Now in its 63rd year, the Athens and Epidaurus Festival is one of the staples of Greek summer. Spanning more than two months, the festival includes theatre, dance, music and visual arts events, featuring established, emerging and cutting-edge artists, both local and international. For anyone visiting Greece in June or July, catching one of the festival events, in places as diametrically different as the ancient Roman theatre of Herod, or the urban setting of Peiraios 260, is a cultural treat that enriches the visit. As for a trip to the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus is an experience that should be on any true theatre-lover’s bucket list.
FOCUS ON ARISTOPHANES
The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus will host eight plays this year, half of which will be Aristophanes’ comedies. Seasoned director and Aristophanes expert Kostas Tsianos presents The Acharnians on 29 and 30 June. Agamemnon, by Aeschylus, directed by Cezaris Graužinis and starring Giannis Stankoglou will be staged on 6 and 7 July.
The National Theatre of Greece presents Aristophanes’ Plutus, directed by Nikita Milivojevi and starring Vasilis Charalambopoulos, on 13 and 14 July. The same company will also produce a tragedy, Electra, by Sophocles, directed by Thanos Papakonstantinou, on 20 and 21 July.
The festival’s artistic director, Vangelis Theodoropoulos is also taking part as a theatre-maker, with his production of Thesmophoriazusae, by Aristophanes on 27 and 28 July.
The National Theatre of Northern Greece presents Orestes, by Euripides, directed by Yannis Anastasakis, on 3 and 4 August. Director Kostas Filippoglou presents The Frogs, by Aristophanes on 10 and 11 August starring a dream team of Greek comedians: Lakis Lazopoulos, Antonis Kafetzopoulos, Dimitris Piatas and Sofia Filippidou. This section of the festival will end on 17 and 18 August with Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, directed by internationally acclaimed scenographer Yannis Kokkos.
Apart from the main theatre events at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, the festival features performances at nearby ancient venues, such as the Ancient Stadium of Epidaurus, where brilliant actor and director Stefania Goulioti will present her take on Eumenides by Aeschylus on 14 and 15 July.
The Small Theatre of Epidaurus will also feature more experimental versions of ancient plays. Director Martha Frintzila will present a performance of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound on 3 and 4 August, featuring a great cast, not least among them Dimitris Kataleifos, focusing on “the power of language and spoken words, reciting the text in a rhythmical and melodious manner.”
A couple of weeks earlier, on 20 and 21 July, Konstantinos Ntellas will present his take on Antigone by Sophocles.
CLASSIC THEATRE IN AVANT-GARDE SETTING
Anyone interested in Antigone, and unable to travel to Epidaurus, should not worry about missing out; the directorial duet of Emilios Chilakis and Manolis Dounias will present their own take on Sophocles’ masterpiece on 11 July at the Herod
Theatre. Chilakis will also be one of the three actors performing all the parts, aided by a chorus. The Roman theatre, at the steps of the Acropolis will also host the Cyprus Theatre Organisation’s production of The Persians, by Aeschylus, directed by Aris Biniaris and starring Kariofilia Karabeti on 1 July.
But the Athens Festival is not all about Ancient Theatre; in its recent history, and particularly since it was reimagined by the previous artistic director, Yorgos Loukos.
Athens in June and July is a hub for avant-garde theatre, mostly staged at the Peiraios 260 venue. The New York-based Nature Theater of Oklahoma, named after the eponymous theatre in Kafka’s novel America, will kickstart this year’s edition (1-3 June), presenting, along with the internationally acclaimed Slovenian dance company EnKnapGroup, the Pursuit of Happiness, a surreal folk tale about violent Western expansionism, hailed as “one of the wildest things you’ll see at the theatre this year”.
Russia’s Novosibirsk State Academic Drama Theatre will present a production of The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov in Russian Sign language, directed by Timofey Kulyabin on 15 and 16 June. Hungary’s Proton Theatre and director Kornél Mundruczó, will present Imitation of Life (20-22 June); Krzysztof Warlikowski, the enfant terrible of Polish avant-garde theatre, will present We Are Leaving (8-10 July).
Three notable Greek directors return with ambitious plays: Thomas Moschopoulos stages Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 as part of Athens’ UNESCO World Book Capital celebrations (8-10 June), while Konstantinos Rigos, the newly appointed director of the Greek National Opera Ballet, will present Pornstar – The Invisible Sex Industry by Elena Penga (23-25 June); and Angela Brouskou will adapt for the stage and direct Luis Buñuel’s black comedy The Exterminating Angel, a scathing attack on human nature and its savage instincts (15-17 July). This will not be the only stage version of a cinematic masterpiece at the festival – the internationally acclaimed Belgian director Ivo van Hove, one of the leading artists of contemporary European theatre, adapts two Ingmar Bergman films for the stage; After the Rehearsal and Persona, to be presented as a diptych at Megaron Athens Concert Hall (1-3 June).
