NEWS

Olympics to dispense with ancient kitsch

The Greeks’ usual idea of giving foreigners a taste of their country’s ancient heritage follows a simple recipe: Take a dozen adolescent girls, dress them as «virgin priestesses» in long, white linen tunics, and let them chant unintelligible psalms in dreary replays of ancient rituals. But the team in charge of the opening ceremony for the 2004 Athens Olympics has different ideas. «There won’t be one single tunic,» promises designer Sophia Kokosalaki, one of Greece’s best-known names on the international fashion scene, and the ceremony’s wardrobe mistress. No sentimentality The team around choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou wants «to avoid at all cost folklore and cheap sentimentality,» Kokosalaki told AFP. Greeks are justifiably proud of their 3,500-year-old history, but only rarely do they display the ability to treat it in a relaxed, ironic way. «Obviously, there will be references to tradition, culture and the country’s history, but there won’t be one single tunic,» laughs the young designer, acclaimed for her talent by the international fashion press since staging her first show in London back in 1999. Kokosalaki promises nevertheless «a lot of emotion» during the ceremony launching the Athens Olympics on August 13, 2004. «The project is already drawn up, we’re polishing it right now,» she says. The «modern and simple» event will last no more than three-and-a-half hours. «It would be boring otherwise,» she says. Papaioannou, who prefers to keep a low profile, will not reveal anything more about the ceremony, other than that it will be inspired by the «historic conjuncture» of the Games’ return to the country they were born. Fresh ideas The choreographer Papaioannou made his breakthrough in Greece a few years ago as the head of «Ground Squad» – a group staging original performances blending dance with pantomime. Olympics organizers said they chose the 39-year-old visual artist, actor and director to mastermind the project because of the breath of fresh air he brought to the Greek performing arts scene. The Athens Organizing Committee, ATHOC, has earmarked 50 million euros (56 million dollars) for the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies. Kokosalaki, who left Greece for London seven years ago and now counts pop stars Jennifer Lopez and Courtney Love among her clients, says she is excited to be taking an active part in her country’s Olympic effort. She says she has already designed most of the 200 dress patterns for some 30,000 costumes to be worn during the events. «At the beginning, I was very anxious,» she said: «But then the creative freedom I enjoy here gave me some rest from the rather tense world of fashion.»