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Moving Colors youth dance festival

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Mellina Boubetra’s Intro (Cie Etra). Photo © Charlotte Audureau
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A youngster helps out our grownup at a Greek festival that asks how young audiences might respond to contemporary dance that’s not specifically made for them

Moving Colors is an international contemporary dance festival for children and young people, aiming to introduce young audiences to the world of contemporary dance and movement. Its second edition took place in Roes Theatre in Athens on 4–5 December 2021. Under the artistic direction of Frosso Trousa, the festival programmes performances from the Greek and European contemporary scene that, although not made specially for kids, have the potential to touch and intrigue a younger generation of dance viewers.

On the first day of the festival, a mixed audience of kids with their parents and other adult viewers gather at Roes Theatre. The cheerful voices and curious eyes of the youngsters definitely bring some refreshing energy into the space. As I take my seat, 13-year-old Yiannis, who is sitting behind me, politely asks if I could change seats so that he can watch the stage more comfortably. I take the opportunity to chat with him – and he agrees to become my co-reviewer for the day!

Adriano Bolognino’s Gli Amanti

After the first piece he says: ‘I think they were in love.’ Indeed, Adriano Bolognino’s Gli Amanti is inspired by the Lovers of Pompeii, remnants of two bodies in an embrace found in the volcanic wreckage of Pompeii. As the piece starts, two women face each other, standing diagonally in space. Dressed in patterned full-body tights, hair in sleek buns, they look like synchronised swimmers as they begin mirroring each other in precise gestures, creating flowing symmetrical patterns, interrupted by sudden rhythmical changes. Their gaze, locked on each other, creates an intense magnetic field between them, as they move from perfect symmetry to parallel paths to merging into one multifaceted body, a peculiar embrace. Bolognino’s movement language, gestural and highly physical at times, is accentuated by the elastic and articulate bodies of dancers Rosaria Di Maro and Giorgia Longo and their synchronised breathwork and grimace. The pixelated pattern of the costume adds to the kaleidoscopic sense of the composition. The final image creates a direct reference to the Lovers of Pompeii, as the two end up in an embrace, intimate but tense, facing away from the audience, gazing into the inevitable.

Yiannis seems quite confused, trying to figure out what it all meant. ‘It reminded me of the sea?’ He also remarks on the flexibility of the bodies and how they could remember all of the complex sequences. ‘I couldn’t understand the music, so how were they so synchronised?’. In a brief post-show chat, Bolognino talks to me about how he perceived presenting the piece with children in the audience: ‘It is an intimate piece, that demands concentration.’ There was definitely an atmosphere of quiet concentration throughout the performance: ‘one could maybe see it in their eyes,’ he says.

Man in silver balaclava, black jacket, gold tights and red boots, reaches upwards on tiptoe. Next to him is a microphone stand
Nontas Damopoulos in Sofia Mavragani’s The Hero. Photo © Despina Spyrou

In Sofia Mavragani’s The Hero, dancer Nontas Damopoulos reincarnates the archetype of the superhero, complete with golden lycra tights over his muscular legs, red shoes, a rubber cap and his six-pack peeking from his blazer. As the cartoonish character makes his grand entrance with a ‘superman slide’, a little girl from the front rows greets him: ‘Oh, hello sir!’ He wrestles theatrically with himself and with a microphone prop, reeling around the space from invisible punches, gasping and panting, trying and failing to find his voice to speak. When he finally finds it, it is the low voice of a witless villain. Damopoulos’ comical muscularity, performed in the manner of a body-building competitor, causes chuckles in the audience. The little girl repeatedly addresses him throughout the performance: ‘You looked prettier with the cap’ (which leaves him smirking), and later: ‘Is the performance over?’ – to which he answers in his villain voice: ‘Do not hurry…’

When the Hero exits, leaving a scarecrow of himself onstage, Yiannis applauds enthusiastically. He is much more fluent about this piece. ‘He looked like a body-builder. It gave me the chills, but I liked it.’ Despite all the humour, he could sense the loneliness and sadness of the character in his struggle to beat the mic – which for him might also represent technology or social media (what an interesting reference coming from a kid!). ‘He couldn’t make it, but he didn’t give up. At the end it looked like he was leaving his place to somebody else.’

Mavragani considers The Hero relatable to audiences of all ages without the need for any adjustments. ‘The theme is popular with children. We grow up with (super) heroes and heroines. In the piece there is a character on stage who we can recognise despite not always knowing what he is doing. The play has humour and Nontas is spectacular and skilled both kinetically and interpretively. These facts certainly help to reach various ages.’

For her, the piece invites interaction with the audience. Any reaction, positive or negative, is a source of feedback, and may create interesting challenges and surprises onstage. ‘A mixed audience of adults and children viewing The Hero is of great interest to me. The adults may need to redefine conventional ways of watching, while the kids create them on the spot, live, and in direct relation to what is happening above and below the stage. The experience of the piece with child spectators is enjoyable because it “breaks” the theatrical contract and exposes the play in front of everyone.’

Intro by Mellina Boubetra’s (Cie Etra)

On the second day there are hardly any kids in the small audience, which consisted mostly of Athenian dancers (I guess Sunday is a school night after all). Jenna Jalonen’s Beat is unfortunately cancelled due to Covid, so we get to watch Gli Amanti one more time and Mellina Boubetra’s Intro, a wordless conversation between three female bodies which escalates into an accumulative rave. Starting off in the dark, metallic beat sounds are gradually translated into rhythmical foot movement and facial expressions, as the dim lights reveal parts of the three bodies, dressed in casual attire. The dancers gaze directly at the audience, their posture implying a sense of waiting. Soon, the movement builds up into intricate rhythms of gesture, facial expressions and bodily states, all in total synch, but each one sustaining and revealing her own identity. As the trio expands in the space, they enter a highly physical rave state, in accord with the electronic music. Despite the abstract qualities of the piece, the sense of freedom and self-expression delivered through the intense dancing might find a good connection with restless teens. Just before the end the lights turn on the audience, and the dancers connect once more to us with their gaze, inviting our applause.

Currently the only contemporary dance festival in Greece aimed at young audiences, Moving Colors belongs to a category of initiatives attempting to reach broader audiences for contemporary dance. This is still an open field, exploring both how to attract broader audiences through suitable programming and communication, and how to create contemporary dance pieces that are relevant and engaging for different groups. As a dance viewer, it was definitely uplifting to be part of an audience of a wider range of ages than usual, sharing performances that equally address all of us. My coincidental exchange with Yiannis made my own experience of the festival unique and precious. I was touched by his eagerness to discuss and express opinions and questions, with frankness and curiosity. Another field full of potential for the dance world: encouraging more exchange and conversations amongst audience members of all backgrounds. 

With warm thanks to Yiannis Tzortzakis for contributing to this text

Heroes big and small at the post-show ‘fun club’. Photo © Sofia Mavragani

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4–5 December 2021, Athens, Greece
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