CULTURE

New era for Hellenic Festival

Giorgos Loukos, the Hellenic Festival’s new president of the board of directors and artistic director, is being heralded as the «best thing that has happened in the country’s cultural life in the last year.» Chosen by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to lead the 50-year-old festival into a new era starting from next year, he is also the man who upgraded the Ballet of the Opera de Lyon and also heads the International Dance Festival in Cannes. Why did you accept the proposal this time round, after having rejected it several times in the past? First of all, I felt that following the Olympics, the image people have of Greece is changing and I felt the need to contribute to this as well. The same goes for my city, Athens, which I also thought was very different following the Games – and I hope it stays that way. It’s strange, but though it’s called the Athens Festival, I don’t think the festival has a lot to do with the city. This is because events take place exclusively at the Herod Atticus Theater, when they could be presented in other parts of the city. As for the festival itself, what troubles me is the fact that while its budget is as high as that of Avignon, for instance, it is not known internationally, even though the country’s dynamics are exceptional. My decision was further influenced by various discussions I had with people I respect and trust – Lefteris Voyiatzis, Dimitris Papaioannou and Giorgos Koumentakis, among others – all of whom encouraged me to accept. My meeting with the prime minister was also crucial. He seemed particularly honest and talked about his thoughts and plans for culture using words I’m not used to hearing from politicians. Exactly what did you agree upon? I pointed out, and he agreed entirely on, a number of things I believe have to change, such as the festival’s duration, its opening up toward other sectors and its link to prominent international festivals through co-productions. Contemporary creation What should the festival focus on? Contemporary creation; what else? Greek and foreign artists. For decades I’ve been traveling the world, attending more than 200 productions of all kinds per year and I can say that Greece has great dynamics. The festival has to put them to use and bring them in touch with global artistic scenes. Exactly how are you planning to bring contemporary creation into the festival? Through commissions and collaborations and choosing those who have something interesting to say. In order to choose, however, you must see things. How can you invite artists from abroad when you don’t know their work? Based on a big name? That’s not always the safest criterion. What kind of decisions have you reached for the 2006 program? We have already signed a few agreements. Be patient in order to find out the entire 2006 program, however, which will be unveiled in November. The first co-productions with foreign festivals and companies will begin next year. What about the festival’s five-month duration? Beginning next year, the festival will present a tight program which will last one-and-a-half months. And not just at the Herod Atticus Theater. Exactly. The theater’s stage is not suitable for so many productions, especially theatrical ones, but, besides this, the festival has to reach out to other areas of the city; Athens is full of beautiful places. Is the money given to the festival by the state enough for the kind of work you want to carry out? The budget is satisfactory overall, but if we want to carry out the collaborations we mentioned earlier then we might need something extra. What is more important is for whatever money there is to be there on time. Epidaurus What about the Epidaurus Festival? Are you planning changes there too? Yes. Everyone says, «Be careful there.» I believe that «vested interests» have to stop. I don’t think that when it comes to a living and interesting festival its history has to weigh more than the quality of the proposal it makes today. The exception, here, is of course the National Theater, the founder of the festival in the first place. Besides, the National is the theater which has, in the last few years, repeatedly entrusted its productions to a series of select artists, such as Koniordou, Voyiatzis, Papavassiliou, Tsianos, Mavrikios and Kokkos, among others. What about the Little Theater of Epidaurus? I’m sure we can come up with new [ideas] here as well. I find Dimitris Lignadis’s proposal to stage something with final-year National Theater Drama School students very refreshing. There could be events in collaboration with music, drama and visual arts school students and so on. I find a potential opening toward students in general very interesting and it’s something I’m planning to discuss with the minister of education. What about Lycabettus? To be honest, I haven’t dealt with this issue yet. I imagine the theater is suitable mostly for Greek and foreign music concerts. We’ll see. What is your greatest fear in heading the festival? I’m not afraid of political pressure and intervention when choosing one or the other artist, because if that happens, I will simply not accept it. When I met with the prime minister this was on top of my list. I’m not going to accept anything of this nature and the prime minister agreed. Greek reality is quite different, however. So everybody says. I might turn out to be the wrong man for the job, in which I case I will resign. Immediately. How do you plan to divide your time between countries? This kind of job demands a lot of traveling, meeting the artists, following what’s happening in major festivals. I’m not always in Lyon. Two or three days per week are enough. I’m calculating that I’ll be in Athens for a week, 10 days every month. You can’t organize festivals from the office. Doesn’t this constant movement affect your personal life? My job is my personal life. That’s my life. Where do you draw all this energy from? I just love what I do. This constant contact with creativity, getting to know and often becoming friends with prominent artists in different parts of the world is very rejuvenating. From Paris to London, New York and Athens, I have friends and interesting things to see wherever I go.