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A Larissa-born soprano brings opera home February 11, 2008

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Myrto Papathanassiou at the helm of ‘La Traviata’ > The Greek soprano is presenting ‘La Traviata’ in Larissa this month.

The headline in leading Italian newspaper La Repubblica was poignant: “Violetta-Myrto seduces the Opera,” read the title, while nearly all of the rave review was dedicated to “Myrto Papathanassiou from Larissa.” Greek soprano Papathanassiou had drawn enthusiasm from the Roman public as Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the city’s Teatro dell’Opera. That was back in April of last year, when two leading names of Italian opera, director Franco Zeffirelli and conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti, had entrusted Papathanassiou with the role. She was back in Rome’s opera house this year, taking part in a new production of Puccini’s “Tosca.”

Taking a break from her busy international schedule, Papathanassiou is currently in Greece working on a project that will not get her another Repubblica headline but nevertheless means a lot to her.

On February 22, Papathanassiou is scheduled to go on stage in Larissa, her hometown. At the helm of an almost exclusively made-in-Larissa production of “La Traviata,” at the city’s Municipal musical conservatory, the soprano will appear alongside the city’s Municipal Young Symphony Orchestra, the Larissa conservatory’s Dimitris Mitropoulos school orchestra and opera choir as well as the Thessaly ballet, under the guidance of director Costas Lambroulis and maestro Christos Chtistakis.

Considering that opera productions are a rarity in places like Thessaloniki, a city with over 1 million inhabitants, staging “La Traviata” in Larissa takes on a larger dimension, far beyond the upcoming five scheduled performances at the city’s municipal music school. The event is uniting the city’s artistic powers and brings an artistic genre identified with big city centers to the local community.

As for Papathanassiou, the soprano is fully aware of the upcoming project’s importance. “It takes guts to do this,” she says, adding that her involvement in the production has a lot to do with her faith in the abilities of the local community. Furthermore, following the orchestra’s own preparations, whose level she finds “very good,” she is now looking forward to the rehearsals.

Papathanassiou’s own journey from Larissa has been embellished with various stops at leading opera houses around the world: the Sydney Opera, the Monaco Opera, the Amsterdam Opera, Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, the Opera Comique in Paris and the Konzerthaus in Vienna, to name but a few.

On the Greek front, Papathanassiou has collaborated with the Greek National Opera only once so far, taking on the role of Sandrina in Mozart’s “La Finta Giardiniera” – something the soprano attributes to coincidence and chance. In any case, while Papathanassiou is already aware of her schedule for 2011, the Greek National Opera has yet to announce its program for next season.

Tango’s eternal embrace November 1, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Cyprus, Ballet Dance Opera, Stage & Theater.
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Internationally renowned dancers will perform in a special production of the world’s most passionate dance

When tango first evolved in Buenos Aires in the late 1800s, it was seen as a terribly scandalous new dance. At the time, the waltz and the polka were the only other dances requiring a man and woman to hold each other, but the embrace was staid in comparison to the shocking closeness of the partners dancing the tango.

A world away from the posh ballrooms of Europe however, tango was born in bars, gambling houses and brothels. As lonely men looked for a little entertainment, they fell into the arms of women who were willing to dance cheek to cheek, chests together, their legs intertwined.

The middle and upper classes frowned upon this kind of activity, and ‘decent’ families or women of good reputation did not want to have anything to do with this dangerous new behaviour. But this sensational dance was unstoppable and orchestras and dancers from Buenos Aires began to travel to Europe to show the world their moves. The first European tango craze took place in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century, where it became the dance of the moment and rapidly migrated to London, Rome, Berlin and finally New York. Back in Buenos Aires, no longer was tango a dance to be frowned upon, on the contrary, it became the most fashionable dance at all grand social events and parties.

Today, tango is one of the most popular dances in the world, seen as sensual and romantic by millions around the world who enrol in classes to learn the intricate moves. All lovers of the dance in Cyprus can look forward to something really special at the start of November, as a very glitzy and passionate Argentine Tango performance will be staged in Nicosia and Limassol.

