Investigating how ambiguity and small shifts can profoundly alter everything

Christos Papadopoulos

12 January 2022


LARSEN C — photo: Patroklos Skafidas

What has changed, what are the developments in your work, since the last interview?

The main difference regarding my work is on the production level. I created Opus and Elvedon with no budget while Ion was produced by the Onassis foundation and LARSEN C too, in addition to other co-producers.

LARSEN C is the name of a large expanse of ice at the end of the Antarctic glacier. It takes its name from the explorer who discovered it. When a large iceberg from the LARSEN C ice shelf broke off in 2017, it set off an environmental alarm. In our consciousness, ice is something solid and immovable and the fact that it started to crumble is the reality of global warming. But I did not choose this title for this reason.

The concept behind this new work is a play on perception. The initial idea came to me one day when I was driving through a forest in the Peloponnese, listening to classical music and I felt like I was in the Alps. Then I changed the music and put on traditional Greek music and suddenly Switzerland disappeared and I felt like I was on my way to my grandfather for Easter. This is where it all began, thinking how when one factor

changes, it dramatically changes our perception. I started thinking how this can be applied to the body and how a small shift can completely change what spectators see (or think they see).

In rehearsals, we investigated how ambiguity and small shifts can profoundly alter everything and what happens in our brain when a given changes; like when your leg goes numb. We started playing with the absurdity of movement, e.g. as if there is a brain in the wrist. What happens when what we consider a fact, like the central nervous system in the brain relocates? What if there are many ‘brains’ in the body instead of the central one that we take for granted? We explored and played with the perception of uncertainty. Also with the light; how the lighting design can have the same function of creating ambivalence: dissecting the space so that one cannot perceive what the space looks like, its size, how many performers are in it. Or how light can section the body and the movement. Along the same lines we worked on how sound can introduce an atmosphere but then another undermines it. How a sound that is necessary, accumulating tension can be enervated. These are the materials of LARSEN C, a performance with six dancers.

During rehearsals I kept bringing the image of ice, along with the expression ‘we only see the tip of the iceberg’ while two thirds ( ⅔) lie underneath. We worked on how you sense what lies underneath, how in a seemingly solid mass there is constant transformation from within, how in the body an internally huge movement can be infinitesimal in what you see. I wanted the title LARSEN C to be functional and kept bringing up the image of ice, how the glacier meets the sea and how it is in a process, always changing, even though we may not be aware of it.

From 2018 to date I toured Ion while now both works are on tour. The original idea in Ion is how we can be in tune but not in unison and how to create this state of coordination that perhaps overlaps with collective perception. I started with the idea of observing flocks of birds and schools of fish. One might admire the beautiful shapes of a flock of birds yet necessity incites it, flocks respond to a need, a potential danger is behind the coordination of their flight patterns. In Ion I tried to find the rules for creating such a world. On a bus we are in sync, obeying the consequences of a sudden break whether someone is reading and others are doing something else. I was looking for a unifying principle that keeps us together while individual actions are free. We began to work with the image of a train, how the floor is constantly moving and how on this common vibration each one can chart their own course. Inside Ion there are several predetermined sequences of movement, the choreography is hidden in the depths of the spine and obeys the basic principle within this world.

One inspiring ingredient for me is the sense of no gravity and no friction. I had ten dancers and worked with them through movement constraints. Regarding the movement approach -since landing the heel on the floor is a reminder of the ground- we would start the movement from the eyes and chest instead of the foot and heel and how we can ‘erase’ the floor even though it is there.Then we defined further the characteristics of the people living in this world.

I really enjoyed the rehearsals. We did many exercises, of psychological background also. How do we do the same movements but see others only through peripheral vision? How do we deal with the difficulty of perceiving the slight differentiations of the material (since we are not clones)? How to affirm your own slight differentiation of the material? It was a process with a psychological dimension, figuring out where in the group the disagreement or discordance is, when to  accept individual differentiations and ultimately how information passes through the whole system. I felt that this is where we came close to what happens in a flock. There is also a political dimension; how a group, a system like this begins to work (even within the artificial condition of a stage), how all the micro-opinions in this system ultimately define its material. You are in an ongoing negotiation, you have to be alert, inside of it, sensing what’s going on, without distraction, despite the difficulty. So the main difference in my work compared to before is that we now have co-producers also from abroad, we all have a satisfactory salary, we travel and present the works. In September I was working on Elvedon again. It is important to revisit a dance work, to understand weaknesses and so that the work matures and develops. I see things I hadn’t seen before and I feel very lucky to be in this process. I already have something there and I can work on the details. It is also a mirror, in a psychoanalytic sense, I am faced with what I created and remember what was happening back then, from a new perspective.


