SPILIOS GIANAKOPOULOS

The first thing that strikes you when you enter is the smell. A distinct, full scent you can’t quite put your finger on, almost like  entering someone’s home for the first time, it’s unfamiliar yet inviting. You’ve come into a new world, and Berlin is just a memory. This is HOODOO. Somewhere between dark Louisiana Woods, mist of the Bayou, Cajun spices, gospel music and Mardis Gras, it’s an overwhelming feast for the senses. And even for someone who has never been to New Orleans it still feels somewhat nostalgic. It’s almost impossible to discern what is part of the show and what is not, perhaps because nothing feels staged, all the elements – be it the dancers, costumes, music or food – evoke a collective identity of the American South and Creole culture. Soon enough we all get carried away with HOODOO and shrug off the awkward timidness of being guests – there’s nothing quite like Southern Hospitality.

While HOODOO felt like a personal journey, we wanted to hear from one of the brains behind this world. Interview spoke to Spilios Gianakopolous, HOODOO’s creative director and scenic director, about what inspired this project and the journey to make it happen.

 

SARAH OSEI How did your journey as an artist begin?

SPILIOS GIANAKOPOULOS My mother, a music teacher, sat me at the piano before I started school. I grew up in Athens, where the layers of history are undeniably evident, both in visual and spoken forms. I was a teenager in the 90’s, in a city resistant to change. I existed between the love of conservative Christianity, the stamina of Ancient Greek monuments, the abundance of lively migrants, the eyes of heroine addicts, the blue sea and incredible music. A world of antithesis and a synthesis of cultures and experiences at the same time. 
I felt oppressed as a kid, not allowed to fully express my voice, confused about my (performative) talents. I found freedom in playing music, singing, drawing, graffiti, rollerblading and swimming. How I define artistic expression today is a manifestation of these childhood nods of freedom. Graduating high school, I switched my focus in attaining knowledge of space. I moved to New York to study Architecture. It was my NY school that brought me to Berlin for the first time in 2005. It is in Berlin where I am finding the space to grow as an artist.

SO Can you tell us what goes into your work as a creative and scenic director?

SG I’ve worked across several industries and in a plethora of teams, varying in size and structure. I learned a lot by switching jobs. It didn’t always work. Failure taught me to keep evolving. It is a bit of a marathon to define what I do or who I am professionally today. To simplify it, I say that I like to create and communicate with people. How I do my work depends on the topic or project. I let the message communicated decipher the medium being used. There is great satisfaction when given the time and space for a holistic approach, from macro- to micro- scale. Then my creative process evolves around structures of rhythm and space and the harmonies between shifting perceptions and perspectives.

SO What do you want to realize through your work?

SG How do we amplify our shared humanity? This is my main focus. Our times are defined by identity politics. We are being divided into smaller groups and every group assumes it is better than any other. Last summer I begun an experiment when Lilly Pfalzer and Isabel Lewis invited me to participate in the exhibition workshops of “World Without Outside” at Martin-Gropius-Bau. Using spoken word, singing and makeup, I shared my own experiences while suggesting a communal way to overcome fear. Fear is something we learn to feel and base our whole existence around. Fear can be unlearned and communally we can be more successful at it.

“HOODOO is an invitation to share space with strangers in completely new terms.”

SO Talk us through the concept of HOODOO…

SG HOODOO is journey through Southern Louisiana and Creole culture. An invitation to share space with strangers in completely new terms. Live music and immersive theater become the vehicle for storytelling and seduction. The show is an extension of Joe Sample’s legendary work, the creator of The Creole Joe Band who wrote Street Life by The Crusaders, among other big hits. On the same evening, expect to get lost, found and to dance your socks off.

SO What inspired you to embark on this specific project?

