Letter from Thessaloniki

Dionysos, Apollo, Orpheus. Those ancient rock ‘n’ rollers and their groupies, the Bacchae, the maenads and some 8,000 volunteers – who after the cheering stops will return to work in their cubicles – plus another 2,000 support staff will be used in different roles for the opening festivities of the Olympics. The exact details have been a carefully protected mystery, although a British newspaper wrote about some of the alleged plans. Trust dance Olympian Dimitris Papaioannou to introduce the 2004 Athens Games. After all, show business began a long time ago in Greece, when an imaginative fellow named Thespis, was said to have led the first tragedy performance in 534 BC by dressing in a mask and robes and engaging in a dialogue with the chorus, thus grabbing the idea of adding an actor to the choric rituals of the Festival of Dionysus. Another imaginative chap, now in his late 30s, Papaioannou, who studied art with legendary painter Yiannis Tsarouchis, started training in modern dance and theater in 1983 in the USA with celebrated choreographer Eric Hawkins and is the mastermind of this whole affair. Working on this project for more than two years, he still does not go beyond generalities in order not to let slip his plans on the opening night of the Olympics. «We will see what Greece has achieved through its art history, through sculpture, mosaic and painting. We will see a fairy tale about the essence of the history of the country,» he said in an interview, adding: «The look of Greece will be there and Greece has the look of sea and rocks. With some scenery changes you find in there the beauty of our country.» So are some of the trademark choreographic maneuvers, including one in which Papaioannou’s dancers walk through water, while keeping multiple objects bouncing multidirectionally. That was when he flooded the stage for his Medea. But the dark mystery lasted until the British Sunday Mirror recently revealed some of the alleged details of the opening ceremony. Until then the whole affair had been a perfectly guarded secret. «I want to keep it as a secret because this is the magic of the event … It is good to have a surprise,» said Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, 2004 Olympic chief. However, there are insiders who insist even she does not know the most spectacular details. Speaking to Sunday’s Kathimerini, Papaioannou himself did not seem distraught about the Sunday Mirror report. «The surprise is still there, on the spot,» he said. «How do you feel these days?» he was asked. «I feel joy, rapture and a terrific anxiety all mixed together!» he replied «It is what in English one could express as ‘anxitement,’ which would be a combination of anxiety, zest, plus a feeling of being carried away by bliss!» Sure enough, it is certain that the opening ceremony will draw not only from the myths of Apollo, the far-shooting god with the silver bow, the deity of music, who also taught man medicine, but will also draw from the stories of Dionysus, the mischievous god of the three D’s: drinkin’, dancin’ and druggin’. «If we remember ancient civilization we see the opening is the Apollo element, the element of memory, light and thought, and closing is the Bacchus element, something which only us the Greeks can do, of celebration, dance and sharing,» Papaioannou has said in a previous interview. So, this coming Friday we shall first watch some of elements representing «the most Greek of all the gods» as the son of Zeus and Leto, who was born on the little island of Delos, has been called. Apollo – also called Phoebus – has already delighted Olympus playing on his golden lyre. Yet the closing ceremony will clearly represent ideas originating from Bacchus, which is the Roman name for the Greek Dionysus – or the Roman Dionysus – this mythical god of wine and revelry also associated with wild sexual frenzies Is it really «something which only us the Greeks can do,» as Papaioannou insinuated? Incidentally, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once emphasized the opposition between Dionysus and Apollo, seeing the former as the emotional-intuitive force of creativity, as opposed to the cool rationality of the god of light, of the god of truth who cannot speak a lie: Apollo. Dionysus, god of wine and theater, raucous music and frenzied dance, god of the ecstatic, sexual and the irrational, was divine and immortal, being born from a mortal mother. A deity also known as «the god of women,» he was considered to embody both the feminine and the masculine. Like Persephone, Dionysus died with the coming of the cold. But he was always brought back to life; he died and rose again. He was the assurance that death does not end all. Staging the closing ceremony, Papaioannou’s task is, he believes: «to update the perception of Greek history in such a way that it expresses modern Greece and promises a bright future.» Greeks have always loved their gods of paradox. Gods who loved and hated and quarrelled with each other, just as men did. Most probably they still do as they still think of their ancient gods as friendly creatures who enjoy a bit of fun and show as much as common people do up to this day.

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