Read the artistic director’s review of Athens Festival 2018

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Read the artistic director’s review of Athens Festival 2018

Dear friends,

We have invited you here, on the one hand to share with you our thoughts on the 2018 programme, and on the other hand to announce the 2019 Epidaurus programme.

In the last couple of years, the Festival’s artistic programme gradually came into its own and embraced its distinctive identity. Accordingly, the Festival expanded its audience, winning over spectators and critics alike. Looking back at the 2018 festival, we can see this vote of confidence clearly reflected in our box office receipts, registering a rise in audience numbers, with several performances playing to a full house.

The 2018 Athens & Epidaurus Festival proved to be a rich year with outstanding moments, both at the Epidaurus theatres, welcoming a total of 93,409 theatre-goers across eight weekends (Friday to Saturday), and at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, drawing a total of 102,560 spectators. Meanwhile, the performances at Peiraios 260 drew a total of 24,953 spectators. Other venues (with admission fees) attracted a total of 4,527 and venues with free admission drew a total of 5,800. Attendance in terms of capacity reached 68% in 2018 as opposed to 58% in 2017. With regard to the Opening to the City section, it is not easy to keep track of audience numbers, in view of the fact most of these performances were held outdoors, had free admission, and were always packed.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus has gradually reclaimed its traditional, classic-oriented quality, with an emphasis on celebrated orchestras and acclaimed conductors and soloists. This past summer we enjoyed famous orchestras, including the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Esa Pekka-Salonen, the Il Pomo d’Oro orchestra, and the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev; we were riveted by the great Martha Argerich playing the piano and the popular tenor Joseph Calleja; we cherished singular concert experiences such as The Secrets of Egnatia; we welcomed huge stars, including Sting, Calexico, and Bill Murray, to name a few. Furthermore, the tribute to Lefteris Papadopoulos proved to be an incredibly moving experience. The summer drew to a close with the benefit concert held on 29 August in support of the Eastern Attica wildfire victims (not as part of the official Festival programme). This concert was an instinctive gesture on our part, the kind of initiative that a public institution such as the Festival should always take up, immediately responding to social emergencies, and encouraging collectivity and solidarity. The audience’s moving response made us truly happy.

Overall, we need to stress that audiences embraced this year’s programme even more warmly than they did last year, no less because the 2018 programme was (as experience has taught us) tighter and more focused than the 2017 version, invariably seeking a clear-cut Festival identity, informed by contemporary aesthetics and a more strongly pronounced social quality. This social quality has been emphasized in our educational policy, enriched year after year, encouraging audience participation and a more engaging approach to works of art.

However, for us, reviewing 2018 means much more than just going through what happened last year. Rather, as the word “review” suggests, every observation and conclusion we have drawn from this past year will lay the groundwork for reconsideration, rethinking, repositioning, a fresh beginning. Therefore, this review is inextricably bound with our thoughts and goals for the future. This is precisely why we have decided to also announce the 2019 Epidaurus Festival programme on this occasion, even earlier than we did last year, bearing in mind that the timely (and well-timed) programming for the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus and the Little Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus is linked to numerous advantages: attracting more international visitors, working together with Greek and international organizations and culture tourism agencies, and, perhaps equally importantly, giving artists the necessary time to prepare themselves in light of their upcoming, particularly demanding performances.

The complete 2019 programme will be announced in February. Choosing the performances that feel right for the programme in a given year is a time-consuming process. Also, we have to consistently attend international festivals, often at the eleventh hour, in order to keep up to date with any significant productions. For the time being, it can be said that our complete 2019 programme will reinforce our mission statement, our primary goal being audience expansion and boosting the social dimension of the Festival: contemporary aesthetics with an emphasis on the political aspects of contemporary theatre and dance are the defining features of Peiraios 260, where internationally acclaimed, avant-garde artists, both from metropolitan centres and from cultures unfamiliar to Greek audiences, are invited to perform. Furthermore, supporting Greek artists on all levels is of cardinal importance: encouraging collaborations among Greek institutions; promoting Greek performing artists; highlighting the work of rising Greek artists, at the same time embracing plurality, openness, and a more strongly pronounced international orientation. It should be noted that as of 2017 we have been consistently inviting international festival programmers to attend the Athens Festival and choose among Greek productions to include in their programming.

