New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
It was an hour until the doors to the Olympic Atrium would officially open for the first night of the Onassis Cultural Center’s four-day festival “Narcissus Now: The Myth Reimagined”, on October 8, but the space was already beginning to buzz. Eager to see the renovation of the Onassis Cultural Center, guests were streaming in early for the first event held there after a three-year hiatus.
The festival marked the 40th anniversary of the Onassis Foundation, the 15th anniversary of the Onassis Cultural Center in New York, and the 5th anniversary of the Onassis ΣΤΕΓΗ in Athens. It was the first event under Amalia Cosmetatou, Executive and Cultural Director of the Cultural Center.
Within the hour there was a full-capacity crowd of about 500 people (invited guests only), but it was the early arrivals that experienced the Atrium’s new, more spacious look and feel. The café/sitting space has many more chairs and tables spreading to the middle of the Atrium, and a wide, curving, glass staircase with embedded lighting leads down to an airy lower level foyer that opens into the main gallery. Only the water wall has a diminished presence in the Atrium; a narrower version replaces the dramatically dominant water wall that defined the space.
Spacious as the Atrium is, a bit of push and shove was necessary to take in–and try to tie together–the visual art, dance, and sound presentations put together to “examine the myth of Narcissus”, as the concept of the festival is described in the OCC’s 2015-16 brochure, as well as to contemplate the extent of their modernity.
Out of all the works and presentations, the illustrations for the brochure (a collectable) by the remarkable Athens-born artist Konstantin Kakanias, are unquestionably contemporary.
A glimpse at what was taking place: Hrisoula Harakas, Sara Procopiou, and Mata Sakka danced solo in three stage areas (two downstairs), choreographed by Jonah Bokaer to a composition by Hellenic Film Academy Award-winning Greek composer Stavros Gasparatos that echoed throughout, creating a general feeling of desperation; on The Art Wall, where changing, commissioned works will be shown, “I AMNESS”, a large wall drawing in the style of Op-Art by Greek Italian artist Angelo Plessas is meant to suggest animation; and even though it was Kakanias’s logo for Narcissus Now that the moving spotlights were casting on the walls of the Atrium, the effect was nonetheless reminiscent of the light shows of yore.
Thinking about what appeared to be a loose relationship of the presentations to the Narcissus myth, and questioning whether the concept itself was device for bundling together various works, we asked the President of the Onassis Foundation, Anthony Papadimitriou, for his thoughts on the first night of the festival.
“Tonight is the culmination of many, many things that have passed,” he said, noting that the anniversaries of the Foundation, the OCC in New York, and the ΣΤΕΓΗ in Athens, “all mesh into one thing, which is the aim and the mission of the Foundation in New York, in North and South America, Europe, etc., and that is: culture, education, and solidarity. These all work for the arts, for culture, for the Greek heritage, which is a common ground on which western civilization was built. So we’re aiming to promote that.”
The renovated Cultural Center is building on the foundations of the Onassis Foundations successes in the last 15 years, he said. We’re looking forward to the next 15 years, always adapting to the present, always responding to the needs of Greece, the needs of the United States, and of New York.”
Answering the “very good question” of how this event was fulfilling the Onassis Foundation’s mission to promote and disseminate Hellenism, Papadimitriou said that while there will still be an annual archaeological exhibition, in keeping with the OCC’s old format, there is a new direction. “Tonight, we are working in a different way. The new format of events, which we start today, which is very modern… I should say ‘contemporary’.” Acknowledging that a large number of presenters in the four-day festival were not of Greek descent, Papadimitriou went on to say, “Greece has a huge, heritage, a huge past, but in Greece, even today, in the crisis and the extreme financial situation, where a lot of Greeks are finding themselves, Greeks are producing tremendous art and tremendous culture as a response to the financial crisis. And this response works for dignity, and for art, and this is what we’re showing today, the ‘new Greece’.”
Drawing a parallel between Narcissus and today’s youth, Papadimitriou pointed out that while Narcissus was a beautiful boy, he was “difficult”. “He was unable to communicate. He was negative and defensive with the others. A lot of young people feel like that.”
He went on to say that he is “surprised at how beautiful boys and girls are in the younger generation… much more beautiful than two or three generations ago. They are taller; they are physically beautiful, but they are also beautiful in spirit.”
The Onassis initiatives are giving a forum to the younger generation to come forward and speak, he said, “We should not be negative to the new generation… it is wrong of the older generation to think that the younger is worse. Each generation, in the United States and Greece, and “particularly in Greece today, has its problems, but in total each generation is far better than the previous. Different, but also better,” he countered, adding, “That’s a historical fact.”
In response to the suggestion that perhaps some of what was being presented as new that evening was covering older ground, he stated, “What is happening here tonight is extremely modern.”
This brings the definition of the word “modern” up for discussion. To be truly modern, a festival of this kind might be organized with postmodern considerations in mind next time.
Go to www.onassisusa.org for more on the four-days of the “Narcissus Now: The Myth Reimagined” festival.