‘Swan Lake’ to open new venue

The 300 workmen at the Badminton venue in Goudi were relieved over the holidays to hear that they would finally be spending some time with their families. The pace of work at the court-turned-theater, hailed as the biggest theater in Athens, has been feverish, with three round-the-clock shifts, seven days a week. The construction company that has undertaken the complete renovation of the Olympic Badminton Arena had nine months to turn the venue into a state-of-the-art theater for mixed events that is poised to open its doors on January 31 with Matthew Bourne’s groundbreaking production of «Swan Lake.» The Badminton arena was the first Olympics venue to be put to good use after an international tender by Olympics Properties SA. The space, which measures 2.5 hectares, along with the open space surrounding it, was leased out for a period of 20 years to a business group comprising Giorgos and Panayiotis Georga (of the Half Note Jazz Club), Dimitris Kontoyiannis (entrepreneur behind the Allou Fun Park) and Michail Adam (of Adam productions, the company that brought «Cats,» among other musicals, to Greece). Initially, the badminton arena was seen as a temporary venue in which to stage new types of shows that no other venue in Athens was able to host. But when the government saw the scale of the building, it reconsidered. Local community groups at first resisted the construction of an expansive theater park in the area, arguing that it would compromise the green space. Nevertheless, a theater need not necessarily block the development of a metropolitan park; at least in theory. Where the problem really lies is in the government’s procrastination – the longer it takes to set out the boundaries of the park, the more risk there is of the woods in the area being gradually whittled away to nothing as construction spreads. The original investor’s plan hopes to utilize the arena’s existing buildings. «After an investment of over 10 million euros and construction work that lasted for nine months, the only parts left of the old building are the roof and outer metallic shell,» explained Adam. «Everything is new: the foyer, reception areas, dressing rooms, everything.» The biggest stage in the country was built from scratch in the east end of the building. The stage is 18 meters high, 30 meters wide and 18 meters deep. The amphitheater seats 2,400 spectators. The theater complex can be reached via two entrances, one on Katehaki Avenue and another on Mesogeion and while there is enough parking space built into the area, the theater is also serviced by the Katehaki metro station and its adjacent car park. The pace of construction picked up in light of the «Swan Lake» production, for which tickets are already on sale. «We wanted the first production to bear our signature,» said Adam. «This particular spectacle combines artistic value with a high commercial cachet in the sense that it is a high-quality artistic event that has wide public appeal.» Starting at the Sadler’s Wells Theater in London in 1995, the show went on for hugely successful performances throughout Europe, the United States and Japan, receiving 30 awards and distinctions on the way. In Matthew Bourne’s version of the classic tale, the cast is all male, including the role of Odette/Odile. After «Swan Lake,» which will run to February 11, the theater will close for approximately one month for additional work to be carried out on it. The theater complex is expected to be fully ready in the summer of 2008 with the construction of an outdoor concert venue with a capacity of 700 people. A restaurant is expected to be ready before 2008, which will operate outside theater hours as well. «We want the complex to be alive with people all year round,» noted Adam. Shows on the agenda include a new production by the Tiger Lillies in June based on «The Little Match Girl,» an industrial dance show by the Tap Dogs, and «Jesus Christ Superstar,» a tribute production to Andrew Lloyd Webber. Another popular West End musical, «Mamma Mia!» is in the works for May of next year. Higher standards set for theaters The theater scene in Greece seems to be getting the same facelift as the country’s cinema scene did in the 1990s, and not just in terms of the venues themselves, but in the types of performances as well. Many of the capital’s old theaters have been renovated (Kappa, Vrettania, Ilissia, Moussouri, Dandoulaki, Gloria, etc), while others have even added a second stage (Aplo and Ilissia, among others). Theaters have also cropped up in many different neighborhoods, following the trends of urban redevelopment in areas such as Psyrri, Gazi, Metaxourgeio and Kerameikos. The newly renovated Pallas, Aliki and Mikro Pallas in downtown Athens have improved the quality of the productions they stage along with their appearance and equipment, thus raising the bar for other theaters as well. It is worth noting that in most cases, except for City Link, the renovations were funded by the companies or directors themselves. Sizable investments, such as those made for the Pallas, cannot easily be met by simple ticket sales, which is why the Pallas, for example, will also be leased out as a conference venue. It is also a fact that the capital invested in each venue will also to some extent determine the type of performances the venues will host. The best, most comfortable and well-equipped theaters also tend to host the most commercial spectacles. What the city is trying to achieve is what has already begun with the Pallas: high-quality shows of commercial success.

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