Dimitris Rondiris was the high and mighty stage director during the National Theatre’s golden era, in the 30s, and an opposing force to Karolos Koun as the principal advocate of the classical staging of Greek tragedy.
Kostas Georgousopoulos, Aspasia Papathanasiou, Lefteris Voyatzis, Dimitris Spathis, Kostoula Rondiri and Thomas Kindynis.
In his heyday, between 1932 and 1935, he reigned over the Greek theatre scene. An influential stage director, successor of the great Fotos Politis, as well as a longterm artistic director in the golden age of the National Theatre. He undoubtedly advanced the classical staging of ancient playwrights.
By the mid to late 1950s it seemed like his prime was gone, as Carolos Koun was dominating the field, but he made a dynamic comeback in the 60s with the Piraeus Theatre and became the ambassador of ancient Greek theatre, far and wide and with unprecedented success.
From 1974, due to sociopolitical developments and his advanced age, the die-hard conservative Rondiris was marginalized.
In the years that followed his death, in 1981, it seemed like he had completely faded into obscurity.
The theatre was rapidly evolving and the Rondir-ian idiom seemed entirely outdated.
Within that framework, I thought the time had arrived to revisit the case of Rondiris, who throughout the years had turned from being the most powerful man in Greek theatre to a neglected outsider.
It was my first two-part documentary for “Paraskinio”, since a study on Rondiris would be highly demanding.
The first part (aiming largely at the uninformed viewer) considers Rondiris’ glory days.
It features extensive archival material complemented by period interviews with Melina Merkouri, Manos Katrakis and others, coming from a picture, made shortly after Rondiris’ death, under the supervision of his pupil, well-known theatre scholar and critic, Kostas Georgousopoulos.
In the second part, I went for an unorthodox choice, with very interesting results. I asked Lefteris Voyatzis to speak about Rondiris. In theory, Lefteris Voyatzis was closer to the pulse and style of Carolos Koun rather than of Rondiris.
But I thought there must have been some underground passage, some invisible thread, linking the strictly classical, educated in Germany, Rondiris with Lefteris Voyatzis who loved deconstructing the material before putting it back together again. Nevertheless, he always harbored a lot of respect for the classical form and I think that his style was nothing but a rephrasing of the classical style, having gone through the trials and tribulations of creative struggle.
As expected, Lefteris was against the idea and didn’t want to participate; at some point things got very heated, but in the end and after a series of delays he agreed to go through with the project.
He set an appointment for 2:00 after midnight at his place. I went together with George Skevas, who handled the second camera.
Here I should say as a parenthesis, that I had first met Lefteris in 1994, on location during the filming of Acropol by Pantelis Voulgaris, where I was helping out by playing an extra, and we had developed a very good rapport. He had offered me the post of his assistant twice, but even though I loved the idea, I was reluctant, from fear that I couldn’t withstand his difficult character and end up spoiling my relationship with a man I respected and admired very much. So, when in 1999, Voyatzis was frantically looking for an assistant for Ashes to Ashes by Pinter, I declined once again but referred him to George Skevas.
The two developed a close relationship, Lefteris became the godfather of George’s son, and in 2016 George staged an extraordinary Doll’s House in Lefteris' theatre, featuring Amalia Moutoussi in one of her greatest performances. End of parenthesis.
So George had come over that night to help with the shooting, as well as to calm down Lefteris, who was very nervous and insisted it was inappropriate to put him in a documentary on Rondiris.
It was close to 3:00 in the morning when we finally started rolling. Initially he was very stiff and nervous, but after a while he sat back and relaxed and the result was remarkable and highly enlightening.
After an hour, having fulfilled his mission, George took off to go get some sleep and I was left alone with Lefteris until 6:00.
I remember he was so happy, he ordered pasta from an overnight diner and until it was delivered, he showed me his VHS collection, which he kept in a cupboard, that lit up when opened.
As Lefteris kept talking about Rondiris, without realizing he was gradually moving closer to him in terms of method, precision and integrity.
He also talked about the only time the two had met at Epidaurus, at the famous Leonidas tavern, as well as for the sneak recording he made in 1978 of Rondiris’ last adaptation of Electra at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus; his swansong.
That fortuitous and astonishing fusion of personalities was thrilling and suggestive of the deeper similarities interconnecting artists from different generations, something that is undoubtedly very touching.
Lefteris Voyatzis was the ideal prism to bring to the surface a contemporary and timeless quality that was found in the forgotten work of Rondiris.