Four figures spread out all in the same stretched position, torsos tilted back, one arms stretching up behind and one leg stretching forward in front


Kalamata International Dance Festival 2022

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W rest l ing by Anastasia Valsamaki. Photo © Albert Vidal/Vèrtex Comunicació
S pink identity

Beauties and realities mix and separate at the long-standing Greek dance festival

Kalamata International Dance Festival, one of the longer lived and most prestigious dance festivals in Greece, has taken place every summer since 1995, placing the small seaside city of Kalamata into the heart of Greek dance events and transforming it into what the festival’s motto calls ‘A land for dance’.

Under the artistic direction of Linda Kapetanea since 2018, the 28th edition of the festival took place from 15 to 24 July 2022, gathering local dance audiences as well as visitors from all over Greece and abroad. The previous two summers, KDF had managed to adapt to the pandemic, becoming one of the few cultural events in Greece that was not cancelled. This year the festival came back in full gear, under the thematic title ‘An ode to beauty’, inviting audiences ‘to realise that Beauty is our only means of resisting everything that we encounter as its polar opposite on a daily basis: all forms of violence, all the actions and declarations that lead to pain and frustration, as well as to the dissolution of our connection with the world around us.’

There was definitely a lot of beauty to be found in the rich programme, presenting 26 performances from 10 different countries, ranging from bigger productions and well-established companies to shorter pieces by emerging artists, while also showcasing recent works by Greek artists of different generations alongside the international works.

Dance in the city

Since 2018, the festival has made consistent efforts to reach wider audiences through inclusive educational workshops and by presenting performances in Kalamata’s public space and in various locations throughout the region of Peloponnese.

Every evening, a diverse audience of local families and passers-by mixed with festival participants to watch short dance pieces and a dance battle on the stage set in the city’s main square. The 14 works by emerging and more established choreographers were fun and vibrant – some might need a more concentrated setting to be fully appreciated, but others managed to get the attention even of the strictest viewers: kids! To mention a few, Elelei company’s Blindly, a game of guessing and acrobatics, set to cheerful music, Fenia Chatzakou & Csenger K. Szabo’s balloon fights and air-somersaults in Still Love, Arias Fernandez play with fire in Us and Barbara Bardaka’s playful cylinder-headed character in The Falling Object were all definite hits for the tiny dance-lovers. The magnetic duet that Kapetanea and Edivaldo Ernesto spontaneously presented was also enthusiastically received by festival fans.

Cinematographic choreography

Sometimes, a choreographic work can bring to mind specific movies, movie genres or even episode series, employing respective narrative and visual elements: realistic scenography, props and costumes, embodiment of specific character roles by the performers, recognisable songs and melodies, and a cinematographic sense of time and narration.

Trailer for White Out, by Piergiorgio Milano

Recalling the mountaineering movies of the 90s, Piergiorgio Milano’s WHITE OUT: The Conquest of the Useless kicked off KDF’s main programme with a snowed-in landscape. Simple scenographic material and props, including a full-size tent, ropes, backpacks and torches, create images of a mountain expedition. The mountaineers’ narrated journal informs us about the timeline, as the risky expedition develops in flashbacks, alternating images of the high-spirited preparation and the harsh conditions of the ascent.

The title refers to conditions of poor visibility, due to a heavy snow blizzard or fog, a phenomenon beautifully depicted in the opening scene. The trio enters the snowed stage in full climber’s attire in a soundscape of whirlwind buzzing, cold light and fog. Only one of them is actually moving, strenuously carrying and dragging his seemingly lifeless comrades, in a state of physical frozen agony. As the piece evolves in flashbacks, we get to know more details about the three men, their relations conveyed by their theatrical interactions, the sounds of hits by Whitney Houston and Dire Straits giving off 90s vibes. WHITE OUT translates mountain images and conditions into a physical mix of dance, theatricality and acrobatics, creating gravity games, sliding dances, horizontal and vertical climbing – at times humorous, at times intense.

A woman angled perilously in mid-jump, bent legs almost horizontal, torso leaning left and hair flying. A man in grey trousers and shirt runs anxiously towards her from behind. The setting shows wall lights and wooden furniture behind them
Peeping Tom: Triptych. Photo © Albert Vidal/Vèrtex Comunicació

Later that evening, the official premiere of the festival hosted Triptych by masters of the genre, Peeping Tom. In three ‘episodes’, they build three distinct but interrelated spaces, three elaborate sets that are constructed and deconstructed in plain view by dancers and technicians between each part. In their recognisable aesthetic and movement language, they create a dark, claustrophobic world, imbued with all the stuff nightmares are made of: gloomy rooms, dirty floors and haunted doors that lead nowhere, loud storms, dysfunctional relationships, distorted bodies and misplaced heads. Stereotypical representations of gender roles in heterosexual relationships and parenthood fit the ominous ambience. Triptych has the appeal of a good thriller, simultaneously gripping and dreadful, leaving no room for a final catharsis. In the stupendous two-hour marathon, the cast delivered outstanding performances of physical and mental resilience, and deservingly received a standing ovation.