Openness and an international orientation have also been our steady goals in Epidaurus, arguably the biggest drawing card of the Festival.

In 2019, we will be welcoming Comédie-Française, performing for the first time ever in Epidaurus in a production of Euripides’ Electra / Orestes, directed by Ivo van Hove. A truly substantial collaboration finally bears fruit – we have been in talks with Éric Ruf, general administrator of Comédie-Française, who is here with us today, from the first year I took over as artistic director. Robert Wilson’s latest production Oedipus, made with ancient theatres in mind, will also be part of this year’s Epidaurus programme. The performance – marking Wilson’s Epidaurus debut – has only been presented in Pompeii and Vicenza so far and will be reworked for Epidaurus, with Lydia Koniordou joining the cast. Kathryn Hunter, the USA-born British-Greek actress, one of the most acclaimed performers in the world, will portray the title role in a production of Prometheus Bound, an Athens & Epidaurus Festival and Municipal and Regional Theatre of Patras co-production. Let me remind you that Hunter, one of the founding members of Théâtre de Complicite, has been distinguished in male roles and was awarded an Olivier for her portrayal of Richard III. This coming December she will be playing Timon of Athens at the Royal Shakespeare Company. To sum up, 2019 will see a more marked international presence in Epidaurus, achieving a better balance with Greek productions.

In more detail now: Robert Wilson’s Oedipus (21 & 22 June) kicks off the 2019 Epidaurus Festival, followed by a National Theatre of Greece production of Aeschylus’ Oresteia by three young directors, Io Voulgaraki, Lilly Meleme and Georgia Mavragani on 28 and 29 June. Euripides’ The Suppliants, a National Theatre of Greece and Cyprus Theatre Organisation co-production, directed by Stathis Livathinos, will be held on 5 and 6 July, followed by Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex on 12 and 13 July, directed by Konstantinos Markoulakis; a National Theatre of Northern Greece production of Iphigenia in Aulis by Yannis Kalavrianos on 19 and 20 July; Euripides’ Electra / Orestes by Ivon van Hove and the actors of Comédie-Française on 26 and 27 July; Aristophanes’ The Clouds by Dimitris Karantzas on 2 and 3 August, and Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound by Stavros Tsakiris, featuring Kathryn Hunter, a co-production with the Municipal and Regional Theatre of Patras on 9 and 10 August.

It should be clear that we conceive Epidaurus as a springboard to a contemporary approach of ancient drama and we are interested in retaining a ‘pure’ take to the genre, inviting Greek and international directors to work on this precious heritage, keeping our relationship with these canonical texts alive and kicking. We are confident that consistency and commitment to a specific genre are the prerequisites for the emergence of fresh artistic trends and approaches. It should also be clear from our programming that we are interested in collaborations with institutions: in the past few years, there has been an increased emphasis on co-productions and collaborations between the Festival and the Municipal and Regional Theatres, as well as other institutions, as in the case of the Alternative Stage of the Greek National Opera this year. We are interested in fostering growth in Greek productions, furthering collaborations in order to lay the ground for more unified, fruitful efforts and creativity. In the 2018 Epidaurus programme, co-productions took centre stage: in addition to the Festival del Teatro Greco di Siracusa, we also worked together with six Municipal and Regional Theatres (Roumeli, Veria, Kozani, Kavala, Crete and Ioannina), which contributed chiefly to Epidaurus productions. We are following the same practice this year, not only in Epidaurus, of course, although the benefits are multiple in Epidaurus thanks to the range and singular dynamics of this ancient theatre. In 2019, we also intend to bolster the festival character that Epidaurus should ideally have, promoting high quality and contemporary aesthetics in ancient drama and shying away from easy solutions, particularly in the case of Aristophanes’ comedies, which are often staged primarily with tickets and summer tours in mind.

