History brought back to life
The Clepsydra (Hourglass) was one of the most beautiful parts of the Athens 2004 Olympics opening ceremony – for many the most sensational. Though the idea of including images from Greek art and history initially came from the evening’s artistic director, Dimitris Papaioannou, its execution was the work of Angelos Mentis. Mentis’s talent and aesthetics came across in a most riveting way that night. Not just for those familiar with the subjects – who suddenly saw well-known works of art come to life in front of them – but for all those who were thrilled by the extraordinary images. Why did you choose the Clepsydra? Because it records time. What was it like watching it on television? I didn’t watch it. I was backstage until the very end, preparing the cast. I’m afraid to watch it on television. I don’t believe that all that I saw at the stadium can be rendered on the small screen. Yet television can throw light on certain details. That is correct, but I’m a theater kid. I love the energy of the live spectacle. Personally, I knew of you as a makeup artist, a close collaborator of Papaioannou and his Omada Edafous troupe. Yes, makeup and masks is my domain, without discarding costumes. What is your background? At one point, I had enrolled at the School of Fine Arts, but I quickly gave up. I was born and raised in Athens, in Glyfada, and studied decoration. What made you undertake such a major project as the Clepsydra? Dimitris’s faith. My trust in him and my love for all that was going on. You obviously have a great passion for Greek history and art. I think so, yes. But my relationship with it is more on a sentimental level. We had to ask for professional help, such as that of Byzantinologist Titos Papamastorakis, for instance. How did you organize the project after your appointment by Papaioannou? We gathered as a team: set designer Eleni Manolopoulou, theater specialist Manos Lambrakis and artist Maria Ilia. We visited libraries and bookstores, surfed the Internet, went to museums… Luckily we had the support of people like Antonis Galeos. How did you work on giving life to the images you selected? One of the composition’s basic ideas was that the set design and the costumes had to resemble a shell welcoming human existence; setting it into motion. That’s what culture is all about at the end of the day: Man goes away leaving behind a fossil. That’s why we came up with a number of costumes that seemed made of stone. In the lower part of the Kouroi, for instance; the chiton tunics were carved in relief. Who did you work with on the set design and the costumes? First of all, I would like to mention a great sculptor, Mr Maniatakis, who enabled us to get a head start on the sculptures. Eleni Manolopoulou was in charge of the set design and the costumes, while Yiannis Mourikis was in charge of the Geometric pieces. The solid sculptures were made by Nektarios Dionysatos. Architect Myrto Anastassopoulou and set designer Marialena Lappa joined the team as assistants at first, subsequently turning into vital aides on many levels. Without artist Maria Ilia, however, none of this would have happened. She hand-painted the entire model! Everything! She conducted research on the colors and guided the artists and volunteers at the atelier. She gave herself over to the project and I love her very much. Christa Bartels was in charge of technical planning and Tassos Papaioannou undertook construction research. What about the composition’s truly spectacular makeup? What were you aiming to achieve there? For me, makeup is a magical process. It aids the performer to become somebody else. What we wanted to show here, in terms of colors in general (including makeup, set design and costumes), was that we are dealing with something fresh and very much alive – not something that belongs in a museum. It was about the joy of life. Though images from the past, they were alive and color represented this vivacity. No doubt the same goes for the movement. To begin with, we were working with people; it was, therefore, necessary to come up with a moving image. Our intention was not to develop something static, like a museum display, something resembling a dead universe. I believe it was this tiny movement along with the sense of immobility that made the movement so bright. A remarkable achievement carried out by Angeliki Stellatou and Fotis Nikolaou, together with the dancers and the volunteers. The major problem was how to mobilize the entire system in a very short period of time, without betraying the style. And they came up with what we saw – a particularly sensual world, I think. Was sensuality also part of your goals? Given that we wanted to talk about human energy and joy, sensuality was part of it. The great thing about all this is that this project fell into the right hands, because the people involved fell in love with it, adding their own energy. How many people appeared in the Clepsydra? About 450 people, I believe, all of them volunteers. And a lot more who worked behind the scenes – there were 150 volunteers in the makeup department, for instance. Without these kids’ enthusiasm and faith, we would not be having this conversation right now. They created the right conditions and we owe them our deepest gratitude.