Commentary from the Documentary "A Century of Contemporary Dance in Greece", NET (New Greek Television) january-February 2001

NET (New Hellenic Television) 1 Jan 2001English

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Modern dance in Greece, seems to be the outcome of the influences from the two prominent “poles” of the second decade of the 20th century: Germany and the U.S. The “new dance” had been flourishing before as well as during the era between the two World Wars in these two centers. The impact from Germany was the educational method to approaching movement, eurythmics, according to the system of Emile-Jacques Dalcroze. From the U.S. came the abandoned vision of Isadora Duncan, on “Hellenism”. These two directions functioned, the first as method, and the second as purpose in shaping, and influencing choreographic production in Greece for a very long time. The “re-activation” and re-interpretation of the vision of Isadora Duncan’s first creative period, came into being, due to the efforts of another American, the first wife of the poet Angelos Sikelianos, Eva Palmer. Duncan’s ideas about the Choric parts of the ancient drama and their singing which she based on Byzantine music, developed into a new form and durability, in the work of Eva Palmer. The romantic philellenism of Eva Palmer-Sikelianos, eliminated from the thinking and experience of Duncan’s legacy and experiments, its most central point: the avoidance of any tendency to revive what was widely considered as “ancient Greek dance”. On the contrary, Eva Palmer focused exactly on that. Eurythmics as well as the “methodology” of the central European tradition contributed greatly to the search of descendants for a convincing kinesiologic form, away from any precise or naive representation of movement as it was preserved in vases and friezes. Furthermore, Palmer’s effort revolved around the search for a way to connect the origins of the Greek nation and what was held as its “true dance form”. This research had at its core the incorporation, or rather the subordination of the art of dance to the principles of “Hellenism” (=Greek character=Hellenic national identity). The hellenic identity which endorsed the usefulness of the art of dance could be said to comprise of several elements which functioned as models for the verification of this art form as “national”.

2nd Episode: ON ORCHESSIS…

Theatrical dance, started out its course in Greece dynamically, despite the fact that the country lacked the necessary infrastructure or any preparatory steps in order to accept it, except for the distant memory of Isadora Duncan’s visits. The hellenocentric, almost “philhellenic” thinking of the bourgeoisie of that era, helped the progressive, possibly subversive modern dance to be transferred to this country, instead of ballet.Modern dance, proved to be a genre which was suitable to become the ideological tool of those who searched for the “true” Greek identity not only through the continuation of the philellenic vision mostly of the Germans, but also of the American artists of the late 19th and early 20th c. But the search for a Hellenic identity, resulted in an ideal which sat oddly with the political and social reality of the era between the two World Wars. Rhythm and repetition as elements of the art as ritual, were on the one hand connected to the theatrical tradition, thus subordinating dance to the theatre, and on the other to the educating and disciplining of the body. Physical education (drill) and discipline, became part of the material overall which helped to consolidate authoritarian practices in most of the European countries in the ‘30s. This was particularly significant in the light of many countries having been swept under the rule of dictatorial regimes. Dance and the body, up to a certain extent, sided by them.The pioneers of modern dance in Greece experienced disillusionment following the dead-end of past practices. Therefore, their interests were directed towards more realistic targets as the years passed. Of the pupils of Koula Pratsika**, some broke away, like Rallou Manou, and others followed their own personal path of study and experimentation with ancient drama, like Maria Hors and Zouzou Nikoloudi. Pratsika herself, continued to put an enormous amount of emphasis upon dance education not only throughout the years of the “School of Eurythmics and Gymnastics” which bore her name, but also later, in the early ‘70s, when her school became “The State School of the Art of Orchessis” (State School of Dance). Apart from the subject-matter and the music, form was the third very important element of theatrical dance influenced by the revivalist, nostalgic spirit of the time (as well as from the search for a hellenic identity). However, it can be said that form too was subjugated to the effort to revive the movement of the Chorus of the ancient drama, a fact which had further reverberations.

**Koula Pratsika, the closest disciple of Eva Palmer is mentioned and brought into the conversation by many of her students or other people who talk in the documentary, and explain a lot about her.

***At some point, I am heard off-camera saying something which is written in her short autobiography, that she “choreographed for 3 years the annual festivities at the Stadion during the dictatordhip of Ioannis Metaxas”.


The form under which Dancetheatre has flourished in Greece, was the one which comprised all three elements of “Orchessis”, considered to be the ideal: speech, music and movement. The choreographic production in Greece, until the mid-70s, was based upon the study of ancient drama through the “descendants” of Koula Pratsika.One could say that the various artistic currents always reached Greece rather belatedly. This concerns as much the ideas of Isadora Duncan, the expressionist dance of Mary Wigman and the American choreographer, Martha Graham. Indeed any connection to Graham’s work as well as the inspiration by her choreographies, was once more based on the need to produce “Greek dance works”. Graham, with her thematic appropriation of the Greek myths, offered a new channel for the pursuit and expression of the “true Greek/Hellenic identity”, which continued to preoccupy Koula Pratsika’s students in post War Greece. Rallou Manou (a former student of Koula Pratsika who broke away and turned to Graham), remained faithful to the dominant tradition of the pursuit of “greek/hellenic identity”, and the use and “promotion” of elements and images of Greece. However, she ceased to seek inspiration exclusively in ancient Greece, and turned to the second “part” of Palmer’s vision, which referred to the folk art and tradition. Even when Manou’s themes were taken from ancient Greece, her works seemed more like a retrospection, in which the historic era was “literally” recreated, in order to provide a kind of backdrop while her preferred topics were repeatedly staged: the female seductiveness, love, rivalry, hatred. Manou’s persistence for the search of the “greek identity”, the old-fashioned presentation of the female characters, the lack of any renewal of her movement vocabulary which contained helter-skelter elements of classic and modern dance, together with her literal (theatrical) narratives, contributed to her work quickly becoming dated.

