Choreographer creates ‘a poetic landscape’ for the National Opera

An enormous chandelier dominates the stage. Silence prevails. An explosion of light is succeeded by a wave of movement and extracts of Pergolesi’s grandiose «Stabat Mater.» A translucent screen separating the audience from the dancers begins to rise, revealing the «poetic landscape» created especially for the National Opera Ballet by choreographer Antonis Foniadakis. His new work is dynamic yet sensitive, like everything else we have seen of his in Greece. Titled «When the Dove Cries,» the production’s final performances at the Olympia Theater will be held tonight and tomorrow. The sets are designed by Yiannis Mourikis while the costumes are by Christos Kyriakidis, the lighting by Eleftheria Deko and the video work by Julien Tarride. The second half of the evening comprises the National Opera’s production of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s «Pagliacci.» Foniadakis was born in Ierapetra in Crete in 1971. He graduated from the State Ballet School and went on to study in Lausanne at Maurice Bejart’s Rudra dance school, joining the acclaimed choreographer’s ensemble from 1994 to 1996 before going on to join the Lyon Opera Ballet. His repertory is impressive, blending classical and modern choreographers. In 2002, after leaving the Lyon ballet ensemble, he founded his own group, Apotosoma, with which he has appeared in Greece at the 2003 Kalamata International Dance Festival and last year at the City of Athens Dance Festival held in Gazi. Foniadakis has mixed feelings about his first collaboration with the National Opera. Immediately after the February 26 premiere of «When the Dove Cries» he returned to Lyon, where he lives and works. What was your experience with the National Opera like? There were a few beautiful moments, mainly with the dancers. One of the best things was the daily rehearsals, where I would see things evolving. But I am a bit reluctant. While I think that what I felt like doing could have taken a different form, the National Opera’s lack of technical support and stage organization was extremely difficult to deal with. Imagine that the first time I saw the production with all its lights was at the premiere. Maybe the National Opera was not prepared to take on a piece like this. Maybe it isn’t prepared to take on things that it is not accustomed to more generally. It was, nevertheless, an important lesson for me. The piece has a very solid foundation, and I would like to work on it again in the future. When did rehearsals begin and how did you work with the dancers? Rehearsals began on January 7. A few months earlier I had held a workshop to prepare the dancers. Over the course of the rehearsals I taught them the movement motifs I wanted, while some of the steps were created according to the individual dancers. It was a very good collaboration despite the problems some of the dancers had initially in performing a modern dance piece. I believe that the National Opera Ballet has potential, but it is in a slumber. The dancers need to learn from choreographers other than the ones they know. How does a classical dancer differ to a modern one? There are technical differences, but the most important thing is the ability to open one’s mind and the ability to sense things clearly. As far as form is concerned, the dancers at the National Opera Ballet have very promising bodies that seemed as if they haven’t been pushed to their full potential. What I wanted them to see was that a movement can have speed, beauty, substance. In the press conference presenting the piece, you said that «When the Dove Cries» is a work in progress. Is this true? Yes, and this is the greatest challenge. Every piece is a work in progress in terms of its choreography. My vision for this particular piece is incomplete because there wasn’t enough time. I had to make some snap decisions. It was an important experience in a way. Would you like to add something? The early stages of a new collaboration are always a bit intense. Like first love, we never forget it. I would like to send a message to the dancers of the National Opera Ballet. Working with them was a truly moving experience. They worked with such enthusiasm. If given the chance they could change the landscape of dance in Greece. I want to wish them well in the future, tell them not to lose hope and to stick to what they are doing. What are your plans for the future? I am leaving for New York in a few days for the premiere of my new piece. My schedule is pretty full up until 2008, with performances as well as with a new project I will be presenting in Finland. National Opera Olympia Theater, 59-61 Academias Street, tel 210.361.2461, 210.364.3725.