from Greece. But he said he didn’t really come to the ancient Greek stories until more recently in life.
“ The first time I properly read Odysseus was earlier this year. When I was a kid it was more about hip-hop than poets and epics. What the teachers never told me was how 2Pac and Biggie were also lyricists.”
When he finished school he went on to rapping at university, busking, and had tracks played on Triple J. It was a hobby for Lesson at this stage, until he won the 2008 Poetry Slam. From there he went on to establish a slam night in Brisbane and later moved to Melbourne, his “artistic home.”
“Odysseus was important for me to do for a few reasons. Firstly it is the first oral story we have recorded as a performance before it was etched into stone. I’m in love with the oral traditions. This is the same job as I do. Someone in my lineage did that. And the other reason is it is the pinnacle of the long epics.”
“I wanted a Greek person on stage telling the story for once. Whitewashing may be a symptom of the mainstream. But I actually don’t think the Australian audiences want that any more. I think Australia is excited by a Greek person telling their story.”
Three quarters through the show, comes the poem, “Perfect Storm,” which tightly draws in the metaphor of refugees fleeing war from Troy and now modern day Turkey. It also holds the couplet that is the pinnacle line of the show for Lesson.
“ Will it take 3, 000 years to see that history repeats,
And it doesn’t matter if the Odyssey is Muslim or Greek.”
“We traced on a map the route Odysseus took, and whether Ithaca really existed is still disputed. But on the west coast of modern day Greece, near where it is thought to be, there are now refugees coming from North Africa heading to Crete. There are people coming down from coastline of Turkey where Troy was situated, and they are fleeing just like in the Trojan War. Even my dad’s island of Rhodes is facing the refugees.”
Lesson says he wants to take this show to the foothills of the Acropolis and perform at this sacred spot. But first he says, he is looking forward to going to Yeronga, Brisbane, and performing the show to the first muse for his modern day Odysseus.
“Maybe we don’t believe in the same Gods. But it is still Poseidon. It is the same struggles and still this same element that is taking peoples’ lives on the shores.”
Odysseus Live: re-imagining ‘The Odyssey’ was performed as a sold out pilot show at The Conservatorium of Music, Sydney, June 26th. It is currently in process of a crowd funding campaign to internationally tour the show.
Sydney Conservatorium stages a classic about the great King, the great storyteller, and the great warrior, “Odysseus”, who we are told, was also just a refugee trying to get back home.