Many people deny the influence of Rallou Manou’s work on more recent choreographic productions of younger artists. However one may still see reflections of that influence, even as a revitalization of style, steps and subject-matter has overtaken her. In other words, the kitsch which uses social dancing or folk dancing steps, traditional or pop music in a theatrical dance performance, was apparent in her works and is still a part of the choreographies of younger artists; those aspects luckily have been subsumed nowadays in a new stylistic unity, freed from the old form which had sought to fit in the purpose of expressing the “greek identity”. Rallou Manou kept from the concept and work of Martha Graham, whatever was necessary for her artistic survival after she left the environment of the (Pratsika) School and the style of the performances of Koula Pratsika. In the course of her career, consciously or unconsciously, she introduced into the dance scene of Greece, two important innovations: first, she cultivated an idea of dance as an independent art form, which bore little connection to the ancient drama. In this way, and in spite of any other critique to her work, she can be considered as the first “choreographer” in this country, according to the model of the rest of Europe and America. Second, and as a consequence of the professional way of handling her troupe, the “Greek Chorodrama”, she introduced the obligatory teaching her dancers a known dance technique, namely that of Graham, in order for them to acquire the necessary skills to perform. Dance in Greece, with Rallou Manou, became a trully independent art form, on a professional level, ready to be presented to a much wider audience.


The choreographers who were involved with the Dancetheatre from the mid-80s on, seemed to need to differentiate themselves (become independent) from what artists of the previous generations had been doing. At the beginning, the way of escaping older forms, was offered by the odd “world” of Pina Bausch’s Dancetheatre. However the gloomy, metaphorical almost impenetrable irony of the works of the German choreographer had very little in common with what was on the agenda of the Greek choreographers, as well as with their “tradition”. “Pop” versions of Dancetheatre, inclining more towards satire and provocation, seemed to attract the younger choreographers’ interest, who, furthermore, continued to be fascinated with the deconstruction of the linear narrative, offered by the German Tanztheater. While major changes were taking place in the form of the Dancetheatre in Greece, new propositions-transformations of the traditional notions on “authentic” Greek kind of the “dance as Orchessis”, continued to appear albeit with decreasing frequency. Those choreographic projects were being developed by artists whose main education was first theatrical and then in dance. In so doing, they relied either on folk culture, or on the revival of the notion of dance as a short interlude, a view which reflected the influence of the Commedia dell’ Arte on theatrical studies.


Today in Greece there exist almost fifty contemporary dance groups. Almost half of them are subsidized by the Ministry of Culture. It is becoming apparent that there is a constant increase in the number of people who attend dance performances. Nonetheless, the domain of the art of dance remains unreconstructed and many wonder what is really happening with dance in Greece today. Experimental performances always give rise to a variety of reactions and divide critics and audience in their views. Depending upon the social permissiveness, education and familiarity with whatever may be considered as novel in its time, the level of tolerance towards what is seen as experimental, varies. So does the range of comments and reactions to it.In the past few years there is an increasing tendency on the part of the choreographers to produce abstract works, in which movement itself creates or helps to create meaning. This influences or signals a new kind of relationship between the artist, the work of art and the audience. The latter is asked to watch the performance without the safety net of what has always been the traditional unraveling of a spectacle. One of the hottest issues concerning contemporary dance performances in Greece, is the use or not of stage improvisation, mixed in with other more structured parts of the performance. The debate encompasses different points of view which refer, first to the relationship between audience and spectacle, and second the diverse attitudes towards spectacle itself; that is, on the one hand a way of thinking that “requires” a definition of dance, performance and art in order to safeguard what is acknowledged as “dance performance”, (believing that one must only ever reproduce “fixed” forms of spectacle), while the other way of thinking accepts a notion that a lot more is involved in what is called “performance” and art. In this way, a system which attempts a constant reproduction of an “ideal model” of performance is pointless.


The teaching of a wide range of contemporary dance techniques, the emphasis upon a better education, the state subsidies and an increasingly tolerant Greek society, have freed younger generations of artists who, in the beginning of the ‘90s gave a new impetus to the art of dance. Choreographers of this generation exposed the body to diverse techniques, music or sound accompaniment, speed, virtuosity, style and a new provocative subject-matter, which had nothing to do with the past of contemporary (modern) dance in Greece. The obvious “flourishing” of dance does not solely refer to inspiration, but also to subversion, impetus and renovation and has taken many by surprise. Most of the choreographers who appeared in the beginning of the ‘90s and helped to change the status quo of dance, seem to have broken away from the past. Dance education continues to face all sorts of problems; the Ministries of Culture and Education seem neither to have realized the significance of the arts in education, nor to be interested in the planning of a long-term policy on dance. On the other hand, better communication between Greece and the rest of the world, smaller or greater breaks from the past, a refreshing individualism and the desire of the Greek choreographers to embrace new trends and ideas, make the present state of dance to appear extremely promising.