Theodórosz Terzopulosz - fotó: Eöri Szabó Zsolt
Theodórosz Terzopulosz - fotó: Eöri Szabó Zsolt

Theatre attracted by tradition – Theodoros Terzopoulos on the Olympic ideal

Remembrance is the common theme, says Greek director Theodoros Terzopoulos, a Founder of the International Theatre Olympics, about the diverse programme of the 2023 Theatre Olympics in Hungary. For him, next year’s Olympics, the tenth since its inception in 1995, will be characterised by memorable theatrical performances, openness to each other, and “peace-making” in the Olympic spirit.

– With the Covid epidemic barely behind us and a dangerous war raging in our neighbourhood, what is the role of next year’s Theatre Olympics in such times?

– In today’s world, where the family and other communities are increasingly fragmented, the Theatre Olympics has a particularly important role to play. I think the most important thing is that we have people from all over the world with whom we can share our ideas. In particular, we need to get to know cultures and nations different from our own, and I think that in Budapest we have all the prerequisites for discussing vital cultural and political issues. People have drifted apart and our task is to bring them closer together. And not in the way that globalization has done it: we do not want to homogenise everything, we want to preserve the various national and folk traditions. We want to build bridges of friendship, rather than distrust. Let’s just look at the failure of globalization! It has delivered products everywhere, but it has not delivered culture. In Budapest, we need to emphasise the importance of being together in the spirit of openness to each other’s values.

– In her paper titled International Theatre Olympics: the Artistic and Intercultural Power of Olympism, South Korea’s Jae Kyoung Kim sees one of the key differences between the Theatre Olympics and sports Games precisely in the fact that the artistic event has not been affected by political boycotts to date – unlike the 1980 Games in Moscow or the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. How much of an effort are you making to ensure the Hungarian Olympics is not affected by the Ukrainian-Russian conflict?

– Our effort is aimed at achieving just that: making sure the Olympics stands for signing a peace treaty! The original goal of the Olympic Games was precisely peaceful competition, with athletes from rival city-states competing against each other during the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century BC; they would declare peace at least for the duration of the Games. We cherish the same ideal!

– Every Olympics is different in character. As you prepare, what do you think will be the key theme of the 2023 edition?

– In China, Russia and Turkey, we managed to preserve the universal character of the Olympics, and we hope to continue to do so in Hungary. People were burying modern theatre for a long time and everything was defined by the spirit of post-modernity – but this seems to be over. Major artists are returning to tradition in order to revive it in a modern form. This is the case with the Indian artist Ratan Thiyam, who has returned to traditional forms, with Japan’s Tadashi Suzuki, who has gone back to kobuki and no theatre, or with me in terms of how I approach ancient tragedy. Remembrance is the common theme. Remembering always raises new questions and our job is to compose questions, because we believe that without questions there is no art, no democracy, no life. 

– Your production of the Attis Theatre Company’s adaptation of Ibsen’s Nora will be the opening performance of the Hungarian Theatre Olympics. Why are you presenting this production in Budapest?

– Nora premièred at the Teatro Piccolo in Milan in the summer of 2022, and we received great feedback. Audiences at the National Theatre and the Madách International Theatre Meeting (MITEM) have already seen my Athens-based company’s satirical play Ajax, and I have directed a tragedy at the National Theatre, Bacchae. I come to the Olympics with this “track record”, bringing a new approach to this well-known play by Ibsen. In our interpretation, Nora is about the power of money, which is why we enhance the role of Krogstad, the man who lent money to Nora and is blackmailing her. How does easy money affect us? I want to emphasise the political and ontological dimensions of the play.

– We usually see feminist interpretations of Nora on stage, are you more interested in criticising capitalism?

– On the one hand we, indeed, criticise the capitalist system, but also Nora herself. My approach is Brechtian, meaning that I look for the political aspects when I work on a play. Our performance is fundamentally influenced by the visible war in Ukraine, but also by all wars, even invisible, hybrid ones.

– Another Founder of the Olympics is the Japanese theatre artist Tadashi Suzuki, who will also participate in the Budapest Theatre Olympics. You and Attila Vidnyánszky visited the master in Japan this summer. What is he preparing for the Theatre Olympics?

– The National Theatre will present two productions by the Toga Company of Suzuki, the great master of Japanese theatre: Euripides’s tragedy The Trojan Women and Electra, based on Hugo von Hofmannstahl’s text. The former presents the new world created by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, while the latter explores the existence of modern man in the culture of oblivion. These productions have made theatre history, and it is a great pleasure to see Suzuki bringing them to Hungary, to the Theatre Olympics for the first time. We are members of a generation whose work and whose company-building efforts have been defined by the conscious development of a master-disciple relationship – which is less and less typical these days. Ratan Thiyam, an Indian theatre artist who is three years my junior, and Attila Vidnyánszky have been invited to join the Committee of the Theatre Olympics, so we’ll make plans for the future together. During our stay in Toga, we talked about what kind of performances we were planning, and the time we spent together was marked by mutual respect and friendship. I do hope this spirit will continue at the Olympics.

by György Lukácsy

(Via Nemzeti Magazin)

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