Space for the others’ imaginations

Flexible spaces full of allusion and enigma are the trademark of Greek stage designer takis. He discovered his love of the stage as a youth, putting on plays with an amateur troupe in the ancient theatre of Sikyon on the Gulf of Corinth. Trying out all aspects of theatre-making, his focus soon shifted from acting and directing towards making costumes and building sets, and his career in scenography was launched.

Bühnentechnische Rundschau

Of all the colleges that teach stage and costume design from the start and not just as specialist subjects in the final year, takis shortlisted three where he might study: Paris, Rome and Bucharest. “I immediately fell in love with the National University of the Arts [in Bucharest}, so old-fashioned and school-like.” He learned Romanian and moved to Bulgaria. “It was like living in a monastery, we worked from eight in the morning until eight in the evening. In the mornings we sat painting in the studio; after lunch we did history of fashion.

We learned how dance evolved and how costumes adapted to meet its changing requirements and so on.”

Now aged 40, when takis talks about his time in Bucharest it sounds like a long, lost era. Indeed, the subsequent stops along his career path must have made it seem like an ivory tower, light years away. Having won a scholarship, takis spent a year in Berlin and Düsseldorf before enrolling at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). In the vibrant British capital, he gained a broad practical foundation in stage work, including light, sound, props, set construction and technology and production management, rounded off with costume research at the Royal College of Fashion.

Today, takis sees the international aspect of his training as a major bonus. “To understand and relativize your own thinking patterns you have to deal with aesthetic norms and values that differ from your own. And there are enormous differences between what an audience in Eastern Europe, the German-speaking countries, Great Britain or Scandinavia finds appealing, accepts, rejects.” He is convinced you need to know those things if you at all are interested in more than just your own fulfilment. takis likes to get audiences involved with familiar elements to which he then adds unexpected twists. Naturalism is not his thing. “Museum pieces have no place in theatre,” he says. But he is not interested in shock effects either.

Leafing through his portfolio, I am immediately struck by the transparency, the lofty frameworks, and suggested forms. He is fascinated by the suggestive, using it to “create space for the others’ imaginations” - engaging the senses, with moving walls, double-bottom floors, the half-hidden.

Simple sophistication

takis still draws on what he learned during the open-air theatre days of his youth. Five years ago, he started designing sets for the Holland Park Opera’s summer festival in Kensington, London, which is known for its acclaimed productions of rare Italian operas. The budget is tight; the stage is long and narrow and without any technical luxuries – there are no fittings for hanging backcloths, for instance, so all the scenery needs to be free-standing. The space is enclosed at the back by the far-from-neutral façade of Holland House. “You have to deal with that building, respect it, incorporate it, otherwise it will work against you,” the designer explains.

His movable walls for Verdi’s “Un ballo in maschera” is one example of a solution that is as simple as it is effective. The stage set works like a magic box, opening in ever more, different constellations, until it finally opens on to the masked ball. The three-dimensional panelled surface refracts the light in a range of fascinating ways, depending on the angle at which it falls. And there is not a nut or bolt to be seen: “Good craftsmanship is important to me”.

This summer takis would have provided the sets for a double bill of Frederick Delius’ “Margot la Rouge” and Giacomo Puccini’s “Le Villi”. New dates have not yet been announced.

Tradition reinterpreted

For the Steven Dexters production “The LKY Musician”, initiated by Dick Lee and Stephen Clark to mark the 50th Day of Independence in Singapore, takis incorporated video into his set design. The 2015 piece pays tribute to Lee Kuan Yew, the city-state’s long-serving premier and probably most respected politician.

“I was very doubtful when I was asked,” he remembers. “Why get a Greek to handle this act of state, where every line of the script needs to be approved by the government?” But he agreed – on condition that he first be able to conduct a research trip, to scour museums, private collections and state archives for information. He copied the construction plans of historical buildings, found out about the city’s urban planning and tried to develop an iconography with which Singaporeans could identify.

Working in the Marina Bay Sands Theatre, he focused on postcolonial architecture (following the original construction plans of the house where the former premier was born and died) and gradually modernized it over the course of the piece.

The set consists of three levels that can be opened to the audience’s view, layer by layer, or room by room, by means of wooden panels. The fronts of these also serve as surfaces for projecting images of buildings or texts on, and an animated map of the city on which various movements can be traced, while the interstices between the slats also provide glimpses of half-hidden rooms, alluding to additional scenes and suggesting secondary settings. A revival was planned but has been suspended due to Covid 19.

Artful curves, deceptive splendour

The last pre-pandemic production featuring takis’ sets was a revival: “Don Giovanni” at the National Opera in Helsinki, directed by Jussi Nikkilä, which premiered on 6th March. “I developed the space from the question of how to update rococo’s curving opulence.” Consequently, there are no straight surfaces, everything is slanted, bowed. The construction on the revolving stage consists of three concave curving walls. It can be entered on four sides and two levels and has a connecting mezzanine for entrances and exits. One of the walls is mirrored and backlit by LEDs. There is a spiral staircase and a corridor at either side.

The opening scene is dimly lit, with the mirror wall reflecting the glowing light of two large, standing candelabras and a table’s golden carvings, setting the eponymous hero’s nocturnal activities in enigmatically glinting splendour. Later, when his servant Leporello and ex-lover Donna Anna appear, the LEDs mark out a majestic dome in the mirror surface, creating a fascinating effect.

The rustic wedding of Masetto and Zerlina is also prepared in front of the mirror wall. A kind of feudal dumping ground appears reflected in it, with heavily ornamented furniture frames piled up to form fabulous sculptures, which seem to go on infinitely in the twilight.

Donna Elvira confronts Giovanni on an ivy-hung terrace, where an entire stage orchestra later takes its place, under the starry twinkling of glitter balls. Secret rendezvous are held in a corridor that appears where the two larger walls meet. And the spiral staircase on the opposite side becomes a lushly verdant garden. The smooth wooden slats, which also appeared to great effect in “LKY”, make up the background.

takis came to our online meeting straight from the Dresden State Operetta, where he is preparing for Otto Nicolai’s production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor”. The premiere is scheduled for 2nd February 2021 – and will hopefully take place then.

BTR Ausgabe 4 2020
Rubrik: English texts, Seite 148
von Wiebke Roloff Halsey