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may 2008

Scene4 Magazine: Athens and Beijing - the 2008 Cultual Olympics by Andrea Kapsaski

by Andrea Kapsaski

This summer the Athens Festival in Greece once again opens its doors to welcome visitors from all over the world to see and hear the finest the International Theatre and Music world has to offer.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the heart and emblem of the Festival for more than half a century, is no longer its only venue. There is now Peiraios 260 which, with its two stages and its atrium, was recently dubbed "the new star of the summer", and Scholeion which - generously made available by Irene Pappas, who wanted to do what she could to help breathe new life into the Festival - has already become a by-word for its alternative events and workshops. Since 2007, "the Festival is travelling" with the mobile "Caravan Theatre" which takes to the streets in search of all those who cannot - or cannot make the decision to - attend one of the Festival's 'permanent' theatres. Events are also staged at Megaron, the Athens Concert Hall, the Benaki Museum and a number of theatres around the city. Coupled with these multiple venues, the decision to restrict the Festival to two months has led to a new pluralism and energized audiences ready and willing to travel around the city to attend events.

But the journey does not end at the frontiers of Greece.

After Athens in 2004, it is Beijing who not only hosts the Olympic Games but also the Cultural Olympics this year.


The Cultural Year of Greece in China, which officially began on October 17, 2007, in Beijing, offers not only to the Chinese people an unparalleled chance to become acquainted with the customs, traditions, art and architecture of the Greek culture and civilization, but also Greece's sense of contemporary style, and what began informally in September with a concert dedicated to Maria Callas at the Poly Theatre and the “Alexandros: Paths You Never Walked” concert, conducted by Stamatis Spanoudakis, will continue through 2008.

The planned program features archaeological and modern art exhibitions, cinema tributes, concerts of traditional, modern and folk music, drama and dance performances as well as academic conferences and workshops.

Both Greece and China are heirs to an immense legacy, which rests on the ideals and achievements of two major civilizations with universal ecumenical importance. And, according to a greeting statement from Sun Jiazheng, China's minister of culture, "China and Greece have long-standing histories and brilliant civilizations. The Chinese and the Greek people share traditions of prolonged friendship. I believe that The Cultural Year of Greece will provide another valuable opportunity for the Chinese people to get in touch with and appreciate the classic as well as the contemporary arts from Greece and its artists. The Cultural Year of Greece is a bridge for understanding and friendship that will enhance the relations between our two peoples."

The theatrical events of the Cultural Year of Greece in China began with the most avant-garde production of an ancient Greek drama. This refers to the revival of the legendary production of Aristophanes’ “The Birds”, as staged by the Greek Art Theatre, Theatro Technis, under the historic direction of the most significant Greek director, Karolos Koun.

Aristophanes’ most popular comedy wasKOYN-cr first presented by the Greek Art Theatre and Karolos Koun in 1959 at the Herod Atticus Odeon. The participation of leading Greek artists contributed to the artistic triumph: eminent writer Vasilis Rotas, responsible for the adaptation and translation; Yannis Tsarouchis—one of the most important Greek painters and set designers—who was responsible for sets and costumes; charismatic composer Manos Hatzidakis, responsible for the music; choreographer Zouzou Nikoloudi, responsible for the choreography.

A multitude of talented Greek Art Theatre actors created a production, which today, 47 years after its first staging, remains unsurpassed; it is still considered the most successful post-war Greek dramatic production to tour worldwide. birds-cr

The third revival of this production was presented to a Chinese audience at the spectacular new National Grand Theatre in China’s capital. Thus, the most modern theatre in the world hosted this gem of world drama, in a historic production, a digest of modern Greek culture and a benchmark in modern Greek cultural history. 2008 is the 100th year of birth of Karolos Koun. Surely the most appropriate memorial that Koun's disciples could offer him is this revival of The Birds.

Another highlight will be Sophocles'  “Ajax“ by the  Attis Theatre under the direction Thodoros Terzopoulos.

These performances also provide insight into the evolution of drama as an expressive art and, as presented by some of Greece's most outstanding contemporary dramatists and actors. A workshop will also be held for students and professionals allowing them to study techniques and themes of Ancient Drama.

For those who can’t make it to the Athens Festival this year because they already booked their ticket to China, there is still the chance to get a taste of Greek culture.

The Birds is certainly Aristophanes most ornate, spectacular play: a work of inspiration, forged with care and facility, which the dramatist loved and on whose ornamentation he spent the colours of his palette with generosity.

The Birds was first produced in 414 BC, while the (disastrous) Athenian campaign in Sicily was still under way. One could question any direct connection between this campaign and the opportunistic journey of Peisthetairos and Euelpides, but not the internal link between their “escape” and the gloomy atmosphere which had arisen during a long and not always victorious war. It was certainly no coincidence that at such a difficult time Aristophanes chose to tell a tale in which the political essence is dressed in the lively colours of fantasy and in which conflicts of all kinds are given a brighter aspect and relieved in the optimistic world of the dream. Aristophanes is simultaneously didactic and entertaining: the duty of the comedy writer.