Named ‘The Eternal Embrace’, the show will include the participation of three of the most famous Argentine tango couples from Buenos Aires, world-class musicians, special effects and projections, all under the artistic direction of Julia Gorina. Brought to Cyprus by JG Productions, the show will be staged for two nights at the Nicosia Municipal Theatre on November 8 and 9, and at the Rialto Theatre in Limassol on November 10.

As a real affair of the heart, the name ‘Eternal Embrace’ was aptly chosen, as all net profit sales will be given to the medical fund of the charity Adult Congenital Heart Defects Association. “Tango starts from an embrace and all the rest just builds from that touch. It’s a strong and supportive gesture, but also one of kindness and softness,” says Gorina.

The show is a brand new tango production, best described as a fascinating fiesta of dance and music that brings together top grade performers who are currently touring around the world, Gabriel Misse and Alejandra Mantinian, Omar Ocampo and Monica Romero and Fernando Serrano and Bibliana Reynoso.

The dancers and musicians bring alive a story of a man and woman in love, complete with seduction, passion, love and hate, and friendships destroyed by rivalry.

The show will take you on a journey through all tango styles and rhythms. Omar and Monica were the stars of the most famous tango show in the history of Argentine tango, ‘Tango Passion’ and toured the world. Monica has studied and performed with some of the most prestigious choreographers and Argentine tango teachers, while Omar has performed as the lead dancer in some of the most important masterpieces of national Argentine folkloric dance productions. Alexandra and Gabriel are another famous duo, and for the past five years they have been performing in shows such as the famous ‘Una Noche de tango’.

Fernando and Bibliana make an interesting partnership between a male dancer who is renowned around the world as a real ‘tango showman’, and a new generation female dancer who combines classical tango with contemporary moves.

The renowned Austrian violinist Dora Schwarzberg will be performing the music, accompanied by Jorge Bosso, the talented composer and virtuoso cello player from Argentina, and Ludmila Pischik on the piano.

Tango – The Eternal Embrace > An Argentine tango performance with three of the most famous Argentine tango couples from Buenos Aires, world-class musicians, special effects and projections. November 8 and 9, Nicosia Municipal Theatre, 8.30pm, tel 77772717. November 10, Rialto Theatre, Limassol, 8.30pm, tel 77777745. Tickets at Cy£15. For general information call 25 822842 and 25 578220.

All eyes on troubled ballet’s newly appointed director October 31, 2007

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Famed Russian dancer Irek Mukhamedov makes his debut on Sunday.

«I always tell myself that whatever happens is only for the better,» says Irek Mukhamedov, the world-renowned classical dancer who recently assumed the top artistic post at the troubled Greek National Opera Ballet.

Succeeding another prominent figure as artistic director, the Canadian classical dancer Lynn Seymour, who resigned abruptly in the summer after a one-year tenure, Mukhamedov is the latest bet being placed by the Greek ballet’s administration. Seymour had walked out declaring that her «artistic objectives could not be reached under specific working conditions» while adding that the changes she had proposed «could not be implemented in the near future».

Now 47, Mukhamedov, who continues to rank as one of the world’s most impressive classical dancers, has often declared: «I don’t want to be one of the ordinary ones. I want to be the best».

Born in Kazan, Russia, Mukhamedov trained at the Moscow Ballet School. In 1981, he won the Grand Prix at the Moscow International Ballet Competition and was recruited as the principal dancer at the Bolshoi Ballet, where he remained for nine years.

His performances in «Spartacus», «Ivan the Terrible», «Raymonda», «Romeo and Juliet» and «The Golden Age», a production choreographed just for Mukhamedov, highlighted his phenomenal talent.

In 1990, a significant year in Mukhamedov’s career, the Russian artist moved to the West to become the principle dancer at Covent Garden’s Royal Ballet. He stayed until 2001. Last year, when Seymour was appointed artist director to the Greek National Opera Ballet, Mukhamedov joined her here as an assistant and trainer. Now at the helm himself, Mukhamedov is set to stage his debut production for the National Opera Ballet this Sunday evening, as both dancer and choreographer, at the Olympia Theater. The performance will feature three ballets, «Paquita» by Marius Petipa, Jose Limon’s «The Moor’s Pavane» and August Bournonville’s «Napoli».

Greeks aim to bring Callas collection home October 31, 2007

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Italians will also be vying for opera singer’s paraphernalia at auction in Milan

la_divina_maria_callas.jpg  Her relationship with Greece may have been as tempestuous as her love affair with Aristotle Onassis, but three decades after her death Greeks, it seems, cannot get enough of Maria Callas. So much so, that the cash-strapped Athens government has unprecedented plans to snap up the last great collection of paraphernalia associated with the singer when it goes under the auctioneer’s hammer on December 12.

“The sale of all these items interests us hugely,” Panayiotis Kakoliris, a senior adviser to the Greek Culture Minister, said. “Right now, we are looking into how we can raise the funds, to both buy and bring them here.”

At stake is a fabulous array of intimate letters, jewels, evening dresses, furniture, paintings, photographs, unseen stage notes and annotated musical scores released by the estate of Callas’s husband, the late Italian industrialist Giovanni Battista Meneghini.

The material, which allegedly unlocks every aspect of the soprano’s life with the much older Meneghini, whom she was to drop in 1957 for Onassis, is expected to fetch well in excess of £500,000 when it is auctioned in Milan. Comprising 330 lots, the collection, which also includes the couple’s engraved, gold band wedding rings, is so voluminous that Sotheby’s had to put aside a day for the sale.

“The items may be less valuable now but they are very intimate. What is quite obvious is that Meneghini, though 28 years older than Maria, never stopped being in love with her,” said Esmeralda Benvenuti, the deputy director of Sotheby’s in Milan. “He kept all her letters and, having read them, I can say they are really very passionate. A lot of her belongings, after her death, were put up for auction in Paris in 1978 and he bought those as well which is why the collection is so big.”

Since Callas’s premature death, at the age of 53 in the French capital, interest in the woman who would come to be known as La Divina, has never waned, with fan clubs proliferating worldwide. Strangely, however, international adoration has failed until this year to be replicated in Greece, the country Callas most identified with, requesting that her ashes be scattered in the Aegean, but one she avoided when, in her late 30s, her voice cracked and her often stormy relations with her family worsened.

At the last auction of Callas memorabilia in Paris seven years ago, Greek devotees rushed to buy the singer’s personal effects, but Athens’ Town Hall, which had also dispatched buyers, was unable to keep up with the bidding war. As a result, admirers in Athens have had to make do with a Maria Callas Museum whose exhibits include little more than a wig, a set of gloves and photographs of the singer playing with her favourite pooch. “Of course, we would like to have more but tell me how when there’s always been the issue of money,” said Loulis Psychoulis, who runs an Athenian conservatory dedicated to La Divina.

Augmenting the country’s paltry Callas collection has become a priority for a government that, this year, has also gone out of its way to celebrate the great dramatic singer with a series of recitals, concerts, exhibitions and shows.

But the desire to repay a debt of gratitude, long overlooked, may have come too late. When the bidding starts in Milan, the home town of La Scala where much of her career was made, the Greeks will be up against the Italians who also see Callas, their favourite opera star, as one of their own.

Born Mary Anna Kalogeropoulou to Greek emigres in New York, Maria Callas is regarded as the greatest opera singer since the second world war. She grew up in Athens, making her debut there. She moved to Italy and met industrialist Giovanni Meneghini. They married in 1949. He oversaw her career which rocketed at La Scala in Milan. In 1957, she met Aristotle Onassis, divorced Meneghini and expected to marry Onassis, but the shipping magnate’s affections turned to John F Kennedy’s widow Jackie, who he married in 1968. Callas gave her last public concert in 1974. She died on September 16 1977 in Paris.

Former Bolshoi star to head Greek National Opera ballet October 31, 2007

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Former Bolshoi Ballet star dancer Irek Mukhamedov has taken over the direction of Greece’s National Opera ballet, the organisation said on Friday.

The position has been vacant since June after previous director, Canadian ballerina Lynn Seymour, resigned citing unsurmountable problems with Greek bureaucracy. The Greek National Opera is a state organisation operating under the supervision of the Culture Ministry.

Born in the Russian city of Kazan, 47-year-old Mukhamedov was for years the Bolshoi’s leading male dancer. He left Russia in 1990 to join the Royal Ballet in London, where his talent inspired choreographers such as Sir Kenneth MacMillan to create roles for him.

He was awarded the Hans Christian Anderson Prize for Best Dancer in the World in 1988. Mukhamedov, who holds British citizenship, was previously the Greek National Opera’s artistic coordinator.

The Pilobolus > Bodies that are flexible October 30, 2007

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Act that defies limits, gravity > The Pilobolus dance troupe will give a series of performances at the Badminton Theater until Friday

Founded in 1971, the company, considered to be one of the greatest American dance companies today, has toured extensively around the world. Its two Athens performances in 2003 were much discussed and took place in front of a tightly packed Herod Atticus Theater.

Bodies that are so flexible they seem to be able to take on any shape, in a never-ending battle against gravity and the limits of the human body, are about to make their appearance in Athens. The world-renowned Pilobolus Dance Theater, a highly unusual dance company, will embark on a series of shows at the Badminton Theater, starting tonight and running to Friday.

The group is named after Pilobolus crystallinus, a tiny fungus that loves the sun and has a unique way of reproducing. The company, founded in 1971 at Dartmouth College, may rank as one of the greatest American dance companies today, but it still functions as a collective. Pilobolus is a tightly knit ensemble, with a general director, three artistic directors and seven dancers, all of whom work together for the production of new material.

The company is based in Connecticut but performs live as well as on television all over the world. Since 1973, it has been performing every year at the American Dance Festival. It has given shows on Broadway and at New York’s Joyce Theater, as well as London’s Sadler’s Wells, Rome’s Teatro Olimpico, Paris’s Theatre de la Ville and Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens. The ensemble has toured extensively in South America, Asia and Europe.

Pilobolus’s reputation spread even further when it performed at the 79th Academy Award Ceremony in Los Angeles last February and then Oprah Winfrey screened its choreographies in a special tribute on her television show.

The ensemble’s latest productions of the past few years, some of which it will perform at the Badminton Theater, include the choreographies “Memento Mori,” “Prism” and “B’yzrk.”

The Badminton Theater, Goudi Military Park, Athens, tel 211 1086024. Tickets can be purchased at the theater box office, open daily between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., at Virgin Megastores, over the phone on 210 8840600 and online at www.ticketnet.gr

Contrasting worlds of two dance masters united October 30, 2007

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Sylvie Guillem and Akram Khan perform their culture-bridging ‘Sacred Monsters’ at the Thessaloniki Concert Hall this week.

Their class shone through when they performed in Greece last summer at the Herod Atticus in Athens. Now Sylvie Guillem and Akram Khan are returning to the country for their first ever performances in Thessaloniki at the northern city’s Concert Hall this Wednesday and Thursday. Their project, “Sacred Monsters” bridges dance styles from East and West.

“I’m a classical dancer and have been trained for this, but I can’t say that what I support,  my religion, is one style, one technique, one tradition,” says Guillem, the acclaimed French ballet dancer who has performed with the Paris Opera Ballet and is currently a guest principal dancer with the Royal Ballet in London. “What I can say is that the place I dance in, guided by any technique, is a sacred place for me. The stage is a monster. My sacred monster,” continued Guillem, who set herself free for her collaboration with Khan after the 33-year-old British choreographer of Bangladeshi descent came up with a novel and impressive proposal.

In the words of Khan, a master of Kathak, the classical dance style of northern India, the duo, through this project, get to display their “common but also personal experiences from the field of classical dance. ‘Sacred Monsters’ is a meditative work on the journey from classical world to contemporary world… the body has the ability to absorb the transition from one world to the other… that’s when it finds ways to combine the contrasts.”

Thessaloniki Concert Hall, 25th Martiou Street, Thessaloniki. For ticket information and bookings, call 2310 895938 or 2310 895939.