"Eclecticism, adventure, risk", are the keywords used by Giorgos Loukos the Chairman & Artistic Director of the annual Hellenic Festival.
And indeed it appears, that the Hellenic Festival that attracts thousands of visitors each summer is becoming bigger, brighter and more international year after year.
The attitude of renewal that the Hellenic Festival embarked upon last year, with new leadership under Giorgos Loukos, seems to be continuing this year with a very promising program of events. Loukos accomplished something decades called for: the revival, the rejuvenation of the major Greek festivals at Athens and Epidaurus.
This fact was confirmed both by audience attendance levels at events, which are not, let it be said, of a popular, lowbrow nature – venues were filled to 90% capacity, an impressive rise in numbers to an exceptionally high percentage – and by the piqued interest, the enthusiasm even, engendered by the majority of the events among both the general public and members of the Greek arts scene.
Loukos limited the duration of the Festival to two months, scattered its events across the whole of Athens, brought fresh faces to the proceedings, inaugurated collaborations with renowned international festivals, and opened the institution up to students and immigrants
Prominent personalities from the international art scene (Isabelle Huppert, the Lyon Opera Ballet, the China National Ballet, Peter Stein and Ariane Mnouchkine, among others) as well as numerous Greek artists from different fields will feature in a festival which appears even richer and more colourful this time, without exceeding the new two-month limit (June and July) initiated last summer.
Besides the Herod Atticus Theatre and Epidaurus, performances will be held at the Pireos 260 venue, the Faliron Olympic Complex, the Porta Theatre, the Irene Pappas School, the Benaki Museum and on Pireos as well as a new venue, which will be created in another building of the Tsaoussoglou complex at 260 Pireos.
Maria Callas, "a timeless symbol of Greek culture who belongs to the whole world," is honoured by 2007 being the Maria Callas Year.
The year started with a series of events honouring the singer including 70 recitals and concerts with 169 Greek and foreign artists that will be spread out among the Athens Concert Hall, the Athens Festival, the French Institute, the Goethe Institute, the Greek National Opera and the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, which will screen a documentary on her life and career.
To mark the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Maria Callas the Athens Festival is dedicating a series of events to her memory, each of which makes reference to milestones in her career. Greek singers will perform excerpts from operas sung by Callas between 1942 and 1945 at the Greek National Opera.
The tribute reaches its climax with the performance of the Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci in Luigi Cherubini's "Medea" at the Ancient Epidaurus Theatre, at the very venue where Callas enjoyed her final Greek triumph in the same role (1961) in an outstanding production (by Alexis Minotis and Yannis Tsarouchis) that was taken to La Scala the following year.
But this is only a tiny fragment of what this year's Greek Festival has to offer.
The Festival of Ancient Drama in Epidaurus hopes to achieve two separate goals this year: On the one hand, organizers want to continue the 50-year tradition, while on the other, they also wish to renew the festival through a combination of ancient drama and modern takes on it, as seen in works by Samuel Beckett.
This summer's event will open with a repetition of Lefteris Vogiatzis's take on Sophocles' "Antigone" on June 29 and 30, which also marked the successful ending of last year's festival.
On July 20 and 21, the Greek National Theatre will stage Racine's "Andromache," directed by Dimitris Mavrikios and starring Lydia Fotopoulou in the title role, Nikos Karathanos as Pyrrus, Maria Kechagioglou as Hermione and Christos Loulis as Orestes. On July 27-28, the National Theatre of Northern Greece will present Aristophanes' comedy "Lysistrata," starring Renia Louizidou, and on August 3 and 4 the Cyprus Theatre Organization will stage Euripides' "Iphigenia in Taurus."
A week later, another National Theatre production will hit the stage, namely Sophocles' "Electra," directed by Peter Stein. The main roles will be played by Stefania Goulioti (Electra), Kora Karvouni (Chrysothemis), Apostolis Totsikas (Orestes), Karyofyllia Karabeti (Clytemnestra), Yiannis Fertis (Paedagogus), Lazaros Georgakopoulos (Aegisthus) and Miltos Sotiriadis (Pylades).
One of the many highlights of this summer is without any doubts "Les Éphémères" by Ariane Mnouchkine's Théâtre du Soleil.
The theatre company of Ariane Mnouchkine, which revived the concept of political theatre, alongside explorations of popular, celebratory, commedia dell' arte and Eastern theatrical models, here seeks out the thread of history in our little stories, in the hidden facets "of our lives, in the lives of our mothers, fathers and grandparents, in their absence, in the moments they did us good, and the moments they did us harm. In the moments that we, too, did them some harm…". Naturalistic and dream-like miniature worlds set on moving platforms form a web of loves, friendships, quarrels and farewells. Large numbers of actors switch in and out of roles, which emerged, from improvisations based on their own memories; they magically transform flashbacks of their personal lives into scenes of universality. It is an elegy to the ephemeral nature of human existence, and stands as another landmark in the forty-year-long history of the Théâtre du Soleil
Two major foreign productions are set to follow: On August 17-18, the Frankfurt Schauspiel Theatre Organization will stage Aeschylus' trilogy "The Oresteia," directed by Karin Neuhauser. Neuhauser's approach to the Oresteia combines aspects of modern day life with reminiscences of Germany's recent history.
With her small cast - each actor is playing various roles - she illustrates the transition of a world of revenge and vigilante justice to the establishment of a system of law and democracy. The production was enthusiastically received by German audience with standing ovations for crew and cast on the first night. Press reviews praised the very special lucidity and profoundness of a „tremendous" Clytemnestra played by Friederike Kammer and the exceptional skills of the actors in their different roles. The chorus of Agamemnon – three coephori and 20 children - and the imaginative and spectacular set were also mentioned as outstanding. One of Europe's oldest Theatre organizations, the Schauspiel first opened in 1782 as Frankfurt's National Theater. Today it is well known for its modern interpretations of classical works as well as the promotion of young playwrights.
This summer, the ancient theatre designed by Polykleitos the Younger will welcome one of the most eminent of European directors, Peter Stein, who is undertaking his first work with a Greek theatre company. Sophocles' " Electra", a co-production of the Greek National Theatre and the Hellenic Festival is the first in a series of collaborations between the Epidaurus Festival and international artists, who will join creative forces with Greek artists to approach ancient drama afresh.
Finally, on August 24-25, theatre lovers will be able to see Samuel Beckett's "Happy Days" by the British National Theatre, directed by Deborah Warner and starring Fiona Shaw as Winnie. The production has received an enthusiastic response from British critics, both regarding Warner's direction (considered one of Europe's top directors) and Shaw's interpretation.