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Ballet in GreeceWhat is going on there?


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#1 papeetepatrick

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 10:34 AM

I recently noticed that in the European Ballet Companies Forums there is not a Greek one. This is strange to me, since I always think the Greeks are almost the only nationality in the world that have no envy whatsoever of any other culture and do everything well, even if excelling more at different periods. But I haven't ever heard of a famous Greek ballet company, although I am sure many companies do exist in Athens, in Salonika, etc.

So then, what place has ballet had historically in Greece, and is there an important company in Athens today? I know that there are people here who will know!

#2 stinger784

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 04:24 PM

I could be wrong but last I heard that Irek Mukhamedov is the acting director of the National Ballet of Greece.

#3 papeetepatrick

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 04:48 PM

I could be wrong but last I heard that Irek Mukhamedov is the acting director of the National Ballet of Greece.


One can only hope so, the combination is almost too attractive to believe. But I could find little about it Googling, only a Hellas Competition. Even 'National Ballet of Greece' turns up no major website. There were some other Greek dance matters, but the competition the only place I saw any pointe shoes.

#4 carbro

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 05:30 PM

Wikipedia gives it a half-paragraph under the heading of Greek National Opera:

Its first "Ballet Evening" was presented in 1960; this is aside from its participation in operas and operettas, so the company prepares several evenings of ballet each winter season and performs at the Athens Festival each summer. In addition to the standard classic and romantic repertory, contemporary dance by Greek and foreign professionals is established as a feature. With help from the state, the Ballet acquired its own fuller rehearsal studio for training purposes and consequently has improved its artistic standard. Particularly important in her contribution to the development of ballet at the National Opera was Tatiana Mamaki.


So I went to GNO's website, clicked Ballet and got -- . . . oh, my! I hope only because it's August.

Under the Opera's subhead for Artists, I clicked Ballet. Much more encouraging! Yes, Mukhamedov is AD.

#5 papeetepatrick

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 05:37 PM

Very cool, carbro. The Athens Festival sounds like heaven for the summer, and a film of 'Lysistrata' around the Parthenon I saw maybe 10 years ago may have been part of that. But I remember when I asked you about Swedish international dancers, and that was pretty obscure too, I believe you were able to think of one or two. I'd just watched that darkly lit Swan Lake Swedish Royal Ballet did, but at least there had been discussion of that. I hope Mukhamedov is as good at AD as he was at dancer, as I think he's great.

#6 Mashinka

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 03:52 AM

Rather frustratingly I always seem to find out about dance events in Athens after they happen. Lots of dance events at the Megaron Hall, but their website is seldom up to date and usually just includes events for the current month. Not much good if you need to negotiate time off work, book flights, hotels, etc.

I recommend the Athens Festival at the Herod Atticus, the most beautiful summer setting I can think of. I've seen the Royal Ballet and the Bolshoi dance there. The last time I saw Rudolf Nureyev alive was in the summer of 91 when he was sitting in the audience watching the Bolshoi, I had my camera with me and changed to a telephoto lens. The picture I got was a gem, he looked so happy. The entire audience rose to its feet when he walked into the auditorium. A very happy memory.

#7 papeetepatrick

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 06:46 AM

Mashinka--thank you! That's a wonderful post and story, and I am so jealous I can hardly stand it--seeing the Royal Ballet in Athens almost seems like the perfect exchange for the Elgin Marbles, even though Jules Dassin was still trying to fulfill his late wife, Melina Mercouri's wishes, of getting them back to Greece up until his death a few months ago; seriously, I can imagine few more idyllic combinations of setting and event than what you've described. And the magic of the Nureyev moment is not only like Greece, but a new version of Ancient Greece.

So that I can see that while we want to see a Greek ballet company, there is also something special about seeing some of the great international companies in this most rare and rarefied, mythical and real country.

