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Patras City 2006 Cultural Capital of Europe May 25, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland, Patras Caltural Capital 2006.
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A year of events in Patras, Greece

Travelers should consider going out of their way in 2006 to partake of Patras, Greece’s gateway to the West, during its reign as the European Cultural Capital. This annual honor, passed from city to city since 1985, confers upon Patras the opportunity to shake off its reputation as a mere transit point, a post of dubious distinction it has held ever since the poet Byron first touched Greek soil here but went on to greater glories elsewhere.

Visitors to Patras, Greece’s second largest port and third largest city, are often as hurried as Byron as they fight the traffic snarls and one-way streets while in transit for more popular sights in the Peloponnese. In short, Patras gets a bad rap most of the time, except in the weeks leading up to Lent, when Patras comes into its glory by staging Greece’s supreme Carnival.

In 2006, however, Patras is staging not only a Carnival to surpass all its previous street celebrations, but a yearlong banquet of cultural and artistic events, many with an international flavor. Its city fathers have divided 2006 into eight themed cycles, each a festival in its own right, each a reason to linger in Patras.

Opening Days (Jan. 10-21)

Patras sets the stage for its celebrations with a “Labyrinth of Pictures” mounted in seven themed galleries at the Old Arsakeion School. Each “room-stop” in the gallery is a step through Patras’ history. The exhibit employs cinematic images and previously unpublished materials to open new perspectives on the city’s heritage.

Concurrent is the inauguration of a major exhibit, “Leonardo da Vinci: Scientist, Inventor, Artist,” which features hands-on working models of some of da Vinci’s most famous inventions, from clocks to flying machines.

Carnival Days (Jan. 21-March 5)

Carnival has been Patras’ chief tourist attraction for decades, a street party that engulfs the city in costumes and revelry for weeks. Pre-Lenten costume balls date back to the 1840s among the merchant houses, with street celebrations beginning in the early 1870s when the women of the city appeared unescorted, masked and dressed in black, on the prowl for a night out, a Patras tradition known as “Bourboulia” that continues to this day.

In 2006, Carnival will stretch out to cover five weeks, its chariot parades and costume parties culminating in fireworks and the burning of King Carnival at the harbor on the evening of March 4, the Sunday before “clean Monday” when Lent begins on the Greek calendar.

Among special events devised to lend an international flavor to Carnival are performances by the Cabaret Toulouse-Lautrec jazz duo from Brazil and the National Acrobatic Troupe from China. Italian music director Giovanni Mauriello pays tribute to the 17th Century singers of Naples Feb. 11-12. Local spice will be provided by the Carnival Atelier’s masked actors performing scenes from Rabelais’ “Gargantua and Pantagruel” in the streets and by the Ionian Theatre’s “Unethical Poetry” project in which roving performers and acrobats will entertain and sometimes accost passersby with sarcastic and risque jokes.

Concurrent with Carnival is “The Mask and Politics,” a project enabling 51 cartoonists from America, Europe and Greece to create cartoons with a message. Their cartoon panels will be enlarged and displayed throughout the city.

On March 1 and 2, as Carnival veers toward its climax, the First Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, fashioning its instruments from fresh carrots, cucumbers and pumpkins in lieu of drums and guitars, tosses aside serious music. On the same two days, 10 gigantic dolls will dance as part of the “Music Theatre in the Streets” project on the Gerokostopoulou Stairs in the old part of town.

Days of Poetry and Music (April 27-May 11)

Following the fury of Carnival, Patras focuses on words and music with a number of performances uniting poets, including Greece’s own Yannis Ritsos, and musicians, such as Polish flutist Iwona Glinka. A multimedia presentation of women’s poetry is set for May 2 at the Theatre of Patras.

Contemporary Approaches to Ancient Drama (May 19-June 4)

The fourth cycle of Patras’ cultural celebration centers on the masters of ancient Greek drama, given new and very modern treatment on the city’s stages. On May 19, Patras premieres a new version of Aeschylus’ “Choephori,” directed by Lee Breuer with an all-woman cast. There are subsequent performances of Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex,” using a “nihilistic” approach; Euripides’ “Medea,” where the chorus is put to radical uses; and Aeschylus’ “Prometheus in Chains,” focusing on resistance to tyranny.

French choreographer Joelle Bouvier’s “Fureurs,” an interpretation of the drama of Antigone, epitomizes the contemporary and experimental stagings that Patras plans: in this performance, actors from Greece, Spain, France, Korea and New Zealand speak no lines, relying solely on dance and movement to convey the play’s universal message.

Traveling (end of June to mid-September)

In recent years Patras has staged a two-month summer international festival of music and dance. In 2006, this annual festival will become part of a larger cycle devoted to the performing arts that sends audiences “traveling” from Patras and the Ionian countryside to Europe and the Americas.

Summer visitors to Patras will be entertained when Latin American guitarist Manuel Barrueco and Cuarteto Latinoamericano team up July 31. Later, Azerbaijani jazz pianist Aziza Mustafa Zadeh and piano virtuoso Ivo Pogorelich are slated to give concerts. Isabel Allende is supervising a “Trip to the End of the World,” a multimedia tribute to freedom incorporating the voices of Pablo Neruda and Salvador Allende.

