Mixed feelings over cultural stopover in NY

NEW YORK – Costa-Gavras’s production for the Cultural Olympiad, performed at the Metropolitan Opera House on Tuesday night, was an interesting and multifaceted collage of various artistic disciplines, an experience of Greece as seen through the eyes of a Greek of the diaspora. The highly anticipated Greek event had many potent moments that both moved and impressed, but was also marked by numerous weaknesses that proved detrimental to the overall result of this risky effort, considering the complex nature of its components. «We conveyed certain fundamental messages and that is very significant as the performance was seen by contingents of many nations here at the UN headquarters,» remarked Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who traveled to New York for the performance, «All Around Is Light.» Commenting on the many mistakes made during the performance, Costa-Gavras, the internationally renowned French-based film director and screenwriter, attributed the mishaps to a shortage of practice time on the prestigious New York stage, which he said amounted to a mere eight hours because of its unavailability. «The comments I’m getting from people about the performance please me,» Costa-Gavras told Greek reporters. «But a director is never content because he or she picks up on things that a member of the audience may not see. And lots of mistakes were made tonight [Tuesday],» he added. The most obvious mistake of all was a back-to-front screening of Costa-Gavras’ short film about man’s devastating effects on the Acropolis. Consequently, the subtitles of crucial parts went astray. It was a tremendous shame as the short film, one of the production’s many components, is truly impressive as a powerful statement that sheds light on the damage inflicted on the ancient monument by Lord Elgin. Besides the mishaps that could be attributed to lack of preparation time, the production was also weighed down by bad aesthetics in vital parts. Surprisingly, the ballet «Artemis,» a world premiere performed by the renowned American Ballet Theater as yet another component of «All Around Is Light,» disappointed. Not only did the ballet lack vigor and inspiration, but, on a technical level, it failed to correspond to the work’s theme. «All Around Is Light» not only attracted the attention of Greece’s diaspora in New York, but other New Yorkers too, either because the work included a new production by the American Ballet Theater, or because the Cultural Olympiad’s event was heavily promoted in the US press. In addition, Costa-Gavras, the man behind the film «Z,» also has a considerable American following. As a result, the New York venue was full on Tuesday night. Among the UN delegations was Archbishop Demetrios, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of America. From beginning to end, Greek music served as a backdrop for the performance, in which varying components, such as ancient tragedy, ballet, film, and other visuals, vied to portray various dimensions of Greece as evoked by the Greek emigrant with strong nostalgia for his or her homeland, such as the country’s light, scenery, people, history and art. A fundamental contributor to the music, and, therefore, entire production, was Giorgos Dalaras, who, with support from the evening’s musical director, Loukas Karytinos, made a valiant effort to cover for the lack of preparation. For reasons still unknown, Dalaras was left without the Met’s new diva, Greek soprano Elena Kelessidi, who was replaced by Savina Yiannatou. They were joined by Melina Aslanidou and a Greek-American children’s choir which proved a highlight wherever Costa-Gavras chose to use it. The music, which included compositions by Vassilis Tsitsanis, Manos Hadjidakis, Mikis Theodorakis and Greek folk songs, was often complemented by a collage of images, such as photos, film and splendid scenery by the artist Alekos Fasianos made especially for the performance, as well as well-known works by the late Yiannis Tsarouchis. All were wonderfully blended by Costa-Gavras to elicit historic memory, feeling, and aesthetic appeal. The difficulties began with the attempted unification of other artistic disciplines, not because they cannot be fused – experimental collage overcomes all – but because each department was lacking somewhere. The American Ballet Theater’s performance was loaded with cliche, uninspired and, furthermore, modestly executed. The actress Lydia Koniordou’s part in a crescendo of Greek tragedy, the lament of «Electra» by Euripides, went against the work’s grain and, fortunately, was followed by a similar English-language scene from Sophocles’ «Electra,» which saved the day for both. As was noted earlier, Costa-Gavras’s dynamic five-minute film on the Acropolis was sadly projected backward. Fortunately, the Pontian dancers and the children’s choir contributed positively, while other parts of the performance were also constructive and often touching. Better preparation could have led to better results.