Greek artistry envoys in Milan

MILAN – With powerful choreography by the Rootlessroots dance company, the third «Milano Incontra la Grecia» festival drew to a close on Thursday night. The three-day event, which brings Greek contemporary culture to the northern Italian city, this year featured theater, music and dance under the theme «The Female Soul as its Inspiring Muse.» On a sold-out first evening, distinguished actress Lydia Koniordou, known for her high-caliber work on ancient drama, highlighted the fine line between victim and victimizer through a compilation of women’s monologues from Greek tragedies. With each text’s Italian translation projected against a red background, Koniordou mourned her assassinated father with a young woman’s passion as Sophocles’ Electra, while later on, as Troy’s tragic queen Hecuba, she wept for her young grandson as well as her entire nation with the despair of an old woman who knows her life is ending. The performance ended with all the anger, confusion and despair that Euripides’ Medea experienced before taking her children’s life. The bare sets amounted to little more than two pieces of clothing on the floor, a drum and an urn; Martha Frintzila, Haris Lambrakis and Vassilis Matzoukis’s live music added a discreet yet tensely dramatic effect, especially Frintzila’s traditional Greek dirges and lullabies. There was long and warm applause at the end, resulting in three curtain calls for Koniordou and half of the audience remained in their seats to watch her ensuing discussion with historian Anthony Majanlahti. «Theater has been a gift that was given to me and which I was then able to give to other people,» she told Majanlahti, before discussing issues including the importance of the conflict of ideas in theater, the timeless quality of ancient tragedy and its connection with modern Greek culture. The audience followed closely, participating with questions and remarks. «It is very moving that Greeks who live abroad have the courage to take the initiative and gradually, with the support of other institutions, start a festival of such professional standards, with the response and attendance we saw tonight,» Koniordou told Kathimerini English Edition after the discussion. «I believe this festival should be helped because such efforts can really become ambassadors of contemporary Greek artistry, not just in Italy but in other countries as well.» «MUSA,» a spectacle commissioned by the festival that combined the music of 17th-century composer Barbara Strozzi with electronic sounds and the choreography of the Swiss-Italian AiEP dance company, was staged the second evening. The Greek Latinitas Nostra music ensemble gave a wonderful interpretation of Strozzi’s music, highlighted by the voice of mezzo-soprano Theodora Baka. Ariella Vidach’s choreographies alternated with the music; the bodies of the three dancers were in tune with Apostolos Loufopoulos’s computerized electronic sounds, which ranged from confused whispers to sea waves and night sounds. The dancers harmoniously came together and drifted apart, then withdrew and gave way to Strozzi’s music, while Claudio Prati’s still and moving images, ranging from running clouds to urban landscapes, were projected onto the backdrop. A game of endless movement full of symbolic touches, «UNA: Unknown Negative Activity,» choreographed by Linda Kapetanea and Jozef Frucek, closed the festival to warm applause. With the anti-technology «Unabomber» terrorist as its inspiration and starting point, the show was reminiscent of a game of control, raising questions about exploitation, the competitiveness and contradictions in people’s relationships today as well as the entertainment industry. Posing as an egocentric presenter who wants to run the show on her own terms and treats the rest like performing monkeys, Frintzila appeared to pull the strings. But, in reality, it was the very young, fragile yet impressive Marianna Tzouda who seemed to be the center of attention and the link that joined everyone together, as the three other dancers – Kapetanea, Frucek and Edgen Lame – all tried to take hold of her. This constant chase was sometimes tender but then turned harsh when they threw Tzouda’s small frame around like a toy, from one to another, with breathtaking swirls and precision movement. Vassilis Matzoukis’s live music set the tone, while nature had a discreet yet constant role: Tzouda endlessly painted plexiglass fir trees black, which, in the end, Kapetanea placed around the stage; an animal’s pelt and horns hung suspended to the side of the stage, as if overseeing everything and, at the very end, Kapetanea, far in the background, stripped to her underwear, appeared to be washing herself in mud or with earth. The festival will feature a second series of events in June, with an exhibition of works by women Greek artists curated by the Thessaloniki State Museum of Contemporary Art, a karaoke event of contemporary Greek and Italian poetry and a tribute to Greek cinema.

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