A bold new Hellenic Festival

Bold changes and a rift with the financial-artistic establishments are the main characteristics of the program of events for the annual Athens and Epidaurus festivals announced last week by the newly appointed head of the umbrella organization, the Hellenic Festival, Giorgos Loukos. Loukos was direct and analytical, succinctly addressing the numerous, varied and often sensitive issues plaguing the troubled organization. Among his revelations was the fact that the company is currently looking at a debt of 6.5 million euros – arising mainly from last year’s but also previous festivals – and that he has asked for, and received, the full support of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who also holds the Culture portfolio. He went on to thank the prime minister and other responsible ministers. The budget for the 2006 festival has been set at 10 million euros, which will be met through state funding and the sale of tickets, whose prices, Loukos said, will be scaled down this year. Here are some of underlying but poignant remarks made by Loukos, first on the subject of the sort of establishments dominating festivals: «Abroad, it’s you, the director, who selects the program. In Greece, other people do it for you. So you don’t really need a director at all…» On the scope of the festival he said: «We are internationally invisible. Culturally we are outside the network.» The established way of doing things on the financial front, said Loukos, was to use agents and middlemen. «That’s why we end up paying so much more. Why should Philip Glass, for instance, be playing in Paris for 50 euros and in Athens for 150 euros? And that’s just the legal 15 percent agent fee, irrespective of what else may have been going on.» Another issue the director talked about was the fact that traditionally there are very few foreign theater companies presenting work at the Epidaurus Festival of Ancient Drama. «Foreign companies are intimidated by Epidaurus. Outside it causes awe. Here, it is a way to gain respect, and profit.» On the subject of the Epidaurus Festival specifically, Loukos has boldly decided to cull it quite substantially and make it a more compact event. Instead of running for 10 weeks it will run for six and, for the first time in 30 years, we will not be seeing appearances by the Theatro Technis, the Spyros A. Evangelatos Amphi-Theater and the Cyprus Theater Organization. The Greek National Theater will be presenting two productions (directed by Lydia Koniordou and Sotiris Hadzakis), and other productions will be by the National Theater of Northern Greece, the Nea Skini, the Thiseion Theater in collaboration with a Dutch company, and the Attis Theater in collaboration with the Turkish National Theater and the Istanbul festival. The backlash that these changes have brought about (especially concerning the Amphi-Theater and the Cyprus Theater Organization, which will, however, be performing at the Herod Atticus in Athens), drew the following response from Loukos: «Mr Evangelatos told me that he had been performing at Epidaurus for 35 years. I responded that this was exactly why his company should not appear this year. There is no director, at any festival of the world, however significant, who participates for so many consecutive years.» The main changes concerning the Athens Festival are that, in stark contrast to 2005, when the festival ran for five whole months, this year it will run in June and July only. Events organized by the Hellenic Festival will also take place at other venues around Athens, such as a former industrial building on Pireos Street, at the Lycabettus Theater, the Athens Concert Hall and several local theater spaces. A new objective this year is to open the festival to a broader spectrum of people partly by scattering it geographically and partly by striking new collaborations with universities, music schools, drama schools, immigrants’ groups and the like. Furthermore, Loukos announced that the Hellenic Festival will be creating collaborations with A-list groups and individuals, an aim that will be greatly assisted by the fact that its new board of directors includes the directors of Lincoln Center in New York, the Avignon Festival in France and the Sadler’s Wells theater in London. Collaborations have already been signed with the festivals of Avignon, Venice, Istanbul, Edinburgh and the Festival d’Automne a Paris, among others. Loukos has also made an overture to young Greek artists, drawing on the country’s artistic dynamic in the fields of theater, dance and music, while he added that the emphasis this summer would be placed on modern dance, with appearances by leading names on the international and local dance scenes, and on big music productions. Some of the headline names that will appear this year include Liza Minelli, Pina Bausch, Sylvie Guillem, Philip Glass, Diana Krall, Seiji Ozawa conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Solomon Burke and the Blues Brothers, Gorky’s «Les Barbares» directed by Eric Lacascade, the Wooster group in Racine’s «Phaedra» and a live show with blues legend B.B. King.

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