#8 Mashinka

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 08:08 AM

The saying goes that 'The Greeks have a word for it' but that word is quite emphatically not Ballet. There is no letter B in the Greek alphabet and the letter beta is prounced as a v. As my surname starts with a B. I'm always very aware of that whenever I'm in Greece. B is pronounced (and written in English) as MP, a very rough approximation of B. I imagine ballet is some form of the word choreos.

I love Greece, it's really magical. You feel the hot breath of Apollo through the heat of the sun and you hear the hooves of Pan as the goats scamper by. Myth and reality, past and present all merge into one there, it's not the only beautiful country in Europe but it is the most unique.

#9 chrisk217

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 12:17 PM

Mashinka thank you for that beautiful story!

papeetepatrick, i hope the following ramblings will answer some questions:

While ballet as we know it spread through 19th century Europe, Greeks were busy with a 10 year independence war, forming the structures of modern government (still working on that one, not too successfully :innocent: ), acquiring monarchs, later deposing them, getting the state bankrupt, participating in wars, revolutions, political movements and generally various kinds of upheaval. Money was in very short supply, especially for 'frivolous' and costly enterprises like ballet. Until the late 1920s theatrical dance was limited to revues and other such haphazard spectacles.

The catalyst for theatrical dance was Isadora, whose appereances captured the imagination of a public heavily invested in a Greek identity and the Greek past (understandably so, after four centuries of Ottoman/Turk rule). Simple choreographies first appeared in the Chorus part of ancient drama revivals and Duncan's influence was evident (with a fair amount of Dalcrose eurithmics thrown in for good measure)

In the years to come modern dance continued to be perceived as the most suitable language to convey the unique perspective of greek dance creators. The most popular genre for most of the 20th century has been horotheatro, literally dance theater. Ballet was always something of a foreign language and something for which most dancers were thoroughly unprepared for.

The local non-classical dance scene is going through a renaissance at the moment. Ever since the 90s there has been an outpur of interesting new work produced, a lot of creative energy, numerous small groups (more than 50), some very good ones among them, interesting dancers. It's a very lively contemporary dance scene and there's a sizable audience that follows it.


The ballet company was created as a part of the Opera in 1939-1940. Evenings with all-ballet programming started in the 60s. The company is perennially underfunded and struggling with limited means, limited vision and a certain parochialism. It has no theater, which means huge sums are spent each year to rent unsuitable venues. But the most important issue affecting the level of the company is the quality of dance education in Greece. Someone we know once said "But first, a school!". Well, that here was kind of an afterthought.

Dance schools are designated by law as either Professional or Amateur. There are about 10 professional schools, most private. Until very recently you had to be 18 to audition for one of the professional schools(!) A bit late by then to get serious, even if meanwhile you hone your craft at a decent amateur school (not many of them either). Recently this changed. Students aspiring to be dancers can now audition for a place at a professional school at 16 years old, while students aspiring to be teachers still audition at 18. The students audition before a committee from the ministry of culture (I'm not making this up)

The quality and content of education at different schools varies considerably. Many professional schools focus on modern/contemporary dance. This is both an artistic and a practical choice. There is no employer for classical dancers except the National Ballet which has about 60 dancers. About two thirds of the dancers have permanent contracts (places open when someone retires), the rest have short term contracts. Salaries are so low that most are forced to take second jobs. There have been urban ballet legends of soloists working nights at the bouzoukia (and they're probably true)


Mukhamedov is not the first well known dancer to collaborate with the NBoG. There have been occasional stagers and teachers from abroad, but no one stayed for long or had a lasting influence. Igor Zelensky was here in the early '00s. He staged (and danced) some very ambitious productions: Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda, Don Quixote. Too ambitious perhaps for this company - they exposed a host of flaws and limitations. It was generally agreed at the time that the strength of the company lies in dramatic dance and not in the classical repertory. Think Cranko rather than Petipa.