LARSEN C photo: Patroklos Skafidas


After a decade of successive crises (economic, social, environmental, health) what changes and developments do you notice have occurred in the contemporary dance scene in Greece and what do you think is missing?

I will say the same thing that we would all say. In Greece, to make art you have to be brave, now more than in any other period. Difficulties generate struggle and necessity. If you actually choose to do this, it means that you want it very much. These conditions clear out the field, it is so difficult that there is no room for whatever. If you want to do something you have to be convinced. It takes a lot of courage and bravery, which in turn makes you more aware and certain that you actually want to do it.

There is an ongoing redefinition and reassessment of the dance field by the artists themselves and this brings a freshness into what is happening here. At the same time there is social turmoil, we live in a country full of contradictions which leaves a trace on dance and research.

I remember responding to a similar question at the beginning of the crisis; I said that I found that this reassessment could bring on something very positive, but then the rise of Golden Dawn came along and I took it back. The crisis prompted reflection in our field, on what we want to do and on what is absolutely necessary. At the same time, we experienced the social withering of relationships in the public sphere and political polarisation. Further polarisation in the present moment on the issue of vaccines; we are going through frightening times.

I also believe that our understanding of the environmental crisis and the urgency of this concern is insufficient. It seems that we cannot grasp it, we live with this as a piece of information in the same way we did in 1990 with a bit of recycling added, while there is an ice shelf crumbling. What scientists thought would happen in many years from now, is already happening. This ice shelf is holding back ten more glaciers, that is an environmental disaster that would cause a five metre water level change in five years and we keep going about our business, casually as if nothing is going on.

As for what is missing, I think that the contemporary dance scene lacks the space for research. Even the existing programs in institutions don’t really support research; the  frames they propose turn out to be another opportunity for ‘success’ or for new people to get into the system. An alternative proposition would be for an institution to offer time and space for experimentation. For example the Athens Festival could offer ten artists the space and time to do research presenting four of the creations at their festival. There is also a lack of awareness of who we are, what we do, more support etc.

On a more personal perspective, what is missing is the sense of trusting the least. I think that if we could trust our most basic, funny, stupid thought and work hard at it, our art would be much better.


Ion image: Nick Knight


How might we imagine the landscape of dance in the next ten years?

If you asked me this question in 2010 at the beginning of the crisis, I would have given a very pessimistic answer. I would have said that the system in dance would crumble, that there would be no productions etc. Instead we witnessed courageous artists and a  blooming of the dance scene that we would have not foreseen.

Now, when we tour abroad, everyone talks about the Greek spring, la renaissance grecque, asking what it’s like to live in an artistic landscape that is as pioneering as it is in Greece! Still this is the perspective of an outside eye looking in, linked to a colonialist approach. Leaning over Greece in crisis to observe what’s happening there while there was no interest before the crisis. This attention ultimately promotes the extroversion of the Greek scene and supports this artistic renaissance. What is now very important is that Greece is finally on the map. And I hope it doesn’t fall off it again and that this interest doesn’t deflate. Moreover, apart from Greek artists now touring, there are also dancers from abroad moving to Greece. It seems that paths of connection have opened up and this is also significant.

I am optimistic about the future. In my collaboration with the Greek State school of orchestral art, I created a piece for the third year students presented at the Athens Festival. This  was one of the most delightful processes, interacting with these young dancers. Initially, I had certain preconceptions about what they would be like and I was taken by surprise. Their thinking, their way of working, their maturity is much more advanced than how I remember myself at their age, similar to how I was in my thirties! They were remarkably mature in their performance, perceptiveness,  as well as in discussing, reflecting, advocating and understanding in depth how to deal with this work. This experience filled me with hope; the young people about to enter this field are mature and well developed and I anticipate that this will have an imprint on the upcoming Greek contemporary dance scene.


LARSEN C photo: Patroklos Skafidas



Christos Papadopoulos