Historical wardrobe on display

All the world’s a stage at the National Gallery, where an exhibition of elaborate costumes stemming from the National Theater’s wardrobe department is currently on display. Part of the Cultural Olympiad, the exhibition spans three generations of the company’s activity and was initially envisioned by Nikos Kourkoulos, the National Theater’s artistic director. The theater has long been a hub for design creativity: Designers such as Issey Miyake and Christian Lacroix have, for instance, designed costumes for the Frankfurt Ballet and the Vienna Ballet, respectively. In Greece, theater has over the years attracted local masters such as Yiannis Moralis and Yiannis Tsarouchis – with various artistic periods often reflected in their work for the stage. Monumental project Prior to mounting the actual show, the project hinged on discovery and sorting: The task of organizing and restoring the National Theater’s historical wardrobe was undertaken by stage and costume designer Rena Georgiadou, who came across more than 20,000 pieces and chose 5,000 of the best. In the end, a selection of 700 costumes was narrowed down to 233 pieces for the National Gallery show. The torch was then taken up by artist and costume designer Yiannis Metzikoff, who handsomely curated the exhibition at the museum. (Complementing the costumes is more archival material, such as photographs from various productions, along with sketches and video projections.) Established in 1932 in a building on Aghiou Constantinou Street, the National Theater’s basic repertoire involved classic European theater in combination with productions of ancient Greek drama. The actors in the 1930s, veterans such as Emilios Veakis, Mitsos Myrat and Sappho Alkaiou, were joined by the fresh talent of Katina Paxinou and Alexis Minotis, who, in turn were followed by Manos Katrakis, Anna Synodinou and Vasso Manolidou, among many others. Directors such as Fotos Politis – who led the troupe at the beginning – were succeeded by fellow legends Dimitris Rondiris, Socratis Karandinos and Alexis Solomos. In the dressing department, Andonis Fokas was the first to be assigned the role of «costume designer,» a term coined in order to allow him to be included among the troupe’s regular staff. He held the position for 40 years, designing costumes for no less than 240 productions, and occasionally joined by artists Spyros Vassiliou, Nikos Engonopoulos and Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas, among others. As the National Theater grew – the New Stage was established in 1969, while the Kotopouli Stage was added later, followed by the recent additions of the Children’s and the Experimental stages – the company has embraced an increasingly growing repertoire. At the National Gallery, the costumes are silent yet powerful witnesses of the company’s vast sphere, while also showcasing the development of costume design and its relationship to the world of theater. Some of the questions answered by this exhibition include: When did costume design evolve from complete silhouette precision to become looser and more dramatic? When does a costume become an extension of the actor himself? What are the relationships between those who design and those who wear the costumes? There is fine craftsmanship, such as the signature applique embroidery of Andonis Fokas for Jean Anouilh’s «Colombe,» in 1955; Giorgos Patsas’s elaborate 18th century frocks for Richard Sheridan’s «School for Scandal» in 1993; Giorgos Vakalos’s distinctive colorful palette for his costumes in George Bernard Shaw’s «Caesar and Cleopatra» in 1951; a stunning lace dress in a combination of reality and symbolism from Dionysis Fotopoulos for Andrei Turgenev’s «A Month in the Country,» worn by Katia Dandoulaki in 1984, contrasted with rough fabrics for a production of «Yerma,» designed by Ioanna Papandoniou in 2000. Leaving European theater productions behind on the ground level, the exhibition reaches its peak in the basement, a floor entirely dedicated to ancient drama – essentially reflecting how the National Theater developed a school for productions of ancient Greek theater in the manner of companies such as the Comedie Francaise, which developed its own tradition for French repertory. Once again, there are timeless pieces from Fokas: a sculpted bodice worn by Alexis Minotis in Aeschylus’ «Prometheus Bound» in a 1963 production and the bare, simple pleats designed for Anna Synodinou in a 1981 production of Euripides’ «Iphigenia in Tauris;» Yiannis Metzikoff’s powerful midnight-blue cloak worn by Nikitas Tsakiroglou in a 1987 production of Sophocles’ «Oedipus Rex;» Alekos Fasianos’s graphic patterns – which blended in quite nicely with 1970s fashion – for a chorus costume in a 1977 production of Euripides’ «Helen;» Giorgos Patsas’s sensationally dramatic, blood-red lace gown worn by Kariofilia Karabeti in Euripides’ «Medea» in a 1997 production, as well as a contemporary take with the use of shantung silk for chorus costumes in a 1999 staging of Aeschylus’ «The Persians.» On stage, writes Metzikoff in the show’s catalogue, the act of theater becomes «momentarily immortal.» After the curtain falls, however, it is the costumes that are «empty, cut off from the sweaty actors who wore them, yet linked to the memory, the energy, the anxiety and the hard work» that stay on. National Gallery, 50 Vas. Constantinou, tel 210.723.5857. The exhibition runs to July.

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