So Lynn Seymour who arrived in 2006 was considered an ideal fit. Who better than a great dance actress to direct a company depending mainly on its dramatic ability? Yet somehow it didn't work out. The official version of the story is recounted in this old thread.
http://ballettalk.in...p...st&p=210416
The decision to program almost exclusively contemporary works tanked at the box office (while opera tickets sold out, the ballet danced for audiences of 50 people). Apparently people expect to see ballet when they go to the ballet, even if they have spent the previous night looking at Pina Bausch.

Mukhamedov came with Lynn Seymour, as an "artistic coordinator". He later said that he was not given any responsibility. As always with such cases it's hard to know what actually happened. He became AD a few months after Seymour's resignation.

A year is too short a time for any significant improvement but it seems the NBoG is indeed lucky to have him. Not only was he an outstanding dramatic artist and very knowledgeable but I can think of few people who can unblinkingly face all the bureaucracy, the intrigues, the unions and the irrational organisation of things... Talking about that stuff, he sounds almost unperturbed while the average western-european is shocked to the core. I imagine growing up at the old Bolshoi must help :blink:

Four programs have been staged since he took the post. The first, selected by the previous administration, was a felicitous mixed bill of Paquita/Moor's Pavane/Napoli divertisments. Mukhamedov came out of retirement to dance Othello for a couple of nights. His dramatic power is undiminished. But time is cruel to dancers... :( What most impressed me was that Bournonville was danced with an effort at stylistic accuracy. That's more than can be said for much better companies that the NBoG and despite the various technical faults, it made me so happy I almost cried.

The second program was Van Dantzing's Four Last Songs and a new work. The third program was Giselle, staged by Mukhamedov, with the dancers giving strong dramatic interpretations all around.

In July they danced Zorba at various places, with Mukhamedov as Zorba. "If it sells more tickets I will perform" he said, and to me at least that sounded ominous, a bit like the late Nureyev. I haven't seen the Zorba, just the Moor. I'm a long time fan of Irek, the dancer. But as i said time is a cruel thing.

The struggle for power over the National Opera that had Seymour's departure as a side effect is still playing out at this time. A new law that would significantly limit the power of the National Opera's artistic director has been proposed. If it passes it will influence the way things work at National Ballet as well.

The festival that Mashinka mentions has undergone significant changes in the last three years under the directorship of George Loukos. It now takes place in various other venues besides the Herodion and Epidavros and is entirely contemporary in character. At first that looked like the end of ballet performances but that was not the case as it turned out. Ballet performances still take place, independent of the festival, at venues like the Lycabetus theater or the Pallas, while the festival offers contemporary dance at a world class level.

Mashinka, if you plan to visit please PM me, I can help. The Megaron site is useless anyway, I don't know anyone who can navigate that mess. But the events are known almost a year in advance. This year there will be a long visit (10 days) from the Cuban ballet around Christmas with Don Quixote and Giselle. Also visits from the Martha Graham Dance Company and the Eiffman ballet doing Red Giselle. There are events outside the Megaron, such as a Zakharova and friends gala. Ivan Vasiliev is reported to dance in it. I'll believe that when I see it though.

#10 papeetepatrick

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 01:33 PM

chrisk217--I'm virtually speechless, this exhaustive information is literally breathtaking and tells an enormous story. Well, it's far more interesting than I realized, and the historical context is especially appreciated. I will be reading it several times, and I bet this contains information a lot of us here don't know.

Quite a tapestry you've given us! I can't thank you enough.

#11 chrisk217

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Posted 05 November 2008 - 12:18 PM

For those interested in how Irek Mukhamedov is doing in his second year as director of the ballet of the Greek National Opera here's a link to an interview he gave to promote his new choreography/production of Onegin.
In Greek
Automatic Translation

An interview with one of his Tatianas, one of the very few greek dancers who have made a career abroad.
In Greek
Automatic Translation

The programs they'll give this year are the new production of Onegin in November, a gala program in late January, a series of Giselle performances in February and the Ashton La fille mal gardee in May. La fille is a new acquisition - IIRC some past director had tried to acquire it but the proposition had stumbled because back then they only used recorded music.

