New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
“CITY-STATE”, a new work by Greece’s Kanigunda Company which reflects the identity crisis Greeks are experiencing today, received rave reviews on its international tours, and its US premiere, on July 25 and July 27 in the Between the Seas Festival of Mediterranean Performing Arts in New York, pierced the heart, receiving our rave reviews, as well.
“We are very much in need of such performances today in Greece,” mover and shaker Aktina Stathaki, the Artistic and Producing Director of the Between the Seas Festival of Mediterranean Performing Arts, based in New York City, told the GN, “They’re pointing the way to what theater can do in a time of crisis. To me, it was very interesting to see how this play would translate in an international, North American audience and I think it worked well.” So well, we felt, that the GN would have been in the audience again had there been a third performance of this profound and exciting production.
Co-produced by the Onassis Cultural Center in Athens, and under the artistic direction of Yannis Leontaris, the superb players: Maria Kechagioglou, Marianna Tzanni, Rebecca Tsiligkaridou, Anthi Efstratiadou, Efthimis Theou, Giorgos Frintzilas, “users and readers of Athens who speak the language inscribed on them by the city itself”, used song and dance, comedy, drama, and historical narrations, in the style of the Greek επιθεορηση (political satire or review) to explore political history from antiquity to the present, articulating, through the voices of citizens and politicians, the experiences and testimonies of the inhabitants of Athens.
For Ms. Stathaki, the play (presented in Greek with English supertitles) did not have just a single message, rather, embedded in its innovative and very interesting theatrical form, she said, are crucial questions about national identity. “What I find important about City State is that it sets out to confront the difficult questions: “who are we? What is our history? How did we get here?” in a nonlinear way, juxtaposing narratives of the simple people with the narratives of those in power. It becomes an excavation of history through which the artists are genuinely looking to understand how national identity has been constructed. In that sense also I think it is a very Greek performance without self-consciously trying to be Greek – without being the ‘well-made’ canonical play.”
“We hope to have them back in the future,” said Ms. Stathaki, when we asked for more productions by Kanigunda, “This year the Onassis Cultural Foundation in Athens made it possible for City State to be presented. We rely on such support in order to be able to present big companies like Kanigunda – it is a great opportunity for us, as a festival, for the companies who get a unique chance to perform in New York City and for the New York City audiences. So I surely hope we can do it again in the future with Kanigunda and with other Greek companies.”
How did Athina Stathaki’s brainchild, the Between the Seas Festival of Mediterranean Performing Arts first take shape? “My idea for a platform to showcase artists from the Mediterranean started brewing in 2009 when I moved to the US. At that time the economic crisis in Greece was escalating, but the prevailing depiction of the country in the media was still that of the lazy, tax-evading Greeks… fortunately that has shifted now,” she told the GN, “The Greeks I knew were not like that, and I wanted to share with the world my experience, at least in the arts sector, that there are a lot of amazing, hardworking, talented Greek artists that do wonderful things, despite the hard conditions.”
This was her initial motivation but that idea “quickly grew to encompass the rest of the Mediterranean with whom we share so much history and with whom we are now together in this political and economic upheaval,” she said, “Between the Seas then became a platform to celebrate the contemporary culture of the region and to envision the Mediterranean as a geopolitical space of exchange and solidarity.”
How are participants selected? “The festival is still young and still in the process of building its unique identity and aesthetic,” Stathaki explained, therefore the selection process is of great importance to her and she spends “many months” on it.
How it unfolds: In the fall there is an international call for submissions. Artists send in their work samples accompanied by letters of interest. Stathaki reviews each one of them very carefully and researches their body of work before deciding. She stresses that “it is not only the aesthetic accomplishment that matters, it is also the originality, the honesty in the artists’ intentions and vision, the relevance with the festival themes and interests, and their genuine engagement with the specific vision of this festival.”
“We always make sure to include young and more established artists, accomplished performances but also works in progress,” said Stathaki, “We are very proud to be a place where artists feel they are given the incentive and space to create new work, experiment, try something new. In addition to the artists selected through the application process, there is a smaller group of artists – not more than two or three each year–that I personally approach and invite after seeing performances and doing research locally and internationally.”
“Each year the bar is raised in terms of the quality of work we receive and the selection process. In 2013 we received some work of excellent quality and the festival program turned out to be our most exciting and eclectic so far. At the same time, as a young organization, we continue to struggle, just like anyone else in the arts, in terms of resources. So the message for 2014 would be for the artists to keep reaching out to us, trust us and send us their best work, and for the public to keep discovering and embracing us by supporting us, by coming to the shows, spreading the word, collaborating with us. I feel we are in the process of creating a really wonderful, vibrant and inclusive community and we want everyone to be part of it in any way they can.”
For more information on the Kanigunda company go to www.kanigunda.gr
For more information on the For more information on the www.betweentheseas.org