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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Όρνιθες (Birds by Aristophanes)

Last night, I went to see Όρνιθες (Birds) by Αριστοφάνη (Aristophanes), which made its debut summer performance in Hania. The travelling theatre is playing here four nights, before moving on to other parts of Greece, culminating in performances at Epidavros and Herodes Atticus, the first time a play produced by the Municipal Regional Theatre of Crete has ever been staged to these heights. Όρνιθες (pronounced 'OR-ni-thess') was originally staged 2,500 years ago during the City Dionysia, a festival that took place in ancient Athens every year.  



Ὄρνιθες is supposedly not based on Athenian politics, but it makes direct references to the gods of Olympus and Athenian society. This was directly translated as allusions to Greek politicians, the public sector, and speculators in the Ornithes 2012. To read more about the history of this ancient comedy, you can check Wikipedia's site. The plot summary it provides shows how timely the play is in the modern times we live in:
"The play begins with two middle-aged men stumbling across a hillside wilderness, guided by a pet crow and a pet jackdaw. One of them advises the audience that they are fed up with life in Athens, where people do nothing all day but argue over laws,..."
In a true democracy, people are free to express themselves and in ancient Greece, despite the fear of incurring the wrath of the gods, they still made fun of them. We see the continuation of this in modern times - but it doesn't always work like this...

 Ornithes 2012, performed at Θέατρο Ανατολικής Τάφρου, the Theatre of the Eastern Moat, in Hania - the theatre is located right beside the remaining Venetian walls that used to border the old town of Hania which are still standing. For more photos of the performance, click here.

The English Wikipedia link does not tell its impoverished readers anything about the significance of this play in the modern Greek theatre world, and the modern European world of theatre, for that matter. For that, you must read the Greek Wikipedia link - I provide you with a rough translation:

"In 1959, Ornithes had its legendary performance at the Theatre of the Arts (Athens). The composer Manos Hadjidakis met with other top artists artists: the painter Tsarouchis, who made the sets and costumes, and Karolos Koon, director of the show and artistic director of the Theatre of the Arts. The show, however, had quite an opposite effect on the audience from what was desired. The public reacted badly at the premiere (August 29), so the play was banned, following representations from the Ministry of the Presidency. However, while the public censure only concerned the scene with the priest (who was represented as a Greek Orthodox priest) and not all the work, the show was interrupted abruptly. The course of the musical work, however, was not interrupted. Manos Hadjidakis decided to deal with its details and to orchestrate it. The project got its final form (as a cantata) in 1964 . A year later, Maurice Béjart directs and choreographs "Birds" in the same musical direction of Hadjidakis, and presents the work at the Brussels Opera. In "Birds", the multi-faceted talent of Manos Hadjidakis, enriched with new elements, made another great turning point, not only in his own way, but in that of modern Greek music. The performance of the Theatre of the Arts, after stopping in 1959, was repeated in 1960 in its final form, with choreography by Zouzou Nikoloudi. It continued to be performed in subsequent years in Greece and abroad, where in 1965 it got first prize at the Festival of Nations."

Ornithes, performed at Epidavros theatre, in 1975 (the two-hour performance can be seen here).

The original musical score by Manos Hadjidakis' was also used in last night's performance. The original play ends on a positive and optimistic note, as did the 2012 version: that the world can be a better place to live in.


Coincidentally, όρνιθες means 'chickens' - in Crete, older people still refer to the chickens in their coop as όρθες (as I remember my grandmother saying). The word for 'birds' in ancient Greek is 'πτηνά' (pti-NA), while the word 'όρνις' (OR-nis) in ancient Greek (which gives us όρνιθα - OR-ni-tha, pl. όρνιθες - OR-ni-thess, in modern Greek) means 'chickens'. We generally all know the rather derogatory 'bird brain' phrase, but it seems that there is some element of truth in the saying, when one considers David Cameron's recent outburst...

If you live in Hania, you can catch this show tonight and tomorrow night: reduced-price tickets available online at Viva, or the Kosta Boda outlet in Hania. Door prices are only slightly more expensive (we paid €50 for two children and one adult). Otherwise, you can catch the show somewhere else in Greece - it's playing until 19th September, and it features some of Greece's most popular actors, people who have made us laugh a lot this year, in their way helping to alleviate Greek people's sorrows.

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