By Maria Katsounaki
Giorgos Loukos, the former director of the Greek Festival, an annual summer event that brings together talent from all over the world at various venues throughout the Greek capital and at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus, doesn’t know whether he should be looking back or ahead.
He’s thinking about ways to get Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal to dance in Athens next summer, but he’s also glad to talk about all the sold-out shows the festival had this year.
He talks about the festival as though nothing has changed, as though his contract has not just expired. Loukos took over at the helm of the Greek Festival in late 2005 and organized his first event in the summer of 2006, adding the Pireos 206 venue to the festival’s map, a venue that has since exceeded all expectations in terms of success. Ever since that summer, Loukos has been hailed by the Greek and foreign press for breathing new life into the institution, putting the country on an equal footing with its European peers, bringing an avant-garde edge back to the event and introducing major international acts to local audiences.
But is this the end of the line for Loukos? Will he try to renew his contract with the Greek Festival, or will he focus his attentions on his other job, as artistic director of the Lyon Opera Ballet?
Kathimerini met up with him recently and asked what his future plans are and what shaking things up at the festival has meant for him.
Will you stay or will you go?
I wish I knew. I’m on standby. I met with the culture minister and he told me that my time here is done, but also that I did a very good job. I don’t know what to make of that.
So, you’re in hiatus?
Yes. On the one hand it’s demeaning; on the other, someone needs to start organizing the next festival [for 2013]. You have to start putting together the program very early now, given the economic circumstances not just of this country, but of others facing similar problems as well.
In previous years, the program was announced quite late, so what’s different now?
The crisis has imposed its own terms. Because of the crisis, Greece has lost its credibility, meaning that an invitation to participate that would have been very easy to make four years ago is no longer possible. There were some acts this year that demanded a downpayment of 80 percent of their fees six months before their scheduled appearance. Some were even more offensive, asking if they would be paid in drachmas.
Would you like to stay on for another three-year term at the Greek Festival as artistic director?
I am interested only if I can achieve certain things. I want assurances that I will have the money to commission new artists, to bring shows that I have wanted in the past but couldn’t, and to keep working with certain artists that I am very fond of, such as conductor Teodor Currentzis. I am not afraid of losing my position -- as you know, I have another job. Festivals are my life, whether here or elsewhere.
Is your stance driven by creativity or emotion?
Both. If I had to list the things that move me most and attract me most, the first would be the enthusiasm of the young audiences and young artists that fill Pireos 260. This year we had 16 new directors and 10 new choreographers at that venue. Not all the shows may be great, but they always contribute to the evolution of art.
You have been accused of replacing one group of artists that featured regularly at the festival in the past with another, with which you have close ties. Is this true?
I find it all very strange. When I first came to the festival, I found directors that had appeared at Epidaurus 33 times, when Lefteris Voyiatzis had appeared just once. Is that normal? I invited him to stage “Antigone,” which was one of the festival’s greatest hits, and then I was accused of being his “friend.” The same happened with [choreographer] Dimitris Papaioannou when he staged “Medea.” Nikos Karathanos, Yiannis Kalavrianos, Anestis Azas and Giannis Karkalas are young, talented artists who were given the opportunity to show their work. Was this sort of thing ever done before at the festival?
Are you concerned that the crisis may push us backward?
We are in danger of a lot of bad things because of the crisis. Its magnitude is frightening and you can’t change people’s mentalities. In the past, for example, agents would make a huge profit from the festival and the Culture Ministry was more relaxed about leasing the Herod Atticus Theater. When the Avignon Festival ends, the Popes’ Palace is open only as a tourist attraction. The same goes for the Colosseum and the arenas in Verona. Yet here we keep renting out the Herod Atticus. Why? Because some guy knows another guy who’s the cousin of so-and-so. That’s how Greece works.
Letter of support
What do you think of the letter to the Culture Ministry signed by a number of artists demanding that you remain artistic director of the Greek Festival?
It was sent to me the day before it was published, when I was in France, rehearsing. I was pleased. It expressed the artists’ love for me. I know all those artists personally -- maybe they are the “circle” you referred to earlier -- and I value them. I was called by artists from Germany and London, who asked me whether they should also sign the letter or write something themselves, like Thomas Ostermeier. I said that it wasn’t necessary.
Now that you mentioned Ostermeier, would you agree that the Greek Festival has perhaps become too attached to German theater, and that there can be too much of Schaubuhne and Volksbuhne?
German theater is currently the most successful in Europe. In Paris and Amsterdam, the majority of visiting companies are German. The big hit at Avignon this summer was by Ostermeier, followed by Romeo Castellucci’s “Enemy of the People” by Henrik Ibsen. This year the Berliner Ensemble canceled its appearance at the last minute so I brought back Schaubuhne. There are not 150 dynamic theater groups around the world; maybe there are 20.
Looking back on your seven-year stint at the festival, what have you gained from it?
It offered me a new beginning in my relationship with Greece. It helped that I was Greek and I wanted to rediscover my country. All the young artists also helped me a lot with their enthusiasm and their love. There is something so encouraging about young artists. They are curious and interested.
What about the day after?
I try to remain optimistic. I hope Greece stays in the eurozone and in Europe, and all goes well.