From ancestral body to embodied self

Maria Koliopoulou

11 November 2011


action 21 – Mneme photo: E. Tembou

Could you briefly introduce yourself?

Choreographer, performer

What do you want to question with your current project?

Memory. How we remember, what we remember, primordial, memory, what we carry in our cells, in our DNA. Also current memory, the memories we create ourselves. From the primordial to the present, how we form again our bodied self from our ancestral body.

Why are you dealing with this subject?

I have been interested in this for a while now, and the things I am interested in, I investigate further. Eventually I find the way and the necessary circumstances in which I can finally talk about it, by making the work.

Is questioning actually the process?

As far as my own process is concerned, yes. Questions- questioning is my process. Then in the studio this process becomes purely non-verbal- exclusively physical. How does the body remember, how, what does it remember at this present moment… In this specific process, images and paintings are an important tool. Some images can evoke sensations, other images, memories that are inherent but forgotten.

You say we use images and paintings, are you always influenced by other art forms or sciences?

It depends. Some images or some artists are imprinted in me stronger than others. Through my personal research I come across works of several artists. But you know, sometimes you open a book on a page by chance, and it is on that page that you find exactly what you were looking for…

I believe that chance and intuition play a very important part in the choice of artists or works that influence me, for each project.

I always start with a verbal stimulus, something I have read or something I heard of. Then I will look this up, start reading about it. It is the words that bring on the images. Then there is a stage, in which the images enter the conscious level from the subconscious and that is when it becomes a mystery how this process actually takes place- the pathway through which things become manifested. It is a process I am trying to understand: how do ideas become decoded and become a dance work?

 Do you want your questions to become the audience’s question?

No. I am not that interested in this process. I do believe that the questions of the work are transmitted somehow to the audience- as it transpires from the feedback I have received so far. Questions are transmitted to the audience, even if there is no intention on behalf of the choreographer. My intention is to create an open framework- a system of images and sensations- in which the spectator can raise their own questions- and these questions can be associated with or totally different to mine.

Do you think audiences are looking for a message?

Yes. This is what we know; this is how we are educated. The audience is anxiously looking for the message-what is this work trying to say-what does the artist want to convey-what is the message I should understand but don’t? The audience is in agony…Absolutely no need for that, but this is how our perception has been trained: to perceive things with the mind. Spectators rarely allow themselves to experience or to sense the work?

Do you have a specific method?

I think that whatever is becoming a method, I try to destroy somehow. I want to destroy anything that is becoming a method in order to find a new way of doing things. I am not sure I succeed in this, but this destruction is a necessary renewal for me, otherwise I get bored!

Your title your works Praxis- meaning Actions. What is the action you want to propose with this project?

That art as action is resistance. Resistance to anything that shrinks us.


action 21 – Mneme, photo: Elpida Tembou


What does it mean for you, to produce work?

Two things….The first one: what I felt in the past (when there was regular funding from the Greek Ministry of Culture for new productions): that you have to produce/make work every year in order to exist as an artist/ choreographer. The system imposed this constant making and this felt quite oppressive at the time. (There was definitely a negative aspect to this as well).

The second one:  that the production of a new work is something really beautiful/nice/great/exciting.

What is your strategy?

In the past I have been very…. I had total control over everything from the beginning to the end of this system of creating work. Now, I am not that interested in controlling all the phases of the work, I prefer to leave the freedom and responsibility to my collaborators. This could actually be my strategy: How to inspire the desire -in each of your collaborators- to totally take on, their respective responsibilities. How to get your collaborators involved in the project at their maximum potential.

Are you an artist?

Ahhh, this is a grand statement….I didn’t state anything like that at the beginning when you asked me to introduce myself…

Are you a good artist?

(No!) Look, in theory we are all potentially good artists in whichever art form, we are making work.

Do you like your work?


Do others like your work?

Some yes, some no, and I suppose it depends on the particular work…

Are you happy with how you do things?

Hard. It is really hard for me to be pleased. I guess there is always this feeling of being unsatisfied…..

How would you be happy?

If I could be more easily pleased and satisfied- surely I would be much happier.  I would also be happier by finding things, easier things which can offer this sensation of-even momentary-happiness. Year by year I am getting better, at this.

Are you using the principle of improvisation?

Yes, but only on specific tasks/stimuli, in order to evoke the state that I wish to create.

Is your work set or improvised?

I work towards the challenge of keeping room for freedom for the performer, but within the limitations of the specific context of the investigation. I want to find a method that can offer the maximum freedom for the dancer. This has to do with the sensation of things, and then to be able to revoke this experience that you find during rehearsals, in performance. This is particularly important for my work, since movement is the protagonist, movement within a very specific structure, space and time. It is not easy to perform. Usually the emotion/sentiment of the performers is accessed. They need to dig deep inside, emotionally, for things to emerge. It is difficult to do and difficult to reproduce. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Do you set precise goals? Do you have specific expectations?