Classical music fans will have an opportunity to attend the opening concert of the Camerata Friends of Music Orchestra as it launches a worldwide tour in celebration of the International Mozart Year under the baton of Sir Neville Marriner. Mozart will also be on the mind of violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter as she celebrates her 30th year on stage with a concert at the University of Patras on Aug. 30. Mstislav Rostropovitch will conduct the National Symphony Orchestra of Lithuania, with soloist Julian Rachlin on violin, at the ancient Roman Odeion July 19.

A touring cinema project will revive a pre-television tradition by bringing 20 films to remote rural communities in the heat of the summer nights, while during two hot weeks, July 15-30, a “crystal city” of ice will be created in the industrial section of Patras by dancer and installation artist Emilia Bouriti.

Days of Religion and the Arts (November)

The largest Orthodox cathedral in Greece is at Patras. Dedicated to St. Andrew, the apostle of Greece who was martyred in Patras in AD 60, the cathedral houses his relics and skull. St. Andrew is not only the patron saint of Greece in general and Patras in particular, but of Scotland, too, and the spiritual cycle of Patras’ cultural celebration in 2006 is both intensely Greek and widely ecumenical.

The Greek Byzantine Orchestra will present the canticles of the saint Nov. 1. Later the Glinka Choir of St. Petersburg, the Hilliard Ensemble vocal quartet of England and the choir of St. Andrew Cathedral will perform religious music at the big cathedral and shrines. On Nov. 15 the Solistes de Lyon chorus, the Chamber Music Orchestra of Stockholm and soloists under the direction of Bernard Teto will present Mozart’s Requiem.

Children’s Art Days (Dec. 1-31)

The final major cycle of the arts in Patras is intended to be the largest art festival for children ever held in Greece. At its heart is a concert, “The Most Beautiful Flower in the World,” fashioned from four fairy tales, including “The Brave Tin Soldier” by Hans Christian Andersen. With a score by Emilio Aragon, it will be presented Dec. 18.

Patras is the birthplace of Karagiozis, the shadow puppet theater tradition of Greece. Fittingly, the children’s cycle of cultural events in Patras features marionette troupes from many nations, including the Jordi Bertran Co. from Spain, the Obraztsov Puppet Theatre from Russia and the Puppet Art Troupe from China. Patras’ own puppeteers include Pavlos Kavadias, who will perform “The Cat and the Mouse” with hand puppets, and the “Ciroka Puppet Theatre,” with a performance drawn from Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book.”

The most ambitious production is Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” performed by the National Marionette Theatre from Prague, where the opera premiered in 1787.

The month for children brings other performers. On Dec. 15-16, the Ballet Schindowski will set an entire orchestra into comic action with a performance of “When Instruments Dance” at the Theatre of Patras. Later, the British acrobats of “The Chipolatas” will juggle, dance and sing.

Conan the Bubbleman brings the cultural cycle to a close and bubbles to life Dec. 18-30 with music and laser beams.

Closing Days (Dec. 28-31)

While organizers promise to bring the curtain down on Patras’ staging of the European Capital of Culture 2006 with some big events, none had been announced at press time, but this is Greece, where time has its own ineffable essence. The only closing event that has been described to date is “The Woman of Patras,” in which Panorea, an old prostitute, delivers a monologue of her life and that of the city on the western sea.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE

Patras (population, about 200,000) is located almost west of Athens on the northwest coast of the Peloponnese. Patras is a major ferry terminal linking Greece with Italy (18-21 hours from Patras to Ancona on the fastest vessels, 33-36 hours to Venice or Trieste). The port is also the gateway to Corfu (7 hours) and other Ionian islands, popular in high season (June-September). Athens is 125 miles from Patras, 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours by rail, 3 hours by bus or car. There is no passenger air service to Patras, making Athens the major transit point for international visitors.

SIGHTS & STAGES

Patras is not a treasure-house of antiquities, but it has a modest array of historic sites, some dating to the Roman period, that will be employed to stage performances during the city’s year as Europe’s cultural capital. Foremost is St. Andrew Cathedral (Agios Andreas), a vast edifice near the waterfront built between 1908 and 1974 on the site of several earlier churches and an ancient temple. The new cathedral houses the remains and relics of St. Andrew, patron saint of Patras.

Topping the town’s formidable acropolis is the Castle of Patras, its Byzantine walls and rooms having endured since the 6th Century AD. Even older is the Odeion, a brick theater built by the Romans in the 2nd Century AD and these days the venue for scores of summer concerts. For opera and other classical music forms, the choice in Patras is the Apollo Municipal Theatre, the city’s most elegant hall, built in 1872. Art installations, galleries, readings and drama are often held along the waterfront in the Barry Warehouses, mid-19th Century structures that once housed mills and factories. Two other art centers with character are the neo-classical Old Municipal Hospital, which served as such from 1872 to 1973, and the Municipal Slaughterhouse, which in 1998 was given new life as the Patras Exhibition Centre.

Three of Patras’ most popular tourist stops are the Turkish Steam Baths (Hamam), Venetian-built in AD 1400 and still in use; Agiou Nikolaou Street, connecting the upper city to the old port with lively shopping, eating and nightlife; and the Achaia Clauss Winery, Greece’s first and one of its largest. Dating from 1861, this winery is where the sweet Greek dessert wine known as mavrodaphne originated; the winery’s Imperial Cellar is the place to taste it.

INFORMATION

More information about Patras’ cultural capital events can be found at www.patras2006.gr. Visitor information is available at www.infocenterpatras.gr or from the Greek National Tourist Organization, www.gnto.gr.

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