Greenaway irked over show fiasco

N July 19, Athens was supposed to have the pleasure of playing host to a celebratory event of international stature and proportions. The event, to be designed by the innovative director Peter Greenaway («The Belly of an Architect,» «The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover») and titled «Pheidippides 2004,» was supposed to be a contribution by the Municipality of Athens. It was to be an exciting all-round event, with a procession, screenings and a big performance of music, dance, acrobatics and lights spread over the areas of the Kerameikos, the Acropolis, the Theater of Dionysus, the Zappeion Gardens and the Panathenaic Stadium, all color-coded according to the colors of the Olympic Rings. Greenaway, and his permanent associate and wife, Saskia Boddeke, also a director, brought together an A-list group of artists to work on the project: Vivienne Westwood (costumes), Dionysis Fotopoulos (set design), Ennio Morricone and Goran Bregovic (music) and Jean Kalman (lighting). Unfortunately, the 2-million-euro extravaganza has been shot down by the municipality’s indecisiveness and indifference. Below are excerpts from an interview with Kathimerini in which Greenaway presents his impressions of the affair. Wasted time and effort What kind of research was necessary for the project and how much time was put into the preliminary pre-production phase? We started researching this project in the late summer of 2003 and by the end of September, the first proposition was ready. We then had to wait for permissions to be granted, funds to be assessed and a full green light to be given with a comprehensive contract. In the end, we had to wait until April 2004 before this contract was supplied, losing eight months of momentum in a project that needed time to prepare the costumes, casting, composing the music, filming on location in Greece and multiple editing for five screens in Amsterdam. Being delighted with the prospects of this project… we contacted a Dutch film production company [Kasander] who undertook to produce the necessary development costs to hire dress-designers, wardrobe departments, lighting designers, Parisian acrobats and various composers, and a standby film crew and editing department to participate in this event. We traveled back and forth… conducted a five-day rehearsal program… Did you have to renounce other commitments in order to work on this project? Time was taken out of other contractual obligations to make space to fully prepare the Athens project, and schedules squeezed… to accommodate the necessary research and office work. The project involved many artists and technical crews. What was their reaction when it was canceled? It is true that we involved various collaborators whose own time was prejudiced by their willingness to come to Amsterdam and Paris to discuss, deliberate and plan for the Athens project. The enthusiasm of Vivienne Westwood to create space with all her office managers in their busy calendar was very evident, and she is very disappointed that this project has collapsed. The lighting designer, Jean Kalman, made special provisions in his diary to visit the Athenian location, examine the historical monuments and deliberate how best to light the procession with all its problems of energy source, the 3-kilometer (nearly 2-mile) route and the 600 participants who might be required to carry their own energy sources. His enthusiasm in the project was very high and he consequently is very disappointed in the present unfortunate outcome. After spending considerable time and resources rehearsing and planning, with 15 participants, for their vertical trampoline act as part of the finale for the event, the Parisian company of [acrobats] were duly frustrated and disappointed. And most importantly, the Kasander production company in Amsterdam was annoyed and disillusioned by the intransigence and repeated delays of the Greek authorities, with all their broken promises and lack of communication, expending considerable finances which still have not been honored – not to mention the Attiki Cultural Society [co-organizer] which, as our representative and Greek production company, paid all our expenses. In general, there is great disappointment by the artistic and production team for the way the municipality treated an entire group of professionals who tried their best to fulfill a project-creation for Athens, a historical and magic town. Peremptory contract What were your feelings about the contract and what are you planning to do? When the final contract arrived, eight months after asking for it, we were astonished to find it so peremptory, demanding control over aesthetic content… and amazed to read that, after repeatedly trying to remind the Greek bureaucracy their delays would crucify the project, they included penalty clauses punishing us for any delays we might incur, and a general indication, without forwarding 1 euro of development money, that we should fund the project to the tune of 2 million euros and then invoice the Greek authorities afterward to receive remunerations as to costs and fees, a situation anyone would be insane to sign. We suggested that unless they come up with a more sensible contract within five days, we could not possibly agree to their stipulations. No champions Have you experienced any similar situation over the course of your career? It is true that we have been engaged in many international projects that have been subject to state funding, state permission and municipal backing, and we have grown to understand that such projects are prone to political decision-making, especially around election time. But, forewarned and advised about the contingencies, development work has been financially acknowledged or decided upon well in advance so that as little as possible of research or man-hours are lost. In Bologna, the personal services of a cultural minister finally won through by force of personality. In Belgium, a clash between secular and ecclesiastical politics risked a cathedral project but we were compensated. So often it is the unremitting desire and energy of a singular individual committed to the project that has made that project succeed against all bureaucratic odds. Champions of fascinating projects are rare and valuable persons – we believed we had two such people in the mayoress and deputy mayor… but alas, we found it not to be so. Do you see any way that the project might still be saved? Alas, we believe it is now too late to make a satisfactory realization of the project as it was conceived, and with the great conjunction of ceremonial procession, drama and projection – in a city which… would readily in the past have understood and embraced such excitement.

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