In 2017 and 2018, the performances held at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, along with the repertoire of the Little Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus and the programme of studies at Epidaurus Lyceum, fell under a common, all-pervasive theme. The 2017 theme was The Arrival of the Outsider, whereas last year it was Polis and the Citizen. The 2019 theme of Epidaurus Lyceum is linked to the dramaturgical and stage approaches and reimagining of works and myths from the Hellenistic Period to the present and is entitled: Reinventing the Ancient Drama.

This theme is especially pertinent to the Little Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus, which for the first time ever will welcome works inspired by ancient Greek drama or ancient Greek myths. The Little Theatre programme will debut on 22 June with a surprise film screening as part of the Athens Open Air Film Festival. On 28 and 29 June, the Alternative Stage of the Greek National Opera will present – yet another first for us! – three iconic musical theatre works by avant-garde Greek composers: Iannis Xenakis’ Kassandra (1987), Jani Christou’s Anaparastasis I: The Baritone (1968) and Giorgos Koumentakis’ The Day Will Come… (1986). An adaptation of Hesiod’s Theogony, directed by Sofia Paschou, will be presented on 5 and 6 July, and KAOS by Ioanna Portolou and the Griffón Dance Company will be staged on 12 and 13 July. Subsequently, the programme will boast a more neoclassical and romantic touch with an adaptation of Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe by Dimitris Bogdanos on 19 and 20 July, followed by Racine’s Phèdre by Efi Theodorou on 26 and 27 July and the world premiere of Andreas Kalvos’ 19th-century play Danaids by Natasa Triantafylli on 2 and 3 August. This dramaturgical opening will further boost the now distinctive character of the Little Theatre as developed in the last couple of years, focusing on alternative takes on ancient drama with an emphasis on its contemporary relevance – an area ripe for study by younger directors.

Allow me to remind you that foregrounding the educational quality of the Festival has been our priority ever since I was appointed artistic director; the founding of Epidaurus Lyceum was announced as early as 2016 in precisely this spirit. I argue that this connection between the making of art and education in all its various forms (from Epidaurus Lyceum to public discussions to workshops in Athens and special tributes) is the lynchpin of our identity; in time, this policy will allows us to break through the mold of the stereotypical Festival-audience relationship, encouraging each member of the audience to establish an individual rapport with contemporary art. From an impersonal institution of cultural products, the Festival acquires a relatable ‘face’; involving the audience means bringing them in touch with the live process of art making, building a more active and engaging relationship between the citizens and the established institution.

Epidaurus Lyceum – International Summer School of Ancient Drama was launched in 2017, with the support of the Ministry of Culture, as a member of the International Network of Ancient Drama. In 2018, the programme consisted of two separate cycles with a student body of 180 from 17 countries and a teaching staff of 25 from 10 countries.

In 2018, for the first time, 40 Lyceum students were certified by the University of the Peloponnese with ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System).

The 2018 programme saw the participation of 17 volunteers from the Universities of the Peloponnese, Athens, and Patras, and other educational and artistic institutions. The enrolled students came from over 50 drama schools, professional dance schools and university departments specialized in acting and movement, from various countries including Mexico, Turkey, China, Serbia, Iran, USA, Australia, Denmark and UK, to name but a few.

During the Lyceum’s first two active years, over 300 students enrolled in the school and about 50 professionals from Greece and abroad taught over 40 practical and theory workshops, gave lectures, and engaged in other intellectual activities.

The 2016-2017 period also saw the launch of the Educating Audiences in Ancient Drama programme in Argolis, providing education to audiences (both adults and minors) through their participation in experiential workshops, lectures and presentations focusing on the ancient plays presented in Epidaurus.

