Rehearsing in refurbished premises, with a new mindset

The winds of change have been blowing through the rehearsal halls of the Greek National Opera Ballet and the first ones to notice it have naturally been the dancers themselves. The corps de ballet – consisting of Greeks, Albanians, Russians and Bulgarians – believes that with the right approach and the right vision, they could compare favorably with their counterparts in other countries. Dancers were warming up for their daily class when K visited the company. After the class of one-and-a-half hours, come four hours of rehearsals. We asked Esmeraldo Bitro, who comes from Albania, about how the dancers are chosen for performances. «The choreographer watches all of us dance and chooses those who are best suited to the particular ballet,» he explained. One of the most recent changes is that even dancers who are not performing in the current program are still paid a monthly wage, in contrast to past practices. «Of course, our pay scales cannot compare with what dancers can earn abroad,» said one of the dancers. «And that does not include Covent Garden, where the pay is even higher.» Apparently the difference in the monthly wages received by Greek dancers and those in an average European ballet is over 1,000 euros. Yet the dancers declare themselves to be happy with the improvements in training and infrastructure. «It is very important to work with people who inspire you,» said another. The dancers are rehearsed by Irek Mukhamedov, a star of the Bolshoi Ballet and later the Royal Ballet. He had high praise for the dancers in his charge. «It is the first time I have worked with Greeks. They have a strong temperament and a lot of energy but they need to be pressed to do better. I think it is the nature of this country – the sea, the sun – that is distracting,» he said. The dancers’ lives have also been made easier by the provision of medical coverage. «In the past, we had to pay for all our physiotherapy and medical expenses ourselves,» said Ivana Katsoula, who has been with the company for eight years. «Now the company covers everything – they’ve even brought us a masseur!» As a sign of the times, a physiotherapy room has replaced the smoking room. New floors, freshly painted walls and new sound and image equipment all mark the new atmosphere pervading the company. «The main change is that now there is a clear tendency to do things on the basis of certain rules,» said Nikos Tilios, who has also been with the company for some time. «Once, there were no in-house rules and so people in administrative positions could do what they liked. Fortunately that has changed. The change in management has improved things considerably. There is now a sense that there is meritocracy,» he added. Choreographer Haris Mandafounis agreed. «There is a much more serious approach,» he said during a break from rehearsing Evridiki Isaakidou, who danced the title role in «Carmen Suite.» «There is discipline, not only practically speaking, but in the mentality. At the same time we are enjoying ourselves. The company hopes one day to become the National Ballet of Greece.» (1) From the November 19 issue of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement.