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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.

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».

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.

An extraordinary career’s highlights all in one evening October 22, 2007

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Maurice Bejart’s ballet set for two shows this week > Motion in harmony. Berjart’s career-spanning ‘L’Amour, la Danse’ comes to Athens this week.

The Bejart Ballet of Lausanne, the legendary Maurice Bejart’s current dance troupe, will be in Athens this week for two performances at the Pallas Theater on Wednesday and Thursday. At the time of writing, it remained unclear whether Bejart, who has suffered health problems recently, would be able to attend the performances and offer his admirers the opportunity to applaud the dancer, choreographer and man of wisdom for his lifetime’s achievements over the past 50 years.

Bejart, now 80, ranks as one of the most significant artists of our time. He revolutionalized dance and managed to draw bigger audiences while maintaining the art form’s spiritual dimension.

For the upcoming Athens performances, organized by the non-profit organization ELEPAP, the Hellenic Society for Disabled Children, Bejart, who has established an affinity with this country over the years, will present his most recent production, “L’Amour, la Danse,” which culls leading choreographies from his career.

Both his life’s work and personality run parallel with the history of dance. Twenty-five years after forming his Ballet of the 20th Century in 1960, Bejart relocated to Lausanne where he has since lived and worked.

His artistic world holds places for the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Charles Baudelaire and Gustav Mahler and his groundbreaking ballets have allowed for the co-existence of incongruent components, such as jazz elements with traditional African rituals, or the techniques of Martha Graham with the power of expressionist dance.

Bejart, like all major artists, is a man of contradictions. On many occasions, the daring nature of his work has proven to be a challenge. Most critics tend to agree that Bejart produced his greatest ballets in the 50s and 70s, when it is generally agreed that the artist took classical dance to wider audiences.

“I wanted to change both the genre and the audiences. I would rent out 5,000-capacity stadiums for a month and offer cheap tickets. I managed to have dance accepted at the Avignon Festival, at open-air theaters and public grounds. In my opinion, dance should not be elitist. It is a global language, an international tongue that brings people closer. In traditional dancing all over the world, the first thing dancers do is offer their hands,” Bejart had remarked in a former interview.

His work was deeply influenced by the Far East, both in terms of technique and school of thought. His father, a philosopher, spoke and wrote Chinese. Bejart himself studied Zen under the tutelage of Deshimaru, and, following a series of visits to Iran, was deeply influenced by a Kurdish Sufi and embraced Islam.

“Through dance, I try to offer a feeling of tranquillity and unity to the individual of the Western world, who is so egocentric, fragmented and divided,” Bejart has said. Applying Eastern philosophy to his work, he sought to change how audiences perceived dance, aiming for a ritualistic approach.

“Everything is sacred, from eating and sleeping to making love and dancing. If God was not omnipresent in our lives, there would not have been a reason to name him. God is not a bearded old man who governs the world from afar. He is among us, he lies within everyone of us. Which is why fanaticism, intolerance, and social segregation are all insults to divinity. Divinity is unity,” Bejart has stated.

Over the years, Bejart has presented scores of magical productions in Greece, including “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Magic Flute.” Bejart’s dance company last performed here in 2002 at the Herod Atticus Theater, staging a production based on music by the Greek composers Mikis Theodorakis and the late Manos Hadjidakis, both old friends. “I met Manos Hadjidakis many years ago and our friendship was a truly unique experience. And as for Mikis Theodorakis, my projects set to his music have traveled the world with great success everywhere,” Bejart stated in an interview in the summer of 2002.

“Dance is like breathing. When a young child manages to stand for the first time it will dance. Quite often, our conditioning forbids us to dance because it is not considered correct or the moment may be deemed inappropriate,” says Bejart. “But humans are made to dance. It’s a part of their nature.”

Bejart Ballet returns to Athens with his favorite choreographies October 6, 2007

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Ballet Lausanne to perform highlights at the Pallas Theater > Maurice Bejart and his Ballet Lausanne will be presenting two performances at the Pallas Theater on October 24 and 25 that are dedicated to Greece and the Athenian public.

“L’amour – La danse” is a compilation of Bejart’s best choreographies, with music ranging from Berlioz and Mozart all the way to Mikis Theodorakis. The performances have been set up by the Hellenic Society for Disabled Children (ELEPAP), which is celebrating 70 years of operation this year.

Bejart, a living dance legend, is much loved in Greece, where he has appeared with his 20th Century Ballet at the Herod Atticus Theater. At the Pallas, the performances will allow fans to revisit the past and to celebrate with him his 80th birthday on the occasion of this retrospective.

For these two very special performances, Bejart has chosen to present highlights from the following: “Le sacre du printemps,” “Romeo et Juliette,” “Heliogabale,” “Le chant du compagnon errant,” “Sept danses grecques,” “Arepo” and “Brel et Barbara” for the first part of the program.

In the evenings’ second part, the audience will see extracts from “Rumi,” “Casta Diva,” “Romeo et Juliette,” “Entre deux guerres,” “I Was Born To Love You,” “Concerto 21,” “Und so Weiter,” “U2” and “The Show Must Go On.”

For information and tickets > ELEPAP, 16 Kononos Street, Pangrati, Athens, tel 210 7254726 and the Pallas Theater, 5 Voukourestiou Street, Athens, tel 210 3213100. Shows begin at 9 p.m.

Athens Super Stars Gala > refund September 25, 2007

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Refunds are now available for the Super Stars Gala ballet performance, which had been scheduled to take place at the Pallas Theater September 20 to 23.

Ticket holders can be refunded at the theater box office, which is open noon to 8 p.m., until October 5. The performance was canceled due to problems faced by three of the 12 principal dancers.

Pallas Theater, Citylink, 5 Voukourestiou Street, Athens, tel 210 3213100.