INTERNATIONAL MUSIC STARS
Since the early days of the Athens Festival, the Herod Theatre has hosted some of the greatest music stars and celebrated orchestras in the world, from both classical and pop genres, and has staged countless opera performances.
This year’s edition is bookended by two seminal operas, Verdi’s Nabucco and Bizet’s Carmen, both produced by the Greek National Opera. The celebrated Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias will portray Nabucco in the first production (1, 3, 6, 8 June), having already received acclaim for this performance at prestigious venues around the world. The performance will be directed by Leo Muscato, a rising star of Italian opera, in his first ever collaboration with the Greek National Opera. As for Carmen, directed by the distinguished artistic director of the Göteborg Opera Stephen Langridge, it will close the musical events of the festival (27-29, 31 July).
In the meantime, the Roman theatre will play host to international stars such as Sting (22 & 23 June), Tex-Mex rockers Calexico (3 & 4 July), Nana Mouskouri (5 July) and firebrand violinist Nigel Kennedy (17 July).
But the most anticipated star to grace the theatre this year is actor Bill Murray, who will present ‘New Worlds’ (19 June), his collaboration with German cellist Jan Vogler, in which classical texts (by Walt Whitman, Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway among others) are juxtaposed with music (by Gershwin, Bernstein, Bach, Saint-Saëns and more).
As far as Greek stars are concerned, few can rival the world-renowned singer Eleftheria Arvanitaki, who will join forces with TAKIM, a band known for their playful take on traditional folk music, in a celebration of the singers’ 30-year trajectory in music on 14 June.
A few days earlier, 11 June, another great figure of Greek music will take the stage. Acclaimed composer and musician Nikos Kypourgos has prepared an ambitious program titled ‘The Secrets of Egnatia’, a tribute to the music of northern Greece. This musical ‘road trip’ will bring to the stage songs and languages from the fringes of the Egnatia Motorway; a musical babel weaving together Vlach, Arvanitika, Slavic, Turkish, Greek Pontiac, Cappadocian, Romani, Hebrew and Pomak songs, featuring musicians from various regions.
Friends of classical music should make a note to see Il Pomo d’Oro on 12 June, performing arias and duets from Handel’s ‘mythical’ operas (Arianna in Creta, Hercules, Il Pastor Fido, Imeneo, Apollo e Dafne, Giove in Argo), as well as the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra (27 June), performing the works of the great Russian composer.
As for the Greek jazz community, it will be presented in its own festival-within-the-festival, Aqua Jazz Athens, in collaboration with the Jazz and Mediterranean Music Lab of the Ionian University at the Athens Conservatoire (9-12 July), and featuring lectures, workshops and performances from morning to nightfall.
A HAVEN OF MODERN DANCE
Once associated with ballet, nowadays the festival features some of the most groundbreaking dance companies in the world, alongside the vanguards of Greek dance, such as the Athens-based Jukstapoz, a group that has performed at festivals and theatres around the world, gaining acclaim for their cinematic style. They will present ‘The Art of Dying’, a solo piece inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, at Peiraios 260 (11 & 12 June). Brazilian dance master Bruno Beltrão and his Grupo de Rua, will be making their first ever appearance in Greece, with Inoah, in which his signature hip-hop influenced choreographies, will address the contemporary political conditions in Brazil. (Peiraios 260, 13-15 June). The festival also features Marlene Monteiro Freitas, hailed as one of the greatest talents of her generation (24 & 25 June, Peiraios 260), but also local favourite Ioannis Mandafounis, in a duet with Manon Parent (Peiraios 260, 1-3 July).
FREE EVENTS AROUND ATHENS
Though not exactly dance, Chloé Moglia’s ‘Horizon’ certainly has some of the traits of modern dance, relying on the performer’s physical abilities, as well as her use of body to express emotions. Borrowing from her experiences with martial arts and the trapeze, the performance artist is going to hang in midair from a bending pole in two public performances, at Syntagma Square (7 June) and at Peiraios 260 (8 June).
Hers are not the only free events happening around the city, as the festival has a special program using public spaces, from open-air cinema screenings to an archaeological walk from the Temple of Olympian Zeus to the riverbed of Ilisos, guided by Dr Myrto Litsa (20 June). But as far as guided tours go, there’s one that every visitor to Athens should consider. Back by popular demand, after last year’s run, the tour to the National Garden, curated by poet Thodoris Gonis is a poetic journey drawing on texts and documents historically linked to the marble statues of poets, politicians and other historical figures that visitors come across while visiting the garden, including the agriculturalists and engineers that helped shape it; the tour also tells the charming story of the 20-year-old Queen Amalia (arguably the most popular royal in the 140 year history of Greek monarchy), who created the garden, leaving it as a legacy to the people of Athens. This tour is taking place on several nights (3-6, 11-13 and 17-19 June).
For this and the other events, as well as for tickets, visit greekfestival.gr