At the beginning of January, while winter spits out its icy rain, a man, whitened hair but walking alert, discovers the exhibition dedicated to him at the National Center for Stage Costume and Scenography in Moulins, closed until further notice. . While waiting for its opening, Scenes, the book of Memoirs by Yannis Kokkos published on this occasion, already offers a sensitive dive into the universe of a prolific creator. In his fifty-five-year career, he has contributed to the creation of more than 200 shows.
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“All this should not constitute a mausoleum », Insists Yannis Kokkos, who then just sent by plane – Covid obliges – to Japan the models of his next creation planned at the Tokyo Opera around the diptych on Rossignol/Iolanta (Stravinsky / Tchaikovsky).
Always oriented towards the future and ceaseless projects, Yannis Kokkos nevertheless tastes, in this moment of suspense, the pleasure of letting his gaze linger in the rearview mirror. “When a show is over, it detaches itself from me and I go to other horizons, he says. I am happy to find here things that I no longer knew. »
“It is the drawing which is at the origin of my shows”
In Moulins, the route, jointly imagined by the artist himself, the scenographer Nicolas Sire, who was his collaborator for a long time, and the curator Catherine Treilhou-Balaudé, begins around a wooden table.
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The artist’s office, where it all begins. Paper, a feather, India ink, a few colors of watercolor are enough: even before finding their realization on any stage, Yannis Kokkos’ sketches carry the eye and the soul towards endless poetic reveries.
« It is the drawing which is at the origin of my shows, he writes. It is through drawing that I seek tensions, volumes, light, attitudes and solutions imposed by prejudices. “
student scenographer, at the Center dramatique de l’Est school
Born in the cradle of tragedy in 1944, Yannis Kokkos grew up in a Greece scarred by war and German occupation. He discovered the theater, as a child, on the radio, then, with his parents at the theater of Epidaurus where he himself, later, would put on several shows, Medea de Luigi Cherubini in 2007, Oedipus to Colone, by Sophocles in 2018.
While he tirelessly designed costumes and sets for imaginary pieces, his first exhibition of models was organized, at the initiative of one of his teachers, by the Kouros gallery in Athens. He was just 11 years old, his very clear path led him eight years later to Strasbourg where he was admitted, as a student scenographer, to the Center dramatique de l’Est school.
In 1967, the colonels’ dictatorship moved to Greece, and Yannis Kokkos decided to stay in France from where he sent political cartoons to opposition newspapers. In 1969, he met the director Antoine Vitez. A twenty-year companionship then began, marked by numerous creations at the Théâtre de Chaillot and then at the Comédie-Française. Among those, Hernani by Victor Hugo, The Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht, and, in 1987, the memorable Satin shoe, by Paul Claudel.
Quick, the dialogue of a lifetime
With the sudden disappearance of Antoine Vitez in 1990, a cycle ends for Yannis Kokkos. Deprived of the fruitful dialogue that had nourished him for two decades, he continued alone, with the valuable help of his wife, and soon an official collaborator, Anne Blancard. As a set designer, he invents, in his own way, a director. He, who had learned to love theater with the timbre of the actors, discovers opera. Norma, Turandot, Boris Godounov, Otello, Don Giovanni…
Following orders from operas around the world, Yannis Kokkos tackles the greatest classics. “Someone’s desire to see me put on such and such a work tells me a lot about it”, he assures. From production to production, he develops the refined and poetic aesthetic that makes his mark, where the majesty of the spaces and the richness of the costumes create images of unalterable power.
Despite the success, in the intimacy it shares with the works, humility always seems to prevail. “I only try to convey the music, or the words, through the language that belongs to me, that of the image, he confides. I refuse to impose on a piece a concept or a radicalism that would enclose it, I am only a translator, in the service of a beauty that is beyond me. »
A complete artist
At the theatre, Yannis Kokkos has traveled, as a scenographer, a large part of the repertoire from Sophocles to Claudel, including Shakespeare, Hugo.
At the Opera, he has directed many composers: Mozart, Bellini, Berlioz, Massenet, Donizetti, etc.
He also created sets and costumes for dance on the occasion of several collaborations with choreographer John Neumeier at the Hamburg ballet.