Pharmacist or ballonist

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

Since the previous interview in 2016, I’ve realized and participated in various projects that I consider significant for my path. In 2017 I initiated Pharmacist or Balloonist; an autobiographical work which started by questioning why I studied pharmacology. I have worked for a while as a pharmacist at my godmother’s pharmacy in Berlin then stopped and I never did it again. In Pharmacist or  Balloonist I was primarily interested in pharmacology and its connection to alchemy and chemistry; The dose makes the poison (or the medicine) / Paracelsus; and instead of a performance, a therapeutic process. I treated the performance materials similarly, finding the necessary dosage of each.

This is where the idea of “the assistant” was born. In Pharmacist or balloonist all the performers were my assistants. I knew them all well. We had studied together or met on Danceweb. Even Christina, who joined this project through an Erasmus programme as an observer, also performed in the piece in the same role of the assistant observer. She was taking notes in rehearsal and did the same in the performance as well. The pharmacist (or choreographer) had the role of knowledge/authority, seemingly knowledgeable yet her assistants are more organised and know perhaps more than she does. I wanted to play with this paradox. This idea started a domino effect: we all had assistants e.g. the costume designer said I can’t do without an assistant, then another one appeared and then another; she had eventually a total of 3. There were other assistants in the team and an outside eye a.o.  Although there were so many assistants, I felt there was chaos.  Maybe the initial concept becomes a sort of karma of a show; I had described this work as one with a pharmacist whose task is to organise confusion and it ended up being just that. I wanted to make a performance that did not have logic: story telling (solo narration), then actions, then more choreographic actions, a duet with Ixchel, then more theatrical materials, then totally set choreography and finally Christina’s dramatic solo. I set out to make a piece of about 2 hours duration, managing the sense of time in the theatre in an unusual way; perhaps there’s something therapeutic about that too. I wanted this performance to have many different qualities, interweaving stories and narratives as I was creating an infusion for memory healing. At that time my father was starting to forget things and I had realised that my memory was worse after graduating university, hence this choice of tea, with rosemary as the main ingredient. (I continued to make infusions for my father and his memory has not deteriorated further). I find that Pharmacist or Balloonist went well in Athens and maybe less so in Berlin. I didn’t tour much with this piece and that is the absurdity of our industry; you work so much on a performance and end up doing 3-10 shows. It’s a bit strange that; we do this work in order to share it with an audience.

A lot of the materials I have been using started in Pigs project, although I only created 10 minutes of that whole performance. Upon invitation one choreographer from each country of the “crisis”. The person who invited us works in the opposite way than mine. He wanted to know exactly what he was doing and what we were doing, if everything was organised in a certain way that he wanted, and all of this was in opposition to my approach to creation. I decided to create a “crisis” in this piece in the sense of a performance state full of tension and organised confusion that engaged spectators. I brought this quality to subsequent works.

Then I had a collaboration with Fabrice Mazliah who created the series of duets Manufactured. He invites one performer to choose an object with which they create a duet. I was the third duet in this series and I chose as my object the pontian lyre made by my grandfather- from the village of Megali Sterna in Kilkis, whom I never met. In order to enter into a relationship with this object, the idea was to make another lyre myself. I took instrument making lessons with Simon Karas who teaches ethnomusicology at the Conservatory, studied traditional music and took lessons in Pontian singing. I entered the process of imitating the sounds created by instrument making tools and worked on my voice through singing. There was a lot of work involved in this production, on many levels; introducing me to traditional music, to the use of the voice, to a different kind of performativity (not at all theatrical). It was a very special project. A duet with an object, moving with it rather than manipulating it for your own use. In doing this I escaped the need (and habit) of giving direction to movement. I was entering into a zone of moving with it, and that felt magical to me. In ex~Forsythe’s company they have worked on Budo (martial art technique considered to be the base of all martial arts, e.g. Aikido has many elements of it) in workshops with the Japanese master Akira Hino. As Fabrice is a former Forsythe dancer he is familiar with this and I had the chance to join the workshops too. In Budo if you want to beat your enemy you should not aim to have a faster pace but to have the exact same pace; to be one with the other; by the time s/he moves you have already moved too. This approach balances out the idea of action or acting- you are mostly listening, you are not doing. This duet was made in 2018 and will be presented again soon in Frankfurt along with all the other duets (6 in total) that Fabrice created.


Manufactured Series: Duet #3 The Artisan is Present performed by Elpida Orfanidou & Pontian lyra


I got a lot out of this project, it shifted my thinking. I started working with tradition, with singing, with ethnography.  During the first lockdown I did an online course on ethnographic filmmaking (at Fårö by Konstantinos Aivaliotis and Silas Michalakas). Ethnographic filmmaking is observation, the camera as a recording device of the observer, creating a film that has no fictional elements. Saying that, Ethnofiction is another genre with some fictional elements-when the people are not playing themselves but a role connected to their environment- and also a new interesting field – visual anthropology. My interest lies in mixing elements of documentary and fiction. How can one create questions and doubt in relation to the narrative and the manner of narration: Did that really happen? Is it true? A film with this element is Grey gardens, like a documentary but weird, with a mother and daughter in a strange place .