I set very precise goals, but my expectations change, they reconfigure constantly otherwise they die really fast. If the framework ,in its totality,  is defined by me right from the beginning of the process- if I define the frame and the whole system of parameters- then the whole thing is  finished, done- both for me and everyone else in the project. You need to be able to co-create with your collaborators. I never know the whole framework/context when I begin the work- I know the questions. Somehow during the course of rehearsals-with all the anxiety and stress involved- it is revealed. The process shapes and gives substance to the work – ultimately it is about studying and searching……

And did you find something?

If I knew exactly what I wanted to say, I wouldn’t have the need to search further into it. If I knew that for this question, this is the answer- I would have no reason to investigate further. Actually the answer usually comes once the work has been completed: you distance yourself a bit and then you can see it.  During the making process all the answers, lead to more questions and you just carry on investigating. I suppose there is no ultimate answer to anything- maybe this ‘answer’ will never come…..

Do you have a daily practice?

Yes. Aikido, that’s my personal practice. In rehearsals our daily practice is a 40 minute warm up in which we are all in the space together, engaging in a physical warm up, non verbal. Each of us does what they need for themselves for their bodies. In this way, we also leave things behind, we concentrate/focus.

Is there a difference between process and practice?

In our line of work, practice is included in the process. Also practice can be the process. This is why I do something physical everyday. I engage in some movement procedure daily, which I guess, is my practice towards my process.

Do you favor or have created a technique?

No, I thought I did but no, not yet.

What do you think about solos?

They are praxis/ actions. They are difficult. I believe solos are an extraordinary process each choreographer should go through at regular intervals. I also think it is important to choreograph oneself also in order to test yourself.

Did you work on one in the past? Were you also the performer?

Yes. I have done a solo on myself in the past and I want to do one again soon. The research has started already – it has been a year now- we will see when it will materialize…

Do you create scores?

Yes. Every composition requires a score. For my scores I draw movement symbols, rhythm symbols (that look a bit like cardiograms) and space symbols. The latter which deal with the space design of the work, are pivotal.

Time? / Space?

Especially with this series of “Praxis”, light and soundscape are equally important to the design of movement in time and space. And the development of these elements happens simultaneously. The full potential of the light and sound is developed, after the first draft of the movement composition has been created. This movement design draft is used as a point of reference for the development of all of the other elements.


I‘ve never had the opportunity to experiment with lighting as much as I would like. There is never enough time in the theatre for trying out different possibilities in the lighting design. Even in this production, when I thought I would have the conditions required for this experimentation; it still seems I won’t have the time for it.

Light, sound, movement in space and time are simultaneous and equally important elements in the way my choreographic framework formulates.


Costume is also important but so far I have not had a clear idea/image of the costume from the start. While with the other elements the concept arises simultaneously.


Although I have not mentioned it so far, set is the most important element in my work. This is my number one. I don’t start rehearsing if I don’t have the set, I don’t start the making of the work.  The set provides the framework in which the movement is created. It is the canvas of the work.

Do you feel you have sometimes failed?


How has that affected you?

I have been through different phases. I have been paralyzed by it, I’ve been immobilized temporarily. But the empowerment that comes after this is much greater. I become stronger, even more ready and prepared for the battle. Our mistakes make us stronger. We learn from them and carry on….

When you started your company, were you actively dissatisfied with what kind of choreography was on offer?

I didn’t start this company on my own- it was a group initiative. A collective of 7 people, with tremendous urge to do things. All of us wanted to choreograph, to speak out, and to find our voice. We felt like choreography didn’t really exist in Greece!  When you are young you are dissatisfied with everything around you. One learns to respect their history much later, one gets to see the positive and only the negative when more mature. We definitely had this urge, this need, to bring back home all the things we learned while studying abroad and training in dance. We played to win but being part of a collective is a really difficult. A tough bet to win, especially when the members of the collective didn’t even have enough experience as individuals. So now there are only two of us in the company. One on the creative front- myself; and both of us, Dimitra Kritikidi and myself on the organising front. .

So why does your company, why do companies such as yours matter?

Research in the art form of dance; dance as an art form –matters not only to me- I believe it is an important part of society on the whole. It is considered one of the most primitive art forms, present in all kinds of civilisations. Dance is an integral part of every society that believes in the body…in that the body exists…in the body, an important aspect in our lives. I was recently reading an article about Argentina, (since Argentina went through a similar crisis to the one Greece is going through now). About a decade ago, in October 2002, at the time when 57% would live in borderline poverty and 27% would live in extreme poverty- their main theatres had their peak of success, in numbers of spectators. 123 theatres in Buenos Aires would be presenting 390 performances. 150 performances were presented just at the Off Buenos Aires scene. Within 3 years, there was a 65% increase in exporting Argentinean art works and the capital became full of art galleries.

What do you wish for?

I wish for the continuation of dance in our country, for a dance university, for ongoing education and training in dance inGreece.

And if may be use a utopian manner for a moment ,  I wish that we would dance more;  and move more in any way we can.


action 21 – Mneme, photo: Elpida Tembou