Ancient drama off to Beijing

An exhibition that explores the influence of ancient Greek drama on the development of opera and juxtaposes the ancient Greek and Chinese traditions in theater is scheduled to open at the premises of the Beijing Opera in early September. Curated and conceived by Spyros Mercouris and supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, «The Influence of Ancient Drama in Opera and a Prestigious Presence of Beijing Opera» is part of the Cultural Year of Greece events being held in China on the occasion of the 2008 Olympic Games. This large exhibition, which occupies a 1,200-square meter space in the new futuristic premises of the Beijing Opera, brings together visual material related to ancient Greek drama: It includes rare costumes and masks, architectural models and photographs of major ancient theaters as well as contemporary ones inspired by the ancient stages, reproductions of ancient Greek vases that reference the heroes and myths of ancient drama as well as videos of ancient drama performances. The exhibits come from major Greek and international institutions, among them the National Theater of Greece, the Greek National Opera, the Theatrical Museum of Greece and the Athens Concert Hall as well as London’s Covent Garden. The costume designed by Yiannis Tsarouchis for the role of Medea, along with costumes worn by Maria Callas and many other great divas of opera and ancient drama are among the exhibits. A separate room that is modeled on a theater house is dedicated to the Beijing Opera and the distinctive Chinese theater tradition. «This is an exhibition that shows the continuity and strength of ancient drama. In the exhibition we are presenting a map of all the theaters and odeons that existed in the ancient world, from the United Kingdom to Afghanistan and from the Rhine to Aswan. A total of 750 theaters – proof of the power of ancient drama – of which 180 survive today. «Ancient drama remains contemporary. Greek civilization was anthropocentric and this is what has rendered it an inexhaustible source of inspiration,» says Mercouris, brother of the late Melina Mercouri and a man driven by a love for culture and committed to the international promotion of Greek history and civilization. Honorary president of the Network of the Cultural Capitals of Europe and president of the cultural organization Horizons-Actions, Mercouris has organized around 80 exhibitions on art and culture. Back in 1997, he curated «A stage for Dionysos, Theatrical Space and Ancient Drama,» an exhibition that began from Thessaloniki (then the Cultural Capital of Europe) and toured several European cities. In 2005, Mercouris organized the well-attended «Greek Myths and Ancient Drama» exhibition at La Scala in Milan. This was the basis for the current exhibition in Beijing. Mercouris said his proposal was immediately welcomed by the Chinese side. The exhibition is in fact the only Cultural Year of Greece event co-produced with the Chinese. Mercouris hopes to take the exhibition to the United Nations. «I believe that an exhibition that joins two of the most important world cultures, the Chinese and the Greek, will make a big impact,» he says. Mercouris also believes that in-depth and well-researched cultural events are of crucial importance at times when «material growth does not match intellectual growth.» The show is organized by Horizons-Actions, the National Center for the Performing Arts, the Greece-China Association and the Euro-Chinese Center for Research and Development. It is held with the support of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, among other institutions. The entire project is supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. The exhibition opens September 11 and will run through September 26.