The nuances between the beautiful and the ugly


On Christmas of 1945, approximately 140 young Greek artists and scientists boarded the ship Mataroa (standing for “woman with big eyes” in the Polynesian language), as part of a daring venture initiated by the French Institute’s director, Octave Merlier, and the deputy director, Roger Milliex, fleeing from the horrors of the Greek Civil War. The performance group of RMS MATAROA, comprised of Manos Vavadakis, Stella Vogiatzaki, Chara-Mata Giannatou, Katerina Zisoudi, Katerina Papandreou and Konstantinos Plemmenos, reenacts the journey of the titular legendary ship, through the play “Mataroa, little ship, where are you off to in such a stormy weather?”.

The ship first reached the port of Taranto, Italy, and the French Institute’s scholars continued their journey by train, amidst adverse conditions, all the way to the promise land of Paris. Among the passengers stand out the names of Cornelius Castoriadis, Elli Alexiou, Kostas Axelos, Matsi Hatzilazarou, whose achievements endowed the journey of Mataroa with mythical dimensions, as it became identified with the notions of escape, salvation and hope for a brighter future.

The journey of Mataroa, besides a historical event, has been permeated with an allegorical aspect, symbolizing the dire need of all human beings to break free from their chains. How did the group of RMS MATAROA manage to find a point of balance between the historical and the symbolic dimensions of its topic? Katerina Zisoudi provides us with the answer: “The goal of our research at first, as well as of our performance at a later stage, was to discover the human side of events behind this legendary journey. The passengers’ recounts (few in number, but available) provided a great deal of help. The passengers of Mataroa, leaving from Greece in 1945 as scholars of the French state, were – at least most of them – young kids full of dreams, with the desire to escape from the Civil War-stricken Athens and excel in their field. At that time, they were unaware of their future careers, unable to foresee where they would succeed in life or not. In our performance, we delve into the journey itself and the first years of adopting to a new life, in Paris, rather than focusing on the “glorious” future. This approach demystifies the journey, as we examine it through a more “tangible” prism. Therefore, we perceive the historic importance and the legendary aspects of Mataroa, but we consciously opt to look at a different direction. We set our eyes mostly at the notion of memory, through recollections and seemingly minor details.”

So, can theater serve as a mythical ship that takes us to a journey away from the ugliness of the world that surrounds us? “By nature, art is attached to our dreams and our imagination. Theater allows all people to embark on journeys: us, as we prepare a performance, the audience that will watch it, every spectator who will reflect on it at a later stage. Therefore, it has the power to lead us to the most beautiful and horrifying places at once, within the blink of an eye. The speed of this transition from on state to another, from one feeling to another, is the identifying feature of theater. Our goal is not to craft a prettified version of life, but to include all the nuances that cover the distance between the beautiful and the ugly. Of course, theater can reach out to the spectator only if triggers a dialogue on an equal basis, urging the audience to take part in an adventure,” mentions Katerina Zisoudi.

Among the iconic personalities that boarded Mataroa, is there someone who stands out besides the grand names? Katerina Zisoudi sheds light once again: “It is a fact that many of Mataroa’s passengers turned out to become top-notch names in the fields of arts, culture and science. Among them, surprisingly enough given the standards of the era, we encounter many women. Apart from the most widely known names (Castoriadis, Axelos, Papaioannou, Kyrou, Tzelepis, Hatzilazarou, Kriaras, Alexiou, Kranaki, Andrikopoulou), there are quite a few names worth paying attention to. A passenger that stands out, at least from our viewpoint, is Eleni Thomopoulou, a distinguished doctor who went on to become the first endocrinologist in Greece, as well as the director of the first endocrine clinic in Greece, before co-founding the Hellenic Endocrine Society. Thomopoulou excelled as a scientist both in France and the USA, making it all the way to Harvard. In our performance, she appears in various scenes, some of which truly funny, that came out of her own recounts. She was a really dynamic woman that still inspires feelings of respect and admiration. It is a pity that not many people are familiar with her name,” she explains.

As to the upcoming plans of the RMS MATAROA group, Katerina Zisoudi gives us a clue: “In May, we will stage the play Anarchy’s Brief Summer, which revolves around the Spanish Civil War, directed by Akyllas Karazisis, at the Greek Art Theater. We had rehearsed all year long in 2020, but the pandemic and the two quarantines forced us to postpone it twice.”

A performance by RMS MATAROA

Starring: Manos Vavadakis, Katerina Zisoudi, Katerina Papandreou
Anna Dimitropoulou on the accordion
Collaborating Assistants: Theodora Georgakopoulou, Eftychia Frantzeskaki
Art curation: Manolis Mavris
Image processing – photomontage: Maria Giarmeniti

From 06 to 28 December 2021, for 8 performances
Days and time of performances: Monday & Tuesday at 21:00
Kamiros space
Ithaca 32, Kypseli, Athens, 11257
Tel: 2117251384, 6989945228

Photos: Eftychia Frantzeskaki