By: Natasa Chanta-Martin
31st August, 2014: one of the hottest days (and nights) in Athens, Greece. However, dance and music were not absent. To the contrary, a huge multicultural arrangement was brought to the stage at Rematia Theatre in Haladri, Athens. The stage was dedicated to the Earthdancers , a group of hundreds of dancers and musicians from all over the world. One could say that this was an enlarged image of a Choreomundus performance…
The so-called Earthdancers-Music and Dance Festival took place in Athens for the 5th consecutive year. The participants covered the following countries: Romania, Italy, Palestine, Panama, Georgia, Greece, Jordan, Korea, and Mexico. Each of them performed traditional songs and dances with the accompaniment of live music. Very Choreomundus, if you ask me!
With beautiful and flashy costumes, each group represented its country and urged the audience to clap and cheer at every ending pose. I was usually occupied with my camera trying to capture the moments in order to provide you with some audiovisual footage. The camera left my hands, however, when the performance of the Palestinian group finished. The host had announced to the audience that the reason we only saw female dancers performing was because the male dancers were denied access and were obliged to stay inland due to the unfortunately ongoing war-like situation. The dancers received a standing ovation from the Greek public and were awarded from Palestine's ambassador in Greece for their courageous and dynamic participation in this year's festival. A long speech followed by the host who spoke about the importance of dance, music and the arts in general in peace-making and their contribution in countries and cultures connecting with each other. The atmosphere had changed; people were crying and clapping at the same time and it seemed as if the festival had come to an emotional grand ending. I could clearly connect with this context and deeply understand what the host meant by presenting dance as a tool for world peace and intercultural dialogue. I had experienced it to the core and continuously for two consecutive years and exactly a month ago it had come to an end…
Moments later, the night continued with the performance of the Jordanian participants, whose music selection was as close as it could be to the Arab-influenced Greek music. I was extremely happy to recognize the Dabke, a dance widely spoken about in Choreomundus through one of my favorite people, Jana. The delicate shaking of the shoulders and the back and forth movement of the chest and legs made me almost hear Jana's "Yah!". I just smiled…
The Greek participants were not absent, rather they were very vividly supported by the spectators during their presentation of traditional and folk dances, such as Kalamatiano, Ikariotikos, Ballos, Zeibekiko, Hassapiko, and Syrtaki. The latter, mostly known as Zorba Dance, influence by the film Zorba the Greek, which is based on a novel by Nikos Kazatzakis 'Life and Times of Alexis Zorbas', was presented as a form of national symbol of Greece. It is interesting to note that Zorba Dance is utilized as a national symbol outside Greece and only in official occasions where Greekness is presented to other countries, like in the example of the Greek Airforce marching band's performance in St. Petersburg in 2011. Zorba Dance seems to have a completely different significance in a "non-Greek" context. The only time I danced Syrtaki was when I was quite far away from Greece! I personally remember that during Choroemundus, and while explaining to a fellow student in Norway where I am from and what I am studying he replied: 'So will you be researching the Zorba Dance?!'. He definitely put a smile on my face. If you would think that such a short part of that movie became so famous…
A very different performance was definitely the one by the representatives of Italy. A rather complicated game-playing took place before actual dancing began and one thought immediately came to my mind; my dear friend Sara claiming, asking, and being surprised throughout 2 years of Choreomundus: "Italy doesn’t have traditional dances!... Is there Italian sword-dancing?...Really??". So I picked up the camera once again this time to update Sara on some "authentic Italian dancing"!
Following was the performance of Romanian dancers in traditional costumes, men in their percussive leather boots and women with red roses on their hair. This couple dancing will always remind me the Choreomundus experiences from Szeged, Cluj, Visa and Gherla, and the long-lasting discussions of gender roles in dance! When you observe the dance do you see humble Transylvanian women maintaining their circle, cheering for their men and tiptoeing calmly not to wrinkle their skirts? Or do you see powerful females and their strong arms and shoulders being the only support by which the men could ever hold on to in order to show off their skill?
Another dance that showed distinct roles of the female of and male participants was the performance representing Korea. The woman were standing mostly in lines facing the audience, while the men were spinning and jumping with their special ribbon hats, presenting a music and dance practice known as Pungmul. With just a slight movement of their heads the dancers would manipulate the long ribbons connected to their hats and make them track very wide concentric circles around themselves. I was excited to have witnessed this performance as it reminded me of the Choreomundus sessions with prof. Judy Van Zile. The dance ethnologist offered great insights on Korean Dance and a very descriptive overview of dance genres practiced in Korea today. Hip hop for example, has developed its own character in Korea and has contributed to the different hip hop styles worldwide. An extremely useful perspective from which prof. Van Zile used to explain and analyse dance phenomena and their social contexts was through the notion of 'relationships'. We observe dances in relation to something, or someone, or some other dance. We obtain certain information about dances depending on the relationships we build with our interlocutors.
Even in this case, I have been writing about the Earthdancers festival from the Choreomundus lens. I might not had attended this series of performances if it hadn’t been for Choreomundus, the knowledge I obtained from this programme and the fantastic individuals I met, my favourite of all time EarthDancers…
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in all posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the association or the MA program.