The performance that the Chinese audience enjoyed is the third revival of the original performance. Disciples of Karolos Koun, Yiannis Tsarouchis, Manos Hadjidakis and Zouzou Nikoloudi have worked with great respect and love on this revival.  

The program in Beijing involves: 
Sophocles'  “Ajax“: Attis Theatre
Directed by: Thodoros Terzopoulos
Beijing, Beijing Central Academy of Drama, May 30, 2008
Racine’s “Andromaque“: National Theatre
Directed by: Dimitris Mavrikios
Beijing, Meet in Beijing (festival), May—June 2008
Moussais, “An Aristophanes Spectacle“, Hellenic Festival
Directed by: Vassilis Papavassiliou
Beijing, National Grande Theatre, September 11, 2008
Manolis Kalomoiris, “The Master Builder“, Greek National Opera
Directed by: Thomas Moschopoulos    
Beijing, Meet in Beijing (festival), May—June 2008
Lykeion Ellinidon Dance Theatre
Shanghai International Festival, October 25—29, 2007

Dora Stratou Greek Dances Theatre
Shanghai International Festival, November 14—18, 2007
Sine Qua Non, Secret Supper,
Co-directed by: Sine Qua Non
Beijing, Beijing Central Academy of Drama, January 18, 2008
Shanghai, Shanghai Concert Hall, January 21, 2008
Directed by: Dimitris Papaioannou
Beijing, Meet in Beijing (festival), May—June 2008
Concert by the Beijing Symphony Orchestra: Works by Christou, Xenakis, Skalkotas, Koumentakis and Rachmaninoff 
Soloist: Dimitris Sgouros
Orchestra Directed by Tan Lihua
Beijing, Beijing Conservatory of Music, November 16 2007
Orchestra of the Friends of Music Plays Works by Apergis, Tsontakis, Kouroupos and Hatzis, Kamerata
Orchestra Directed by Nikos Tsouchlos 
Beijing, Beijing Conservatory of Music, November 17, 2007 
Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra, Concert “Dedicated to Nikos Kazantzakis“
Orchestra Directed by Miron Michailidis
Beijing, Forbidden City Concert Hall, December 14, 2007
Athens State Orchestra's China Tour
Orchestra Directed by Viron Fidetzis
Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Tianjin, 
December 27, 2007—January 7, 2008 
Concert to Celebrate 2,500 Years of Greek Music
Direction: Lambros Liavas, Foivos Anogeianakis Museum of Greek Folk Instruments
Beijing, Meet in Beijing (festival),
May—June 2008
Shanghai, Shanghai Concert Hall,
May—June 2008
Concert of Greek Music by the State Orchestra—Official Closing of the Year
Orchestra Directed by Stavros Xarhakos
Soloists: Maria Farantouri, Dimitra Galani, Manolis Mitsias
Beijing, Open Area of the Millenium Museum, September 19, 2008
Classical Memories in Modern Greek Art
Beijing, Capital Museum, October 18—November 16, 2007
Babel Comics Exhibition, Labyrinths
Beijing, 798 Art Space, January 12—February 15, 2008
Exhibition of Works by Sophia Vari
Beijing, Confucius Temple, March 14—April 20, 2008
Exhibition of Objects and Costumes from the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games
Artistic Direction: Creative Team for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2004 Olympic Games
Beijing, Capital Museum, March 25—June 25, 2008
Exhibition of Works by Yannis Kounellis 
Beijing, 798 Art Space, May 31—June 30, 2008
National Archaeological Museum, Agon
Beijing, Capital Museum, July 22—October 22, 2008
The Influence of Ancient Drama in Opera and the Beijing Opera
Theatrical Costumes Exhibition, Melina Merkouri Foundation
Beijing, National Grande Theatre, September 2008
Thessaloniki International Film Festival, A Tribute to Modern Greek Cinema
Beijing Film Academy, February 2008
Shanghai, February 2008
"The Making Of" Documentary About the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games   
Beijing, July 2008
Greece: Country of Honour at 2008 the Beijing Book Fair
Beijing, September 2008
Beijing Forum 2007, in Collaboration with Beijing University
"Philosophical Thought from Ancient Greece to the Beijing Olympics"
Beijing University, November 2—4, 2008
Conference on the Restoration of the Acropolis and the Great Wall of China
Beijing, April 2008
In Collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Spring 2008
Theatre Workshop at the Beijing Central Academy of Drama
Photographic Exhibition from Ancient Drama Performances
Conference on Ancient Drama 
Directed by: Thodoros Terzopoulos
Beijing, Central Academy of Drama, April and May 2008 



©2008 Andrea Kapsaski
©2008 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Andrea Kapsaski is a writer and producer
and a Senior Writer for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives


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