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Richard Buckle

A dance critic on Aristophanes’ «The birds» by the Greek Art Theatre of Karolos Koun, 24/05/1964

Buckle, Richard : "A dance critic on Aristophanes’ «The birds» by the Greek Art Theatre of Karolos Koun, 24/05/1964", Tradition and Art 069, p. 7 , Athens, I.O.F.A., May - June 2003. From of his book: Buckle at the ballet. New York, Atheneum, 1980, p. 217-218.

Buckle, Richard : Buckle at the ballet


The GreekArtTheatre’s production of The Birds at the Aldwych would not really be my business if Karolos Koun had not produced it as the all out singing, dancing show Aristophanes probably intended; so that I feel justified in sticking my nose above stairs to make a few rustic points. But this is only a pretext to boost an old mate of mine who happens to be one of the most distinguished stage designers of todey.

I suppose there was a time when flamenco dancing, as performed impromptu in Spanish caves or cafés, was unknown on the English stage: and I suppose there may come a time when the mysterious and hypnotic dances that Greek soldiers or fishermen sometimes get up and perform in cafés, solo, or in twos or threes or joined to each other by handkerchiefs, may regularly be compiled into spectacles and become a commonplace of the London theatre. Except to a few lucky tourists these Greek dances, which are believed to descend in an unbroken tradition from classical times, remain unknown here. But some of them, delightfully springing out of the play’s action to sung accompaniments, were arranged by Zouzou Nikoloudi for Karolos Koun’s production. Documentation for the folk dances was provided by Dora Stratou, whose fame as an expert has indeed reached me here. These are not brilliant, they are even monotonous. Yet combined with the plangent melodies of Hadjidakis they thrilled me in a new and curious way. The combination of modern tunes and ancient steps abolishes time; the classical world shimmers in today’s market-place, and while the same ships glide for ever between the islands, I am on my way to hear Socrates, smoking a cigarette.

And, of cource, the classical element in modern life, and vice versa, is a dominant theme in the art of Iannis Tsarouchis, whose set and dresses for The Birds I admire so much. In The Birds Tsarouchis did not try after big effects. It is not for any spectacular elements that his work so excites me, but for its modest fitness for the purposes of Aristophanes and Koun, its subtlety and the loving care with which it contrives diversity within unity.

The set is plain - a few timbers, platform and steps against blackness. The costumes for the Birds who adorn the stage throughout most of the action are sun-tan coloured tights with greyish non-realistic feathers sprouting oddly out of their shoulders or backsides or over their goggled eyes. There is a certain amout of pale blue and white adout. Jigging dancers sidle on to hang strings of triangular flags and bare lightbulbs. The comic masks of the indignant gods revealed to me the link between the masks of old Greek drama and our papier mâché fairground giant-heads.


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