We all know that Anthony Hopkins wearing a silly leather facemask was not the original Hannibal. The genuine article was a maniacal general who marched his armies (20,000 soldiers, 6,000 knights, 37 elephants) from the ancient city of Carthage to kick some Roman tail back in 218 b.c. What we didn’t know, however, was that the Carthaginians were devoted skiers—at least, if you believe the Austrian performance-art version of the story.
Held in spring, Hannibal: Journey across the Alps, is a post-modern (OK, weird) combination of extreme sports and theatre, played out on the Rettenbach glacier above the Austrian resort of Sölden. In the show, Hannibal’s armies consist of a troupe of 500 paragliders, BASE jumpers, motorcyclists, dancers, iceboat sailors, and skiers. His elephants are a fleet of snow sculptures and snowcats. Carthage is a giant ice palace. And the gods—gotta have awesome gods—are helicopters. The performance is broadcast live on a giant screen to a thumping techno soundtrack.
According to director Hubert Lupka, the show is meant to provoke a deep meditation on the way famous events determine the course of history. “Hannibal came from across the Alps, laid siege to Italy, but at the crucial moment did not take Rome itself, he says. “If that had been different, none of us would be here now.
For another take, we went to John Prevas, author of Hannibal Crosses the Alps, who sees the show as a “bizarre fiasco. Not only does the performance replace gods with noisy petrol-guzzlers, he says, but Hannibal’s journey “happened in fall, not spring. And they’ve got the wrong Alps! Hannibal crossed the French Alps on his way up from Africa—he didn’t go anywhere near Austria.
Details, details. Eh, who cares? Just as long as Hannibal and his army were out there making some turns.