After the fourth bow, an important moment: Cypriot company dancer Panos Malactos came on stage with a banner protesting the recent release from prison of former National Theatre director Dimitris Lignadis, who had been convicted for rape. His initiative was instantly embraced by the audience, and became the first of a series of similar protests at cultural events around Greece. (Malactos’ action renders the dancer as a political being, despite the political authorities’ decision to abstain from the premiere after being informed about the intervention.)

Lali Ayguadé: Hidden

Two more works fell for me into this category of cinematographic references. Lali Ayguadé’s Hidden is an endearing story of childhood memories and familial bonds. Under a huge plastic protection sheet, a scenography of 1970s home furniture and its inhabitants are gradually revealed. Their stories and relations begin to unravel as the dancers, dressed in neutral colours and soft fabrics, build on their characters physically with humour and tenderness. The movement sequences of fluid floorwork and partnering compositions convey intimate relationships, affection and disagreements. The south Italian vibes are underlined by Joanna Gomila’s echoey singing and Enric Ases’ acting and narration in Italian – there are no subtitles, but the melancholic reminiscence is delivered.

THE BOX // that dead space between us by Penelope Morout is an eerie game of spatial illusions. A huge white wooden box is deconstructed by the two performers into numerous heterogenous spaces, some abstract, some more realistic, all rather peculiar. More spaces are brought onstage virtually, through video mapping projections of paradoxical associative images. The dancers create miscellaneous movement scenes that animate each space, and the whole composition has the feeling of a stream of fragmented images, much like in a dream, or a David Lynch movie. The mechanics of the spatial choreography are captivating and skilfully executed, sometimes overriding the performative action.

Roots, traditions, history

A second strand of works bore influences of and questions on dance traditions and historical representations, suggesting a search for a sense of collectivity and belonging, a study on roots.

Neighbours marks the first international co-production of KDF with London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre, a collaboration of three artists with very different cultural and artistic backgrounds, dancers Brigel Gjoka and Rauf Yasit with musician Rusan Filiztek, initiated by William Forsythe during the making of A Quiet Evening of Dance. Due to Yasit’s injury, a modified solo version was presented.

Neighbours trailer, with dancers Brigel Gjoka and Rauf Yasit, and musician Rusan Filiztek

In silence, Gjoka enters the stage dressed in dark colours and delves into a stream of fluid, incessant movement. As he is backlit, his shadowy presence drifts into a hypnotising flow, changing levels and traversing the stage. He introduces sounds through his movement, by his breathing, tongue clicking, finger snapping and hitting his arms on his body. The music comes to meet him, at first as scattered sounds on mics, turning gradually into rhythms and melodies. In its original duet form, the two dancers from different origin and dance trainings attempt to coexist and find a common physical language. If some of this conceptual frame is lost due to the absence of Yasit, it is re-established in the connection between the remaining dancer and the musician. Filiztek creates the music live on stage by recording loops of his singing and playing various traditional middle-eastern instruments and layering them in a fascinating accumulative composition of Balkan and middle-eastern influences. Gjoka follows the musical accumulation by progressing the musicality and complexity of his dancing, accelerating into rhythmical footwork referring to traditional dances, an open drift of intricate dancing full of micro-details. As the dancer himself mentioned in the post-show discussion, movement can recreate music. He explained that the whole endeavour was about rethinking what a dancer’s vocabulary is and how the collaboration between the three heterogeneous artists could bring them back to their roots.

A similar search of roots is at the core of Edivaldo Ernesto’s Brace, an intense solo piece, inspired by African warriors. The piece opens in darkness, with loud beat music and smoke, as a beam of red laser light rays dances around the stage. Ernesto appears in red pants and bare torso, exploding in a vigorous, staccato dance. His body is expansive, travelling the stage in large motion – a figure that exudes power, underlined by exaggerated facial expressions. Later, he hits his fist on his chest until he exhausts himself to the floor, revealing a more vulnerable, human nature. In dim lighting and smoke, he rises in slow motion to incarnate a row of tribal masks, reclaiming his power. Everything in the piece is intense – the masks, the red colour, the music and the performing. Every now and then, the intensity is interrupted by blackouts where the beam of red laser rays allows time for cosmic contemplation. The esoteric and ancestral ambience peaks into a cathartic dance for the finale.

In Marianna Kavallieratos’s Ever After, four dancers enter the stage in a row, holding hands, stepping on the monotonous beat, as in a traditional circle dance. Their deadpan faces contrast with their bright coloured hoodies. The dance starts off simple, but soon becomes complex in steps and in space patterns. Composing intricate variations of the basic steps, the quartet pulses together, yet not in perfect sync, as often happens in traditional dances. Ever After reflects on representations of death in the history of art and dance and draws from various sources: the iconography of danse macabre, Bruegel’s paintings, ballet. A succession of blackouts reveals a series of static compositions in slowly fading motion, giving off a sense of tenderness. As the piece develops, the loosely connected images move in space, in brief partnering duets and raving solo dances that traverse and exit the stage, and the group composes and decomposes images of collectiveness and decline. Ever After does not come to any answers or conclusions on the subject of death – as the choreographer notes, it becomes ‘a metaphor for what never becomes known after the end of (a piece’s) life’.

