Hadjidakis’s ‘Birds’ take wing

Manos Hadjidakis’s «Birds» was first introduced as the musical backdrop to Karolos Koun’s production with the Theatro Technis. Next, it was performed by ballets, initially for Maurice Bejart’s, and came out in a warmly received album. Now, it’s time to watch «The Birds» literally take wing in a spectacular acrobatic performance by a master of the art, France’s Claude Krespin, which was commissioned by the Cultural Olympiad. The production has brought together collaborations by acclaimed French, Belgian and Greek artists, but what is most interesting about the shows – to be performed at the Vrachon Theater in Athens’s Vyronas district on September 10 and 11 – is the manner in which the story of Pisthetaerus coaxing the birds to build their own state is set in a village of Greece in the 1950s, as the country tries to recover from the wounds of World War II, and shows the villagers being encouraged to free themselves from the yoke of the urban class. The production consists of a cast of 21 dancers and acrobats, 14 Greek actors (headed by Christos Hadzipanayiotis), a large orchestra conducted by Loukas Karytinos, a mixed choir under the guidance of Antonis Kontogeorgiou, a 40-member youth choir and, last but not least, soloists Sonia Theodoridou, Tassis Christoyiannis, Savina Yiannatou and Doros Demosthenes. Claude Krespin has been assisted by Luc Dewit, the dramaturgy is by Floriane Gaber, the technical director is Francois Linares and the music has been directed by Greece’s Nikos Kypourgos, while the choreography is by Salem Hammadi. Representing the team of Krespin, Floriane Gaber, who wrote the scenario for the production and was in charge of the dramaturgy, spoke to Kathimerini of the upcoming production, explaining both the troupe’s particular genre and the reasons why they chose to set the plot in 1950s rural Greece. Tell us a bit about the art you practice. Is it more of an art or a sport? Do you choose to have artists or athletes working with you? The production of «The Birds» includes a symphony orchestra, adult and youth choirs, four solo singers, 14 actors, seven dancers and 14 acrobats. Of the acrobats, some have come from the world of sports, specializing in rhythmic gymnastics, and the rest have a circus background, specializing in trapeze and «hand-to-hand» acts. In all cases their physical attributes are athletic, but their work brings out an aesthetic aspect that makes them true artists. This is the case in the circus anyway: It is a big achievement not just in terms of the athletic skill involved, but in the pleasure it gives to the senses. How well is this form of art received in France, in Europe, and in the world as a whole? It is a hybrid, an multidisciplinary production that simultaneously includes the arts of the circus and street theater. France has been a pioneer in both forms for the past 30 years, as it learned how to transform a tradition into a modern form of expression, developing characters and narrative, and using artists from many different disciplines for one show. Musicians, singers, dancers, actors and acrobats all come together in this art, and their contribution is combined in a harmonious whole: They are not there to complement one another, but to participate equally in the action and scenes. France, thanks to its policies toward culture and a support system for training and productions, is still a leader in street art and its productions travel around the world, effectively creating a school. Claude Krespin is a significant figure, a pioneer. He was a member of one of the earliest street theater troupes, Theatracide, as well as part of the team that created the National Circus School. He was also very active abroad, working for many years with the wonderful Cirque du Soleil of Quebec, for which he traveled around the world in search of artists. What compelled you to put on Manos Hadjidakis’s «Birds»? Was it because you liked the music or were there other considerations? Both the music of Manos Hadjidakis and Aristophanes’ play helped tip the balance. The amazing timelessness of the portrait of the society painted by the ancient Greek poet echoes certain aspects of our own age and these are also reflected in the elegance, the humor of the music. Maybe it was a challenge: to take on two great personalities of Greek culture, ancient and modern, but above all it was an honor and a pleasure, a unique opportunity to work on this extremely rich material. Why do you think this work lends itself to a spectacle in the genre that you and your collaborators are distinguished for? Aristophanes is lucid and cynical, but also full of humor – that’s why he is still so popular. Hadjidakis is a melting pot of sounds and musical genres, from jazz to rebetiko and art music. Our artistic expression exactly reflects this image: multidisciplinary, popular, with, however, high artistic requirements. This allows everyone to explore and find what they like best. How did you interpret the original story of «The Birds» in the scenario for your performance? Hadjidakis wrote a first draft of the piece in 1959, as a score for Koun’s play at the Theatro Technis, which strictly followed the sequence of the scenes in Aristophanes’ play. In 1964, Hadjidakis returned to the project and modified the sequence of the pieces, for musical reasons. This is the version Bejart used in 1965 for his ballet at La Monnaie in Brussels. The version we will present in Athens follows the sequence Nikos Kypourgos, the musical director, selected – also for musical reasons – which, however, distances itself even further from the original sequence. Nevertheless, along broad lines, we have tried to keep to the story of the play. We just introduced the idea of a «spectacle within a spectacle:» A village theater troupe is staging «The Birds,» following Aristophanes’ play, a story of love and birds based on the characters of Tereus [the Hoopoe] and Procne [the Nightingale]. Two citizens of the capital arrive, and they are initially shunned by the villagers [like the birds that initially chase out the Athenians Pisthetaerus and Euelpides], who later let themselves be taken in by their beautiful words and end up sweeping them up in triumph. Aristophanes’ story has been respected. Why have you set the play in the 1950-60s and what would you like to stress by doing so? Hadjidakis composed the piece between 1959 and 1964; the choice of context is simply a homage to the period in which it was composed. Europe as a whole was still suffering from the effects of World War II; the need for reconstruction was the same everywhere. The city that Pisthetaerus proposed building fits this context exactly. Nevertheless, and unfortunately, the theme comes from a cruel, universal truth. Nowadays, as in Classical Greece, wars tear apart populations and the desire to have wings, to escape or to fall in love is common to everyone. The historical context therefore is a point of departure that allows us, from a distance, to convey the universality of the play. On a different note, and since we are in the midst of Olympic Game fever, what has been heard in France about the Athens Games? La Marseillaise, every time we got a medal! Joking apart, France is a country that supports its athletes when they distinguish themselves in international competition. Other than that, the wager won by Athens in organizing, in time, all the necessary infrastructure, was unanimously saluted in the hexagon [nickname for France], which dreams of holding the 2012 Games in Paris. Nikos Kypourgos: Music director, inspirer «The idea for such a production of ‘The Birds’ started from us,» says Nikos Kypourgos, music director of the project and formerly a close associate of Manos Hadjidakis, and who is now close to the composer’s son, Giorgos. «We reached the conclusion a long time ago that this work deserved a different type of production, that it is perfect for a new and more modern approach and that it would make a great audiovisual spectacle. So, we made a proposal to the Cultural Olympiad.» At first, their proposal was rejected because organizers planned to put on a big concert of Hadjidakis’s work with internationally acclaimed artists such as Sting, Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello, etc.) But when Michael Kayman, in charge of putting the concert together, died suddenly several months ago, the project floundered and interest for «The Birds» was revived. «Krespin and his associate, Gaber, had the idea to set the play in the 1950s, in the time, that is, that Hadjidakis composed the music for the Karolos Koun production,» explains Kypourgos. «They studied and bore in mind the way life in Greece was at that time, but through an artistic point of view. Finally, they set the story in a mountain village of northern Greece.» The production, Kypourgos explains, has no narrative, except for Pisthetaerus’s monologue to the birds (villagers), which will be orated by Vassilis Papavassiliou and sung by Christos Hadzipanayiotis. «The music and the show are really imposing,» says Kypourgos. «Already enormous constructions, scaffolds and other sets have been constructed in France and brought over to Greece. They are mostly made of bamboo and will be used by the acrobats.»

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