SG The team and messages behind it. I lived in New York for 15 years and after residing in Berlin for 2 years, I was approached by like-minded New Yorkers I hadn’t met before. HOODOO Director and Designer Michael Counts was the first to reach out. He has a hefty and diverse body of work under his belt with productions at the Lincoln Center Metropolitan Opera and Park Avenue Armory in New York. Show Creator and Executive Producer Victoria Lucai worked on and produced films we all know (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, The Wolf of Wall Street). Victoria’s husband Nick Sample, son of Joe Sample, is a highly skilled musician and the starting point of HOODOO. I was suddenly in the company of Americans who wanted to create a show that brings people together, as a direct response to the current political climate in the U.S.

“HOODOO celebrates Creole culture through the lens of oppression, racism, addiction and Katrina […] the heavy topics that had an impact in shaping Southern Louisiana.”

SO Hoodoo is steeped in Creole culture and the history of the American South. How did you make sure to portray these elements authentically?

SG Personally by asking questions, inviting feedback, accepting that I don’t know enough and trusting in the forces that gave me such position in the team. I can’t hide that I was nervous at first. Drawing the logo was a very emotional process. I was thinking of a child making a drawing for the first time and an adult in jail, drawing their name with their own blood. I chose neon colors as a hint to Mardi Gras. I remember Nick Sample’s eyes when he said “you’ve got it” on a video call on January 2nd. It was the first time I presented the logo and the seal of approval for me to dive deeper into the unknown, with confidence in the responsibility I was given. 
I am very fortunate to be in the company of Nick Sample and his friends. Nick, who is Creole, is an ambassador of diversity and accurate representation. He also doesn’t want to alienate or exclude anyone. Nick would very often mention his father guiding us from above. 
Michael Counts and Katie Pedro (Associate Director) visited New Orleans and conducted extensive research. The directorial team defined the caliber of topics, scenes and social issues found in the show. 
I was tasked with fine-tuning the presentation for Berlin’s audience. To expand and enrich perspective and representation, I discussed HOODOO with my African-American friends who have relocated to Berlin. A few joined the creative team. M.J Harper as Choreographer and Mac Folkes as Cultural Consultant. In the true New Orleans spirit, the whole company is composed of people from diverse ethnicities, races, genders and ages.
Every member of the company was invited to share and participate in the creative and production process. We indeed received feedback and adjustments were made. There was a time I was concerned about the way an image appeared in print. I went to the room the band was rehearsing (all musicians are from the American South) holding a poster and asked for their thoughts. They collectively gave me their blessings.

SO Does the show engage with any particular social issues?

SG HOODOO celebrates Creole culture through the lens of oppression, racism, addiction and Katrina (the hurricane that devastated New Orleans in 2005). It doesn’t shy away from the heavy topics that had an impact in shaping Southern Louisiana. Yet this show is not about any of these issues in isolation. HOODOO is about finding freedom in the face of oppression. It’s a party and a ritual at the same time. It would be easy to point the finger and talk about an issue or a historic fact we condemn. However that approach has a limited reach of engagement. You can’t hold a flashlight on they eyes of those who don’t see and expect them to find clarity. Music is what brings everyone together. We are addressing the elephant in the room and we focus on what unites us to overcome our past and shape a brighter future together.

“It’s a party and a ritual at the same time.”

SO What do you want us, the audience, to experience and take away from the show?

SG The first and last scene one encounters at HOODOO is the shrine we collectively built. It holds the memories and family photographs of the whole company of this show. It exists to protect but also share our loved ones. Diversity in ethnicity and age is evident here, and so is love in the strength of family. This notion of community is what brought me to HOODOO and what I hope our audience will find here. For me, HOODOO is very personal because it is very communal. We may collectively achieve a better world today by communicating messages that unite us.

 

HOODOO runs at Berlin’s Spiegelpalast until 19th May. You can buy tickets here.

Click here to read our interview with HOODOO’s fashion designer Nhu Duong.

 

Interview SARAH OSEI

Event photography SPRYROS RENNT
Portrait ANGELA LIARIKOS