CULTURE

It’s now time for Hyper-Olympians to move into the Athenian spotlight

The Olympic Games are over and the time has arrived for the Athens Paralympics, or, more appropriately, Hyper-Olympics, considering the superhuman efforts of disabled athletes. Interesting cultural side-events marking the occasion, which incidentally have already begun, will run right through the Paralympics, to be held September 17-28. Performances have been organized and funded separately by Athens 2004, the organizing committee for the Athens Olympics and Paralympics, and the City of Athens. The flame-lighting ceremony was held last night and was followed by a performance of «Lysistrata» at the Herod Atticus Theater. The diverse and high-caliber agenda includes dance, theater, dance-theater, music, and performances by disabled artists. Though the content of the opening and closing ceremonies is being kept under wraps, sources say much of it will include the aforementioned artistic disciplines. Besides Athens 2004’s secretive approach to the content of the ceremonies, the organizing committee has yet to announce who it has commissioned as artistic director. Dimitris Papaioannou, the man behind the opening and closing ceremonies of the Athens Olympics, has not been linked to them. But it is known that the French firm ECA 2, which specializes in organizing large-scale spectacles, was given the contract for the Athens Paralympics two years ago. Unlike the Athens Olympics, where British firm Jack Morton undertook to convey the creative blueprint of Papaioannou and associates on a grand scale, ECA 2 is responsible for the entire thing, from beginning to end. The little information available regarding individuals behind the creative effort is that choreographer and dancer Apostolia Papadamaki will supervise the dance aspects of both ceremonies. Though no celebrities are expected to take part, some could contribute discreetly, together with approximately 2,000 volunteers. Without a doubt, the contribution by disabled persons to the productions prepared by Athens 2004 and the Athens Municipality promises to be the major highlights of the cultural series. Besides being based on topics concerning disabled persons – i.e. a documentary series at the Technopolis venue in the Gazi district – many of these productions are creations by individuals with some form of disability. Examples include a concert by Canadian musicians and a truly splendid Chinese production titled «My Dream,» which entails dance as well as elaborate acrobatic performances that should provoke thought about the determination of the human spirit. A list of cultural events scheduled for the Papalympics follows: Eighteen new children’s songs culled from some 100 submitted by various composers, both known and unknown, will be presented at the Athens Concert Hall over two nights by nine young singers. The event, which echoes efforts by the late composer Manos Hadjidakis to encourage children’s music with song competitions on Corfu and Kalamata, is non-competitive. The music will be performed by the Orchestra of Colors, which Hadjidakis had founded. The Quasi Stellar dance troupe and Papadamaki, the choreographer involved in the opening and closing ceremonies, will present «Arena Metropolity,» a dance-theater performance that portrays communities, from both past and present, that reside in worlds where memory is non-existent. «D’avant,» a German-Belgian dance theater co-production supported by the Goethe Institute and Germany’s Foreign Ministry, presents four artists renowned in their respective fields – theater, choreography, movement, and voice. Juan Cruz Diaz de Geraio Esnaola and Luc Dunberry from the Sasha Waltz ensemble and members of Alain Platel’s Belgian choreography group Les Ballets C de la B collaborated to blend the aforementioned disciplines. «Lapland,» a dance-theater production by the Griffon team, is set amid a silent, frozen and endless land mass where survival and the need for warmth and companionship is all that matters. It is choreographed by Ioanna Portolou. Also in the Paralympics cultural series, composer Giorgos Kouroupos will present a musical adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseas Elytis’s «Monogram.» It has never before set to music. The Orchestra of Colors will perform the new composition fronted by baritone Tassis Christoyiannopoulos and soprano Vassiliki Karayianni and with Miltos Logiadis on the podium. Stage props and lights were directed by Panos Papadopoulos. «Secret Dinner,» a dance-theater production by Sinequanon depicts eight dancers and four musicians who meet over dinner and unravel secret thoughts and desires. The music was written by acclaimed Larissa-based songwriter Thanassis Papaconstantinou. «My Dream,» presented by China’s Disabled Persons Performing Art Troupe, will be performed by truly unique individuals who have managed to transform their disabilities into finely crafted artistic perfection. Members of the group play music, sing, and perform acrobatics for a production that is hard to fathom as one rendered by disabled persons. Aspects of the performance include Chinese tradition as well as contemporary music and dance inspired by the West. The show, like many others by the group, has been presented to audiences in over 30 countries with tremendous success. Reflecting its artistic weight, the group will perform at both the Athens Concert Hall and the Paralympics closing ceremony. Contributions by the City of Athens to the cultural series include a concert by the locally popular singer-songwriter Alkinoos Ioannidis and screenings in Thessaloniki of award-winning documentaries that focus on matters concerning disabled persons. «May l Sprout Wings» by Anneta Papathanassiou portrays, with humor and sensitivity, a group of friends, all disabled, as they deal with their problems and consider solutions. «Yiannis Kouros» is based on ultra-marathon runner Yiannis Kouros, a Greek Australian who holds 152 world records for distances that can take anything between one and six days to cover. The documentary examines this extraordinary athlete’s unique character, the difficulties surrounding his sporting event, and the iron-willed determination that propels him to excel.