Saturday, August 6, 2016

Interview: Woman who orchestrates "unforgettable" handover ceremonies at Olympics



ATHENS, Aug. 5 (Xinhua) -- As the Olympic flame reaches the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro for the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics, Artemis Ignatiou, the Greek choreographer of the lighting and handover ceremonies of the Olympic flame over the past decade, spoke of the values the torch carries across the world,.

Ignatiou will be in Rio on Aug. 5, along with Katerina Lehou who lit the Olympic flame playing the role of an ancient High Priestess in Athens, the birthplace of the Games, in April, at the invitation of the International Olympic Committee.

Ignatiou received numerous compliments for this year's ceremonies at Olympia and the Panathinaic stadium in Athens, but the 2008 ceremonies will always hold a special place in her heart.

"Maybe it was indeed better than previous ceremonies but for me each ceremony is unique, starting from the special for me ceremony of lighting the flame which burned for the Beijing Olympic Games. I will never forget that ceremony because it was the first time I assumed this role and I later came to know that my teacher was proud of me," she told Xinhua.

Ignatiou approaches each ceremony in a different manner to create a link to the host city and country, she said. In 2008, she opted to create several patterns with the dancers and a choreography which was flowing like water. For the 2012 London Games, she tried to encompass the British culture's journey to progress. For the Brazil ceremonies, she attempted to portray a vibrant spirit.

The choreographer bears a large share of responsibility for the entire event -- from the costumes and the makeup of the dancers and actresses who play the roles of the ancient Greek priestesses to hairstyles, sandals and what they will eat or when they will go to bed.

After six months of rehearsals, she knows the tightly interlinked team of dancers can cover up any mistake. This includes working on the fly to adapt dances steps to new music hours before an event.

Ignatiou started her career in 1988, fresh out of the Greek National Dance School, by joining the group of priestesses in the lighting ceremony for the Seoul Games.

"I started with so many strong emotions. The first moments at Olympia were unique. And until today I feel the same. What has changed today is that I bear a larger share of responsibility," she said.



Greek actress Katerina Lehou who lit the Olympic Flame playing the role of an ancient High Priestess at the birthplace of the Games in April, talks to Xinhua in Athens, on July 12, 2016. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

Over time, she founded the Art dance theater group which performs across the globe.

In 2008, her team participated in the opening ceremony of Beijing's Festival a few days before the Olympics, presenting the "Muses" show. It was the first time she created a choreography inspired by the Greek ancient mythology.

Ignatiou has had the honor to also hold the part of the High Priestess once in 1995 for the Bath Youth Olympics before starting to have a say in the selection of the next High Priestesses. Asked to choose between the two roles, she does not hesitate to select the choreographer, although it is more demanding.

"In order to assume the role of the High Priestess one should be a professional actress with big experience in large theaters. Even better at open air theaters, because she has to command her voice in an open space, which is very difficult without the use of microphone," she explained.

Speaking on the legacy of her teacher in dance and life Maria Hors, she gets emotional. She recalls their discussions in Athens at Hors' home with a view to the Acropolis. She can never forget the discussion at Olympia when she would prompt her to take a look outside and notice that no tree is the same. "This is the way you should be treating your dancers," Hors told her.

"Each person has something unique to give, each female or male dancer, each actress has something unique to give and it would be a pity and so unfair to not allow them to express it," Ignatiou said.

"Even in my family life I now see my two children in a different way. They are not two kids who have the same mother and father, but two human beings with unique souls, hearts and paths in life."

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