In 2019 I had a collaboration with May Zarhy on a project for children. This was part of a program in Germany inviting and funding choreographers who are not usually creating or specialising in children’s performances. May invited me and Suzane Grau but just before the premiere the pandemic started and this piece was finally presented in May 2021.

During the second lockdown we went with Stella Dimitrakopoulou to Tolo to make a video dance project working with different materials and Budo technique. She worked on the editing and music with her collaborators and the video was presented at the Athens video dance project in December 2021. In Tolo I also became a winter swimmer and decided that this is something I want to have in my life – direct access to the sea. At that time I was writing applications, formulating ideas related to ethno-cinema and performance. I proposed a collaboration to dramaturg Igor Dobričić, asking him whether he had seen the film Chronique d’un été (an important film of cinéma vérité that is not exactly a documentary, it is cinema of observation, linked to ethno-cinema). Igor after a few days suggested that we should together make a remake of Chronique d’un été, instead of me as the choreographer and him as the dramaturg.  I accepted this idea that was frightenedly close to the project I did years ago with the film Jean d’Arc. We got support from Berlin and Onassis AiR for this project and it will be set in Athens. We work on a mix of film footage (videos from mobile phones) and performance, and so far we have worked during three residencies in Athens.


Songtellers photo: Arya Dil, far° Nyon


I also had an offer to create a performance at a festival in Nyon, Switzerland. I created Songtellers, a 40 minute performance, for one spectator at a time, 42 times in 6 days from morning to night. I felt this was a meaningful exchange, really meeting someone. Two chairs facing each other, in an encounter that happens inside a casual poetic atmosphere through conversation, storytelling and singing. I was mostly working on the timing of how a song can emerge out of a speaking situation / a dialogue. This was a great challenge and I was very touched by the experience.

One more project in the same period is The Oceanographies Institute that was initiated by Marialena Marouda, who is based in Brussels. For the last 3 years we interviewed people on their relationship to the ocean. We process these materials musically, creating songs through certain protocols, presenting as well radio performances. As part of this project we collaborated with voice teacher and opera singer Johanna Peine. She combines Alexander technique and Fascia therapy along with a study on the evolution of voice; the evolution of voice in different species. How we start with amoebas, fish and then some species develop a voice, some even return to the sea but with a voice this time. We worked with her on how to read a text, how to have movement and musicality in the speech and changing your voice through this work. Marialena will talk about this project and Hydrofeminism at a conference soon.

During these times of lockdowns I loved having time to swim, to read books, to get in touch with knowledge. Having the time. I feel like I need to do that and not just in between travelling, rehearsing, etc. I say it and I fear it at the same time; I would like the idea of more stability, as it turned out I spent a whole year in the same place, in Athens.


The oceanographies institute


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?

If this question focuses solely on Greece I should have seen more performances to have an opinion, so I’ll answer more generally. The question now is why someone would choose to go to a dance or theatre performance. The whole process of going to the theatre, buying a ticket in order to go with other people and see something. Something has changed in me with regards to it, as if I am in an ongoing earthquake, I ask myself; do you really need to do this? And it’s not that I’m afraid of the pandemic. I also don’t know what to talk about in the arts. And watching performances on my computer screen is not my thing. I enjoyed a single one which was filmed as if you were on TV too, directed at you, during this I felt the need to move with these performers in my room – something I would have never done in the theatre. A question has been raised regarding going to see performances in the theatre.

The current project Life as it is lived, is about how to capture life as it is lived. What is the need for an artistic gesture now? I feel there is a satiety in the arts. I don’t know what is needed now. It is still fresh, not enough time has passed. I need more time to feel what is happening in order to propose something as a choreographer. At the start of the pandemic I saw people resisting what was happening and then I read Nick Cave’s quote: “For me, this is not a time to be buried in the business of creating. It is a time to take a backseat and use this opportunity to reflect on exactly what our function is — what we, as artists, are for.” It doesn’t seem relevant to me to go back to what we had.


Pharmacist or balloonist


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

In the metro the other day I was thinking that if I have a desire to do a project in the future it will be about ambition and it will be called Against ambition. A project to redefine the relationship with the market, with success. And on how to return to the body, not so that your body can produce interesting material but on how we as dance artists can find ways in order to get closer to our bodies. To listen to what you feel about what you are going to propose, to consider whether this is emanating out of ambition or out of a real need. And maybe you don’t have a need to present choreography or present it in a theatre. You may want to write a poem about the mountains or create a workshop where dance people share techniques on how to avoid injury. I wonder what the essence of dance is so that it can be independent of the outcome.

When I go to see a performance now, I don’t have the same enthusiasm as I used to; maybe because I’m 40 now? The point is to get closer and to observe your body and it will lead you. I think it will be more interesting to see the propositions that come from this approach. Let’s leave it open to the imagination.