#12 bart

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Posted 06 November 2008 - 05:54 AM

This is a fascinating thread. Thanks, patrick, for starting it, and Mashinka and chrisk217 for being our reporters on the spot.

I was interested to see that there was, as one would expect, a kind of Duncan influence, but surprised to learn that, although audiences support modern dance, they do not seem to want it on ballet programs.

There certainly seem to be a lot of high-profile ballet travelling to Athens this year.

Mukhamedov sounds, in the interview linked by chrisk217, thoughtful, intelligent, and very able. I loved the following:

“My wish of is the 50% of work that we will present to emanate from the [neoklasiko] repertory. Ballets where the team can say a history, it can elect their characters. This is one from the possible points of this team. Express through a history and no simply through the technique”.

"Neoklasiko!" Is he using this in the sense that a Balanchine fan would use it? Mukhamedov's comment made me wonder whether Balanchine's work based on Greek themes or allusions -- Apollo, Orpheus, even Agon -- have, or might have, any particular resonance for Greek ballet audiences. How about reviving Balanchine's staging of Stravinsky's Persephone? O Metastaseis and Pithoprakta, set to music by Xenakis, a Greek composer? Is there a history of Balanchine performances in Greece?

#13 chrisk217

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Posted 06 November 2008 - 01:59 PM

bart, neoclassical has a looser definition in continental Europe. But there have been Balanchine performances.

Most were in the years right before 2004, when the pre-Olympic cash flow made it possible for an unprecedented number of touring companies to visit. In those few, glorious pre-Olympic years we saw Agon (NYCB, 2001), Agon (SFB, 2002), Rubies pdd (Mariinsky 2002), Theme and Variations (Vienna Ballet, 2002?), Apollo (Mariinsky with Zelensky, 2003), Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet (Bavarian Ballet(?), 2004), Agon again (SFB, 2004). Tchaikovsky pdd several times. Zelensky danced Apollo in the ancient theater of Delphi.

Unfortunately the pre-Olympic cash flow was followed by a severe post-Olympics capital shortage. Then Loukos took over the festival and that was the last we saw of Balanchine apart from the Mariinsky. They danced Rubies pdd and Tchaikovsky pdd in 2007 - I think the only performances of his work after 2004

In September of 2007 it was announced that Roberto Bolle would dance Apollo on the island of Delos, birthplace of Apollo. Visiting Delos is controlled in the daytime and not permitted after sunset, but for this night a small audience was allowed. The performance would be filmed and broadcast live. Bolle like most dancers trained in Europe has phrasing that's different from a Balanchine dancers' But I can't think of no one else who looks the part of a Greek god more - he simply looks magnificent :blush: And for once his reticent stage personality could have been used in the service of the role. The performance, like all theater performances, was canceled after wildfires burned a large part of Greece, leaving about 60 dead and thousands homeless in Peloponnesos.


but surprised to learn that, although audiences support modern dance, they do not seem to want it on ballet programs.

The audience is open to new things and very accepting but it is a matter of expectations, a matter of ticket prices and of course the particular works chosen. Also 100 people per night might be a respectable turnout for an experimental group performing in an old warehouse somewhere west of Iera Odos; but in a theater that sits a thousand (correction: a rented theater that sits a thousand) it's dismal...

#14 magpie

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Posted 22 June 2009 - 10:39 AM

hi 'chrisk217' ,
I was looking for some info on ballet in Athens and I found this thread. i happen to be a great fan of Irek Mukhamedov so I was wondering if you
can tell me how is he doing at the Greek National Ballet...if he's still there....did he manage to improve the situations...I'm very curious I think a dancer like him deserves every success!
Thanks for the great info you provided on your previous threads :devil:

#15 Agnes...

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 02:10 AM

has anybody seen Ballet Gala ?
From 10.1 to 15.01 2010
(Athens Concert Hall)?
Guests artists: E. Abbagnato, Shoko Nakamura, WIELAW DUDEK, Anastasia Matvienko, Denis Matvienko, Tim Matiakis and B. Pech.


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