In 2018, the programme also encompassed a new event, Dialogues, a series of meetings and open workshops with directors of performances scheduled to be held at the Epidaurus theatres. The programme also expanded to include Educating International Audiences, encompassing experiential theatre workshops, lectures on ancient drama, attendance of Festival performances in Athens and Epidaurus, and guided tours through archaeological sites.

The 2018 programme was attended by over 1,000 minors (students), adults and visitors from countries such as the Netherlands, China, Ireland, and Spain.

It bears mentioning that this programme and most of the educational events taking place in Athens can be attended free of charge, thus further enhancing the Festival’s social dimension.

I should also mention that the Epidaurus Creative Workshop for Children was held for the third consecutive year at the Costume Museum in Xenia Epidaurus, running parallel to the Epidaurus performances. Over 400 children signed up for this year’s edition (a rise of 55% compared to 2017). Capacity frequently went beyond 80%.

2018 was a landmark year for the Athens educational programmes, with practical and theory workshops, a number of dance events, post-performance Q&A with international artists, and various events open to the public, with participation from artists and professionals, including the Symposium for Loula Anagnostaki’s theatre, the Symposium of the Hellenic Association of Theatre and Performing Arts Critics, and the Day Full of Dancing at Peiraios 260. Dance, in particular, comprised several new educational programmes, encompassing activities for professional dance school students, in cooperation with almost every professional dance school in Athens, with the participation of over 200 students. Other dance education projects included a collaboration with students of the Department of Communication, Media, and Culture of Panteion University, and engaging with the public at large during the Day of Full of Dancing event. Our collaboration with the Athens Conservatoire was of equal importance to us. Jointly with the Conservatoire, we organized two four-day tributes focusing on young artists: Young Greek Classics and Aqua Jazz, the latter held in collaboration with the Jazz Lab of Ionian University. As far as the contemporary Greek theatre is concerned, the tribute to Loula Anagnostaki was intrinsically linked to a set design workshop held in cooperation with the University of Western Attica and the Technical University of Crete and attended by 60 university students, sowing the seeds of the retrospective exhibition/scenic installation that followed.

On the whole, reception of our educational events has been extremely positive, indicating that audiences crave education and a more hands-on approach to performing arts. Tellingly, more schools participated in the Educating Audiences in Ancient Drama programme this year (27 schools in 2018 as opposed to 9 schools in 2017). Meanwhile, over 100 dance professionals applied for Boris Charmatz’s masterclass (with only 20 seats available).

Our educational events and activities were supported by various institutions, including the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Department of Theatre Studies of the University of the Peloponnese, the Municipality of Epidaurus, the Ephorate of Antiquities of Argolis, the Municipality of Nafplio, the Administration of the Peloponnese – Region of Argolis, the Institut Français de Grèce, the Technical University of Crete and the University of Western Attica, the Panteion University, the Higher Professional Dance Schools of Athens and Deree – American College in Greece.

Let me now address the core of our contemporary programme and particularly our international productions for 2018. The 2018 festival opened with two powerful performances, a testament to the range of our international programme: an extremely successful stage adaptation of Bergman’s Persona / After the Rehearsal by Ivo van Hove, and a politically charged and thoroughly amusing performance, employing a radical performing language, by the New York-based Nature Theater of Oklahoma and the Slovenian EnKnapGroup. In both cases, Athenian theatre-goers had the opportunity to enjoy works by internationally established artists, albeit less well-known in Greece.

The same goes for Timofey Kulyabin, one of the most acclaimed avant-garde Russian directors whose work is often censored in his country. His Three Sisters proved to be a unique experience. Equally unique was the performance Imitation of Life by the Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó, whose movies are regularly screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Mundruczó’s hyperrealist performance evinced an almost magical theatricality.

The young French director Julien Gosselin, a favourite of Athens Festival in recent years, returned in 2018 with a performance about Europe. Let us also not forget the new performance of Polish superstar Krzysztof Warlikowski, an Athens Festival co-production.

