Greek culture shines in Milan

MILAN – A soul-searching solo by choreographer Zoi Dimitriou and a moving performance by the muse of world music Savina Yannatou closed the second Milano Incontra la Grecia festival last Thursday. Organized by Alexandra Papadopoulos, Myrto Rogan and Mariella Kessissoglou, the event took place at the Piccolo Teatro Studio under the aegis of the Greek Consulate in Milan. Locals of all ages, but mostly young people, welcomed the four-day festival which brought contemporary Greek productivity to the northern Italian city. From an unusual approach to Sophocles’ «Ajax» to musical works commissioned by the festival, there was something for everybody. Theodoros Terzopoulos’s take on the ancient Greek tragedy «Ajax» opened the event. The three Attis Theater actors – Tassos Dimas, Thanassis Alevras and Savvas Stroumbos – provided an intense potrayal of the Trojan hero’s legendary madness, using the director’s well-known techniques for breathing and movement. The voice of Marco Massimini, who provided welcome explanatory interventions in Italian, was a clever addition. An arrangement with local schools resulted in a theater full of schoolchildren curiously following this different take on ancient Greek tragedy on the festival’s second night. Terzopoulos’s master class was attended by 32 Piccolo Teatro drama school students, who responded well, according to the director and actor Stroumbos. Wednesday evening marked the focal point of the festival. A joint concert by Italian and Greek ensembles Sentieri Selvaggi and dissonArt featured two commissioned works, by composers Lorenzo Ferrero and Giorgos Koumendakis, and further included pieces by Iannis Xenakis, Filippo del Corno and others, accompanied by Chryssa Tsovili’s video art. Koumendakis’s fresh yet soothing «Five More Steps Before you Sleep» closed the evening. The composer told Kathimerini English Edition that it is part of a project that he has been working on for four years, and is based on the use of Greek traditional and folk sounds. «I feel more like an anonymous composer when I take this material and rework it,» he said. He expressed his enthusiasm for the musicians with whom he worked. «The two ensembles had never played together before, but gave the impression of suiting each other perfectly. And I thought the maestro [Carlo Boccadoro] was great.» «Two things moved me about this project,» he added. «Firstly the collaboration with dissonArt, a quality ensemble in terms of the musicians and the repertoire, which is a great addition to contemporary music. The second is that three young women in Milan have managed to do what the Ministry of Culture hasn’t succeeded at for so many years, namely promoting Greek art on a low budget.» Koumendakis’s works have been performed in concert halls worldwide as well as at international festivals. He was the artistic director of the Nikos Skalkottas Music Ensemble between 1999 and 2001 as well as musical director of the Athens 2004 Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. Despite the unfortunate absence of popular historian Marianna Koromila, who had been scheduled to lead a discussion titled «Meetings of Roman and Greek Universality» but had to cancel for health reasons, the lecture took place with another three academics and was well attended. The petite yet powerful frame of the young London-based choreographer Zoi Dimitriou, who received the 2008 Robin Howard Foundation Award, dominated the stage in her short solo «Streets» late on Thursday afternoon. Body movement alternated with narration as Dimitriou portrayed humanity’s desperate search for goals that can never be acheived and our basic need to belong somewhere. For the evening’s powerful close, a tightly packed theater welcomed Savina Yannatou and her Primavera en Salonico band, who wooed the audience with traditional Mediterranean melodies. From Greek and Palestinian wedding songs to tunes from Albania, southern Italy, Spain and Bulgaria, Yannatou’s distinctive approach led to warm applause and two encores. At the very end, the singer appeared alone for an a cappella take on a well-known Greek lullaby with her musicians tiptoeing in halfway through and building it up to a frenzy. Part of parallel events, the «Periplus» exhibition features fascinating takes on contemporary Greece by Magnum agency photographers – including two atmospheric black-and-white landscapes by Josef Koudelka, a moving depiction of the past and present in the portrait of a wrinkled old woman and a young girl by Bruce Gilden and a haunting interior by Lise Sarfati – and will be on display at the Spazio Mazzotta until January 25.

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