Greek Director Elli Papakonstantinou Presents Her Work at Avignon Festival & in Sweden

ATHENS  – Greek Director Elli Papakonstantinou will present her latest works at the Avignon Festival and the Royal Theatre of Sweden. She continues her remarkable artistic journey on an international level, consistently directing on some of the world’s great stages, as well as for historic non-theatrical spaces, unconventional political projects, winning awards and constantly experimenting with new forms. The anti-fascist production The Kindly Ones, which had its world premiere at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp memorial in Austria, will be presented at the Avignon Festival, July 13-16, while her latest play, Alkestis, premieres at the Royal Theatre of Sweden on December 2. 

Papakonstantinou “rewrites” and directs Euripes’ play in a commission by the Royal Theatre, with an exceptional ensemble of Swedish actors. Among them is Per Mattsson and Kinkci Bramberg who were frequently under the direction of Ingmar Berman, while Melinda Kinnaman, the protagonist of the successful mystery BBC TV series Modus, holds  the lead role of Alkestis. Papakonstantinou’s play will open the new theatrical season for Mattias Andersson, the Artistic Director of the Royal Theatre.

She spoke with The National Herald about her latest projects, how the pandemic affected her work, and what she is working on next.

TNH: What inspired these latest projects?

Elli Papakonstantinou: Everyday life, politics, pain inside of me and all around me, lockdowns, my favorite ancient myths, poetry and the art of others, a deep faith in humanity, a trip to Mauthausen Concentration camp that shocked me, femicides and MeToo, moments that spark the beginning of an idea. The desire to tell an ancient story with new words. Sometimes, I am commissioned, some others I try hard to find support. 

With The Kindly Ones, which I will present at the Avignon Festival and La Manifacture on July 12 and 13, I explore notions of history as present and collective trauma. Performed in concentration camps and SHOA Memorials all around Europe – starting from the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria in 2019- this show is inspired by the Greek myth of the Aeschylean “Eumenides” that I transcribed in reference to the far-right and extremist uprise in Europe. In Avignon, the performance takes place at the Concentration Camp Des Milles. The piece brings collective trauma and inclusion at the epicenter. It embraces texts by Iakovos Kambanellis – a survivor of Mauthausen Camp- but also further texts by prisoners of Camp des Milles in France such as the visual artist Marx Ernst.

At Mauthausen, I had access to local records, conducted interviews, collaborated with researchers and for the French performance I was the recipient of a very prestigious residency at the Centre National des écritures du Spectacle (La Chartreuse).

The Concentration camps and the surrounding areas have a life of their own. We cannot bypass the fact that Aix-en-Provence, the town closest to Camp Des Milles, is the electoral district of Marie Le Pen and Mariani, where the far right party is expected to win. 

History weighs heavily on the local community despite all efforts to move on. Bringing audiences together in such charged times and places turns historical reflection into a communal living experience.

The world is in a serious transition and many certainties are shaken. The Greek myths provide the platform to rest, dream, and reflect upon ourselves. I like these extreme stories where we see human beings that have become so much bigger than their lives that they brush onto gods. These are the kind of stories that can speak of our times and it’s a great challenge to transcribe them and to present them to international audiences. I feel truly blessed and humbled to encounter such a response to my work.

TNH: How has the pandemic affected your work?

EP: It was a truly challenging time. I worked non-stop. There was a lot of uncertainty, cancellations, and reprogramming. But at the same time, working with new technologies, I launched myself into the making of a new language, what I call “cinematic opera.” I digitally revisited my opera, Oedipus: Sex with Mum Was Blinding, that premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in New York in September 2019 developed in collaboration with Stanford University and the Center for Computer Research in Music & Acoustics (CCRMA).

Drawing inspiration from Deleuze-Guattari and the idea of fluid identity and the ever evolving self, as well as gaming, facial recognition and augmented reality (AR) technologies, I created an interactive new digital performance titled Hotel AntiOedipus. The show premiered at Centre George Pompidou in Paris in collaboration with IRCAM this past March and is currently on tour.

Another digital work was Traces of Antigone, written by the Greek-Swedish Christina Ouzounidis. A piece on femininity created for Zoom as an alternative stage. The show was developed completely under the extended quarantines and is currently touring the world in both a physical and digital format: Romaeuropa Festival, (Italy)- IRCAM/Centre Pompidou, Paris (France), Currents New Media (USA), O. FESTIVAL (Holland) etc. 

TNH: What are you working on next?

EP: I am currently writing and directing a new play, titled Alkestis that is commissioned by Dramaten, the Royal Theatre of Sweden and the new artistic director Matthias Andersson. It is a great challenge to direct the Dramaten Ensemble consisted by Sweden’s top actors -some of them known for their long collaboration with Ingmar Bergman. I am writing a play that draws from Euripides' Alkestis but I am writing it though a feminine perspective. This is the same story but as we have never heard it before. Gender politics has always been a central theme in my work. The premiere of the show will take place on December 2.


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