"Innovative directors delicate balance"
Lucia Rikaki, the ‘good communicator,’ is winning accolades in theater, cinema and stand-up comedy.
Lucia Rikaki is hard to pigeon-hole. One of the new generationof Greek directors, at 37 she has already made a name in both the theater and cinema, winning awards for her films, accolades for her recent production of “Dialogues with Odysseus” at the Athens Concert Hall, and popular acclaim for introducing stand-up comedy to Greece.
In an industry as tightly compartmentalized as the Greek entertainment scene, achieving recognition as a director of art or quality cinema while also gaining mass acceptance is in itself a feat. But it’s an accomplishment Rikaki takes in her stride, seeing more similarities than differences between, say, a Homeric epic and a diatribe about a nosy mother-in- law.
“What I do is about communication. For me the fundamental quest is the same: to seek different ways to communicate,” she said. "Stand-up, for example, creates a nucleus, a core, in the city. For me the bottom line in selecting what I do is that it has to do with communication.”
Communication is, as the cliche goes, a two-way street: hearing is as important as saying, and Rikaki's associates say she definitely has this virtue.
“It's something I learned slowly. In the beginning 1 was very strong-headed,” she says with a laugh. “To a large extent, the director’s job is technical. Beyond having inspiration, the director must be a good technician. If your technique is solid, you can get the best from your collaborators.”
For some, flitting between cinema and theater is less a sign of inquisitive restiveness than a volatile relationship with both disciplines. But Rikaki doesn’t see her work as personal experimentation as she seeks a style.
“What ultimately concerns me is that anything I do respect the audience. Yes, a lot of my work does have an experimental character, but I never use that as an excuse to present a performance that is not complete,” she says. “Presenting something that is whole is especially important when you are asking an audience to see something that is outside the (strict confines) of theater.”
Pencil slim, Rikaki has a taste for dark, casual clothes like leggings and sweatshirts that reflects the informal, at times tomboyish, air about her. The same no-frills look is reflected in the decor of her airy downtown Athens pied-a-terre that seems to double as an office and which is as simply and stylishly furnished as a Habitat catalog. Her interests are also as diverse as the performances she directs, with the bookshelves crammed with an amalgam that runs the gamut from a biography of Zefirelli to a recipe book for cakes, pies, tarts. As a new director, she is ranked among those spurring the revival of the Greek film industry. This, she says, was necessary but also has its dangers, one of which is a tendency to swing the pendulum too far in the other direction by trying too hard to make films commercial.
“It’s a delicate balance. Sometimes there’s the danger of creating something flat. It's never good to do anything to extremes,” she says.
“Cinema is an art that has a mass character; movie theaters are built to seat a thousand, not a hundred people. In the cinema, the director meets the audience in mass - something you have to take into consideration when making a film," she says. “It's also something that can influence choice of themes, which may seem limiting but it isn’t.”
Born in Piraeus. Rikaki attended private secondary school before going to England to study art history. That is where she became acquainted with stand-up comedy which she says is compulsory for drama students. The idea stayed with her. and four years ago she opened the first stand-up comedy club in Greece at The 104, an arts studio attached to the Kastaniotis publishing house. The club, which opens for the season on Friday, features a corps of regular performers who tackle a different topic each night.
Rikaki, whose energy seems as boundless as her interests, then turned her hand to documentaries, first as a producer and later as a director. In 1990 she participated in the Thessaloniki International Film Festival with her first feature, “Journey to Australia,” which won the State Quality Distinction Prize. Five years later she returned to the Greek screen with “Quartet in Four Movements,” a rather lyrical look at a couple’s mid-life crisis. The film, which starred Themis Bazaka and Konstantinos Konstantopoulos as spouses, Alexandra and Andonis who seek fulfillment in others’ arms, also won the state prize for quality. Now, after a break from cinema during which she directed an interesting experimental theater production drawn from the texts of surrealist poets, she returns to the Greek screen with a new film, “Dancing Soul," slated for release here on January 29.
“I think I let myself take more risks in theater, starting with the material 1 decide to produce for the stage which is not necessarily what is recognized as ‘classical theater.’ In film, things are quite different. You have to deal with the industry and the cast," she says. “And theater costs far less than a film.” “Dancing Soul” is a love story between Anna, a young fencer and Alexander, a choreographer experiencing a midlife crisis. Selfish, self-centered and as a consequence self-destructive. Alexander pretends to be injured, becoming in effect a physical invalid as much as an emotional one · a state that highlights Rikaki’s penchant for symbolism. (In “Quartet in Four Movements,” for example, the emotional gap between the two spouses is underscored with long camera shots showing the physical distance at which they are seated; Alexandra’s more cerebral liaison with a musician is held in open air, Andonis’s more carnal affair with a biker girl is held in her darkened apartment.)
“Cinema is an extremely penetrating medium. A book has a different magic, it lingers. Cinema is far more immediate,” she says.
Rikaki uses “Dancing Soul” to explore movement, deliberately choosing as the central characters two people who use their bodies to express themselves because “while they exercise their bodies, their souls follow difficult and sometimes dark itineraries. Their encounter will make them see in a different light those territories of their souls that, up to this moment, they kept in obscurity."
As a director, Rikaki has shown a special talent for casting. In “Dancing Soul.” the leads, Anna and Alexander, are also played by two physical actors: Katerina Lypiridou, who as Nausica in "Dialogues with Odysseus” showed herself to be remarkably at ease with her body, and Konstantopoulos, a National Theater graduate for whom Rikaki, as a director, has shown special affinity. As Odysseus in the Athens Concert Hall performance he, too, showed a subtle mastery of movement, using his posture to underscore the character's evolution from someone impotent in the face of his fate to someone in command of his life and circumstances. “I love auditions. That’s how I’ve found all my actors,” she savs. “Even if I’ve seen an actor in something else, 1 will ask to see them in something that I am casting.” Rikaki adds that auditions for work she is planning frequently last several months, as seeing different faces helps highlight different options for characters.
“In most cases, I had something else in mind than what the actor showed me. But 1 think you should be open to various options because that way you may happen on some good surprises," she says. “It’s one of the beauties of this job that someone who doesn’t have enormous insecurities, but has some self-confidence, can gain valuable things from collaborators.
Rikaki on the set. ‘What I do is about communication. For me the fundamental quest is the same: to seek different ways to communicate... For me [this is] the bottom line in selecting what I do.’
By Diane Shugart