Sunday 24 July 2011

Athens & Epidaurus Festival

Athens & Epidaurus Festival

The larger modern Greek cities often strike the arriving visitor as an inhuman monstrosities, sweltering masses of ugliness and chaos. Yet, as is sometimes the case, first impressions can be mistaken, and islands of beauty can be discovered by the discerning eye, carefully hidden from those too sloth to seek them.

This is inevitably the case of Athens, whose millennia of history guarantee that there are hidden treasures to satisfy all.

Yet today I shall speak of a thing of beauty that should not be considered a secret or a mystery, as it is an official festival of the Greek state, and thus should be widely publicised. Indeed for many locals it is an event eagerly awaited each year, yet few foreigners ever get to hear about it.

I refer to the Athens & Epidaurus Festival, which takes place each year from July to early September. Its programme includes performances of music, dance, theatre and exhibitions of visual arts, with the participants often being the most illustrious companies from around the world.

The Herodus Atticus Odeon at the foot of the Acropolis.

And yet it is not the performers - who usually range from excellent to superb - that make this festival unique. It is the venues that make the experience unique both for those on the stage as for those watching. My first experience of this was at the age of four, when I was taken to the Ancient Odeon of Herodus Atticus at the foot of the Acropolis, to listen to a magnificent Carmina Burana. Despite my age and the late hour at which the performance ended I was so enchanted that I wanted to stay on after its ending, not wishing to leave the magic which I felt all around me...

The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus

Since then I have eagerly gone to performances both in the Herodus Atticus Odeon -especially for classical music - and the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, where modern productions of both ancient dramas and modern theatre in a truly unique setting, allow for the added experience of feeling how the ancients must have experienced theatre.

Maybe it is because I am not going to Greece this summer that I wanted to share this, hoping for a dreamy echo of some mystical magic...

If you want to fit in a performance or two while in Greece, the best place to start is the official site of the festival with information on venues and the full programme and offers the possibility to buy tickets online. Although many people do not respect this, it should be remembered that the two sites mentioned are archaeological sites and should be respected as such. Please do not litter and do not wear high heals!

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