Did You Say Dance?

By Athan Karras

Hellenic Journal

Greek Folklore

There is urgency among Greeks to research and preserve their roots. Chapters of the Lykeion Ellinidon (Women's' Lyceum Club) in Greece have been instrumental in provoking an interest in Greek folklore customs by producing inspirational youth programs energizing the Greek identity as a continuing tradition. Premier dancer Lefteris Drandakis toured with the Lykeion Ellinidon through Europe and the US. He has since been appointed as instructor, director and producer fo dance and music festivals presented by the Lykeion such as the Greek dance rituals, wedding ceremonies, and the cycle of life in dance, for the Athens Festival. He has produced recordings and CD's with the traditional music library for the Lykeion.

For more than a couple of decades, Lefteris Drandakis as skillfully developed new ways. of
awakening young audiences' to look deeply into Greece's cultural expressions. This has helped create a recent surge of cultural organizations collecting materials, learning dances, publishing transcnpts, photos, videos, and CDs. In Greece, there was a musial renaissance in the 60s and 70s when Lefteris Drandakis and other fokelorists began an energenic revival of traditional folk song, music; and dance. This was to counter balance the cultural influences, from Europe and America. The local panegyris (festivals) honoring the old ways were updated replacing the days of sparse picnic baskets with bountiful rows of roasted lambs. The pure sound of the violin and laouto was being replaced. Lively musical groups added instruments, making a more sophisticated sound that appealed to young people, enticing everyone to dance.

Notable dancer and innovative director-choreographer Lefteris Drandakis insists that we recognize Greece's geography, positioned at the crossroads of East and West, surrounded by the Muslim world of Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Greece absorbed cultures from Asia Minor, Cappadoccia, and Pontos. Today, Greeks dance the Tsifteteli (oriental style) which is not Greek at all. Musical influences came from Europe prior to World War II and now Greece is inundated by American culture. Modern composers of Greece assimilated popular music with folk music creating a contemporary sound. The traditional Kalamatiana, Tsamilea, Syrta and Hassapika have not been abandoned as the current folk musicians and leading composers are resolute in preserving them as they create a new sound. the music of the past that gets lost is the "difficult" music, such, as the Easter songs sung by women on the feast of Lazarus. The pleasant rural Syrto dances thrive, but melodies not easily replicated by current instruments are abandoned. In Kozani, Macedonia, the elderly women persistantly maintain traditions by singing a Capella, but for how long?

Presenting exhibitions for visiting foreigners and tourists is one thing, but reaching Greek audiences to inform and incite them into a deeper experience of their cultural traditions
s what really matters to Drandakis. In a recent dramatic production titled Songs of Those Going Abroad he explored the nuances of folk songs for consequential meaning, for every lyric is powerful and flamboyant - with a burning spirit - reveals the yearning for those left behind, you distant grieving bird living abroad. We need to understand the singer's bitterness in his heart, comparing the sweetness of an apple to the bitterness of a quince though pleasant sounding, to the beloved the pain and anguish rings through. When a son leaves to go abroad, he tells his mother, I'm leaving mother, it will be long years when I see you again.

Drandakis is man of vision beyond the realm of a dance instructor. He confronts folklore with artistic challenges not just to recreate but also to propel us in understanding that these monumental traditions have an honored past in which the Greek people grew to express and understand themselves. As an artist, he is not merely representational or sentimental but is determined to impact his audiences by making their experience immediate. Hopefully, this research will induce continuity but to truly preserve traditions, the villages must remain strong economically. These austere and tender rituals need to be understood and Drandakis is concerned in revealing why they are as they are. He has said, "It is not enough for our youth to say, 'I dance the Kalamatiana very well.' Of course you do; you are expected to dance it well, or dance the Levendiko if you're from Florina, or the Haniotiko from Crete, it is your duty to do that well."

One of his most recent productions with the Lykeion Ellinidon of Kalamata about how the Orthodox Church venerates the Virgin Mary and how the Greek people worship her. Called Here Haritomeni, it was made into a video along with stills of various Byzantine icons showing how the Panagia (Virgin Mary) is a guide to the Greek nation. Another production, Ta Tragoudia tis Thalassas (Songs of the Sea), explored the Greek people's connection to the sea. He presented the Dromena (Dance Rituals) in two parts. Part one was ceremonial ritual dance Tranos Horos or Kangeleftos as was danced by the entire village of Ierissos. However, Drandakis said that it is hard to know if these are danced with the same poignant significance as in olden times. Part two was the Boules of Naoussa, which was a spectacle performed by a thiasos (troupe). In another special pro-gram he presented the role of woman in the folk love songs. While striving to comprehend how folk forms evolved, Drandakis found that song and dance are inter-locked. In a certain dance-song Charon (death) he sought to discover the motivation when sung by the women of a particular village, at a given moment half of them clapped their hands and turned; and later the other half clapped and turned. He recognized that something significant provoked this action.

Among his outstanding achievements is a remarkable book, Improvisation in the Greek Folk Dances, where he details the forms and designs achieved in Greek folk dance. He wrote that improvisation is defined as: "the ability to perform without preparation, often under the pressure of objective necessity, following the inspiration of the moment.... improvisation may become an art." Through his book and outstanding productions, Mr. Drandakis has distinguished himself as one of the leading exponents of Greek traditional dance making sure that it is understood as more than a mere extemporaneous facet of Greek life, but something that completes the character and identity of the Greek people.

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HCS readers may wish to view other articles and releases in our Greek Music and Arts pages and in our permanent, extensive archives at the URL http://www.helleniccomserve.com/contents.html, especially under the Dance section.

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