In addition to big productions, the Festival also invited more alternative artists. Visitors who watched the Dutch artist Dries Verhoeven’s video-installation at the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) in Athens, meant for one visitor at a time, came out of it both startled and captivated. The Colombian theatre company Mapa Teatro, with a notable and long career in theatre and performing arts, performed in Greece for the first time ever with their latest work. Perhaps the most unexpected performers of the year came in the form of the Korean speaking rice cookers in Jaha Koo’s exceptionally moving Cuckoo.

One of our most ‘radical’ additions this year was Reverend Billy’s New York-based choir, singing against capitalism and consumerism at Saint Paul’s Anglican Church and on the streets of Athens, transposing the theatrical vibe of the Festival into the public space.

The contemporary Greek theatre, vividly conveying the latest developments and emerging trends in our country’s theatre milieu, is equally important to us, both for choosing the performances to be presented at Peiraios 260 and for the Opening to the City section.

In 2018 we made sure to maintain a balance between accomplished and up-and-coming artists, with a focus on completed works and poetic language, both in traditional theatre and in hybrid theatre forms. At Peiraios 260, audiences rediscovered established artists in ambitious productions, had the privilege of re-watching Dimitris Kourtaki’s riveting performance – a standout of the 2017 programme – and familiarized themselves with emerging Greek directors whose intriguing style has attracted Festivals across the globe. A fusion of theatre and other media (music, poetry, cinema), documentary theatre, and adaptations of canonical plays make up this year’s theatre programme, with an emphasis on the relationship between the private and the political, and female identity. Nine performances plus three performances under the banner ‘Young Greek artists’ formed the bulk of the Greek programme. Emerging artists were encouraged to share their work at the Opening to the City section, focusing primarily on site-specific performances. Last but not least, the Tribute to Loula Anagnostaki, comprised of two performances and a retrospective exhibition/installation, was met with widespread acclaim and proved to be one of our most successful productions on both an educational and an artistic level, attracting 2,306 visitors!

The 2018 Athens Festival dance programme encompassed nine artistic groups as part of the Peiraios 260 core programme, and an artistic platform, The Performance Shop, as part of Opening to the City. The latter welcomed over 100 performances by 17 artists in the span of a single month.

The dance performances at Peiraios 260 were warmly received by audiences and critics alike, proving that the Festival can walk that fine line between choosing high quality performances and taking risks that pay off, especially in a form of art as demanding as dance.

At Peiraios 260, an entire day was devoted to dancing, with a number of free admission events accessible to everyone. Workshops were held with capacity audiences and over 20 groups and individual artists responded to the call.

Judging from the media reports and the response from audiences and critics, the dance performances, educational activities, and workshops made crucial points and confronted the Greek public with the thorny question: Is this dance? Dance, not for the first time in its history, calls its very identity into question, with dance artists negotiating their limits before a live audience.

Arkadi Zaides. with his politically charged lecture-performance, tackling land borders and the migrant and refugee crisis, and the avant-garde El Conde de Torrefiel visualizing a future society, both delivered startling performances which stood out for their tremendous ideological weight and their form which eschewed the limits of dance. Boris Charmatz and Marlene Monteiro Freitas delivered standout performances, proving that they rightfully belong to the crème de la crème of contemporary dance artists. Bruno Beltrão and Grupo de Rua took over the stage in an explosive display of power, demonstrating that dance can be both a means of emancipation and a space for artistic experimentation.

Thank you for bearing with us. We are looking forward to seeing you at the announcement of the complete 2019 programme in February! Let me give you a foretaste, a sneak peek of things to come: we are planning a number of children-friendly and family-friendly events set to take place at numerous venues, from Peiraios 260 to the Opening to the City and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.

Many thanks are due to the director of Athens Conservatoire, Nikos Tsouchlos, for having us here. The wine is courtesy of Koroniotis Winery – enjoy!

2018-10-30T15:19:36+00:00 22.10.2018|