A ragged row of nine women in long white dresses, each banging a huge horizontal drum
La Veronal in Marcos Morau’s Sonoma. Photo © Albert Vidal/Vèrtex Comunicació

Marcos Morau’s Sonoma is a virtuosic masterpiece on female collective identities, evoking images of religion, tradition and history. A chorus of nine women in stylised folkloric dresses create powerful images of female archetypes: lamenters of the crucifixion, stoic widows and catholic nuns, fair ladies and maidens in rites of passage, fierce witches and dauntless instigators of revolution. In every scene, intricate choreographies of absolute precision create kaleidoscopic ensembles of intertwined gesticulations and convulsive dances, embodiments of invocation, disaster and repentance. They sing as a polyphonic choir of enchanting voices and recite eclectic texts of dense references and meanings. The costumes by Silvia Delagneau reflect the layering of symbolisms of the piece – in every scene a layer is removed to reveal a new feminine identity, until they are left in their twirly white undergowns, frantically beating their dreams in a final liberating scene.

Softness and coolness

Anastasia Valsamaki’s W rest l ing is a study on the action and embodiment of wrestling. Everything in the piece gives off a sense of teasing coolness: the bare stage, the coloured fluorescent lights, the loud techno beats and the five dancers in sunglasses and colourful clubbing attire, slight smirks on their faces. A group dance of rhythmical aerobic steps, leg kicks and arm waves counterpointing the music beat, unwinds into a series of abstract fighting games. As in a competitive game, periods of briskness and high energy alternate with pauses of tension or fatigue. The movement language combines loose martial art references and stylised steps for children’s games, imbuing the physical alertness of the wrestler with a childlike playfulness. The rules of the game are not always clear, but the match is fun to watch.

Frieze-like picture of woman in shiny silver leotard crouched on the floor, arms extended in front of her. Covering her whole head is a large bulbous silver mask. The look is mythical/futuristic
Alexandra Waierstall, Venus un/seen. Photo © Albert Vidal/Vèrtex Comunicació

In Alexandra Waierstall’s VENUS un/seen, dancer Karolina Szymura undergoes a series of transformations. She enters the stage in silence, a quicksilver creature dressed in a shapeless sparkling silver costume that covers her whole body and face. She moves in a soft, controlled way that soon becomes expansive. She sheds the costume, like a serpent shedding skin, to reveal her body in a silver leotard. Moving slowly, she sculpts herself into asymmetrical forms, building up tension and dropping it, to start again. As the music changes from ambient to minimalistic repetitive rhythms, she engages in a dance of modern references and changing dynamics, with high relevés and plié turns, formed arms and high legs. Another transformation: she wears another formless costume that covers her face, this time black, and goes on dancing similar movement patterns. She moves in and out of her performative presence between each transformation – there is a bare immediacy in the way she changes into a plain tank and shorts, sips from a bottle and comes to gaze at the audience.

In a similar way, Manon Parent enters cheerfully for Ioannis MandafounisScarbo and gazes at the audience, smiling. She has a soft, girlish presence, in her short metallic skirt, sneakers and braided hair bun. The stage is bare, open, and the rolls of white vinyl on the floor are unruly, not taped down. She turns on music on a laptop and traverses the space to Ravel and Debussy in an outburst of large movement, also entering amongst the audience. Her effortless movement seems raw and unmediated with balletic hints: curved arms and soft fingers, en dehors steps and sequences in diagonal, the balletic qualities highlighted by her dramatic facial expressiveness. Her body is in a constant shift between giving up and restarting. Out of the blue, the dance is over and she engages in different kinds of actions: she spits in a bucket, washes her face, blows her nose and wipes her sweat, drinks water and eats rice crackers. The dancing body is rendered a human body with needs. With the need to connect. Also, with feelings and memories, as she narrates a childhood story of a tragic loss – and sings. The emotional tension is discharged in an outburst of destruction, turning over the floor rolls and forcefully throwing the plastic chairs, while she dances again in beautiful plasticity.

Scarbo marked the finale of the festival, a work of unmediated presence and beauty, to bid farewell to ten days overloaded with dance works of a vast variety, each offering their own ‘ode to the beauty’ of dance. At the biggest summer event for contemporary dance in Greece, the small talk between performances ranges from favourite shows, to Malactos’ political intervention and its impact, to the news of the massive reduction in state funding for dance productions and events – beauty coming hand in hand with current realities. 

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15–24 July 2022, Kalamata, Greece
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Stella Mastorosteriou’s trip was provided by Kalamata International Dance Festival

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