A Greek Festival press conference in the capital on March 28 bore little resemblance to similar events for the media held in the past by the cultural organization that puts together the summer festivals of Athens and Epidaurus.
For starters, there was the noticeable absence — for the first time — of the culture minister, whose government department is largely responsible for funding the summer events. It also emerged that the duration of this year?s Athens Festival has been slashed considerably (down to 38 days, compared to 60 days last year) and will feature far fewer events.
Alone on stage to present the crisis-hit 2012 festival, artistic director Giorgos Loukos seemed rather anxious. While the press material released to those present included financial information regarding the festival?s operations over the last six years — since Loukos?s appointment — there was shortage of information regarding the upcoming events.
Following repeated questions by journalists, Loukos disclosed that the Athens Festival will commence on June 8 with a dance performance by Tunisian siblings Ali and Hedi Thabet at the festival?s Pireos Street venue and will come to an end on July 20. This year?s curtain raiser at the Herod Atticus Theater will be a Greek National Opera production of Giuseppe Verdi?s ?Il Trovatore.? Meanwhile, the Epidaurus Festival will open with a production of Sophocles? ?Oedipus Rex,? starring Emilios Cheilakis, on July 6.
?I have worked on six festivals in Greece and about 15 abroad. This is the first time I had to confront such a complicated situation,? Loukos said in his introduction.
While recognizing the obstacles that have arisen due to Greece?s ongoing economic crisis, Loukos argued that the current situation?s ?bad management is equally problematic,? a barb seemingly aimed at the Ministry of Culture.
Loukos spoke candidly about the event?s finances, saying that the organization had so far collected only half of last year?s state funding (1.5 million euros), that the festival still owed about 2 million euros to various artists and suppliers and has yet to receive the sum of 3.2 million euros which has been approved for this year?s event. He also noted that the Greek Festival had a surplus for the first time last year, of 450,000 euros — impressive considering that back in 2008 accumulative losses had reached 4.8 million euros.
Loukos had to make some tough choices this year, which would explain why several of his responses at the press conference were rather vague.
What seems certain, however, is that the Epidaurus Festival is expanding and will host eight theater productions, four of which will be plays by Aristophanes (?The Clouds,? directed by Nikos Mastorakis, ?The Knights,? directed by Stamatis Fasoulis, ?The Birds,? directed by Yiannis Kakleas, and ?Ecclesiazusae,? directed by Vangelis Theodoropoulos). This year?s theater highlights further include acclaimed British stage director Edward Hall?s take on Shakespeare?s ?Henry V,? as well as two productions by the Berliner Ensemble.
In any case, as they await this and last year?s pledged funding, along with some 2.5 million euros stemming from value-added tax dating back to 2008, the festival organizers have done their best to give venues and voice to emerging talent, to find sponsors both locally and abroad and scale down on leading names.
Among other events, the 2012 program features tributes to singer and Greek folk conservationist Domna Samiou, who died on March 10, and two landmark theaters: Xenia Kalogeropoulou?s Porta and Lefteris Voyiatzis?s Nea Skini. The festival will also host a new production by acclaimed choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou, as well as a production of Moliere?s ?Amphitryon,? directed by Voyiatzis.
For more information, go to www.greekfestival.gr.