Athanasia Kanellopoulou

Posted on September 13, 2015


Athanasia Kanellopoulou, interview by fromstagetopage

Could you briefly introduce yourselves?

My name is Athanasia Kanellopoulou, I am a choreographer, a performer  and researcher. My whole life revolves around movement- not only in the sense of movement as in dance but also in the sense of moving geographically: a movement of the body, of the spirit, a movement beyond borders, changing locations. I have lived abroad for 16 years. I left Athens when I was 17 years old in order to study in London at the Rambert School of Dance. Upon completion of my studies, I moved to New York to the Martha Graham School for one year and afterwards I moved to Europe. I danced as a guest dancer with the Tanztheater Wuppertal- Pina Bausch in Germany and then for two years with Les ballets C de la B in Belgium. I then returned to London to dance with Yasmin Vardimon company.

After all these experiences with different artists, I realised I wanted to collect this  knowledge accumulated through the years, and try to find ‘little’ answers on who I am, regarding where I stand in dance and in my life. I started to research my own choreographic work and at the same time I started teaching workshops, trying out different ways of sharing my knowledge with students and young dancers.

What is your current project? What do you want to question with your current project?

I have several projects coming up. One of them is a commission to create a piece for the National Dance Company of Malta, a contemporary ensemble of eight dancers. I will be there as a guest choreographer in two weeks from now. In this project my questions is how can we continue to live in a world of radical change, a world in which everything around us is collapsing, disappearing or loosing its substance/ essence. I wish to bring forward this question, make it more ‘real’ for the performers and to try find answers and ideas on how to continue living when everything is ruined and collapsed.

Why did you choose this question?

I am always trying to find answers for myself, as an individual not only as a dancer. I want to connect art to life and I draw my inspiration from what is happening around us.

Would you say that questioning is actually your process?

 Yes. I start by posing my question to the dancers and the collaborative team, who answer in any way they like: by creating movement or writing a text, by bringing in props or bringing another question on my question. A puzzle of different materials arises. I take all these fragments, compose them together, attempting to resolve them, creating a thread from A to Z with a sense of completion as visual product.

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

 For sure, I want to relate to the audience- it is not just my piece, it is theirs too. I mean that the question becomes theirs too. My works are not created just to satisfy my need, or to continue with my research, I want to share them with an audience. I wish that the spectator becomes part of the work, not by interacting in a corporeal way, but by joining me in a mental manner: being present, witnessing the states I m in, either entering or distancing themselves from me.

Do you think audiences are looking for a message?

 It depends. I don’t like to generalize. Due to my mobility I have experienced different audiences in different countries. Sometimes audience members are very demanding, as they are in Greece- wanting to find the ‘absolute’ answers and conclusions in somebody’s art work. While in Slovenia, the audience did not seem to need a message, they just wanted to ‘enter’ and ‘travel’ within the ‘story’ of the work and the artist. I feel more familiar with this kind of spectators. I believe that the performing arts in general are experiential.

 Are you interested in the individual?

 This is exactly my subject of investigation in my Masters degree at the University of Malta. During the past seven years, my interest is in the female figure through the past centuries. I am specifically interested in the difficulty of the female artist in delivering her work, her limitations in living in a consumerist, competitive world. My point of departure for my investigation was some female figures of history and mythology, and different ways of relating them to our contemporary world. These figures always represent something, they are symbols, but the symbol or its function has changed in our time, or it can be re-translated. For example Penelope is a symbol of persistence and longing (as she was waiting for Odysseus to come back home). In our time, Penelope can be a symbol of longing for something to change, or for hope to return in her life. Persephone on the other hand, is a symbol of movement between two worlds, between heaven and earth, between the living and the dead. She was able to shift between light and darkness, move freely through this division. I believe that human nature is very much about this division, especially females. This sense of split, of dichotomy is something I feel strongly in myself, it is the essence of who I am and it becomes visible in my work. Persephone’s symbol can be re-translated as a shift between the surviving of the abyss of the soul and the struggling towards the purity and clarity of light. Persephone is in a constant battle, trying to balance between these two extremes, these polarities. Is it a product of our society? Does society want us to be so divided? Is it that we have no other option? Is this dichotomy in our biology? Are we just made like that?

Do you have a specific method?

 I start by doing research, drawing information from different books, art movements, philosophy, sociology, literature for about three months. During this time I read, study, observe and make a list of the things I would like to work on, or mention. I then go into the studio, transforming these notes into movement. Intention is the most important thing for me in movement and this how the body becomes a vehicle for physical articulation.

I am interested in the poetic transformation of the body.

Are you interested in text or sound in your work?

 Up until now, I have not used any text in my work. Nor I have found a necessity for vocalisation so far. The body is the most sincere instrument. One can’t hide.

photo- Giannis Hatziantoniou

photo- Giannis Hatziantoniou

Are you an artist?

If being an artist means to observe art through life, to be aware of all the social, political and art movements that concern this world, to be in constant motion and within a restless stillness, then I can say I am an artist, or that I try to be one.

Are you a good artist?

 This I cannot answer, it is not me who judges that.

Do you like your work?

 I feel very familiar with my work. I feel I am at home. Isn’t this what we all are looking for: a sense of familiarity, a sense of trust and a sense of fulfilling our purpose in life?

Do others like your work?

 There are people who connect to my world and understand it, others who are not interested at all. One cannot satisfy everyone.

Are you happy with how you do things?

 Happy because after travelling and working with different people and in different countries, I found a home. I had strong need for a home for three years, wondering where this base would be. My base is Athens now and I m very happy about it. I feel very honoured to come back home to my roots and connect with the Greek contemporary scene.

Would you say that your work is Greek?

 I don’t want to say that, because that would not be the whole picture. I could dare say my work is universal. My concerns for art and my need to express life through dance, are not exhausted in my Greek roots. I want my work to deal with universal themes, I am not interested in a national identity.

Is there is something that you can identify as Greek dance, Greek dance scene?

Yes, there are some dance pieces, which ‘stay within the borders’, dealing only with Greek issues, with themes one needs to be Greek to relate to. I suppose certain cultural characteristics exist, considering the fact that we are born here.

The trend I have noticed in Greece over the past years is works in which the body is neutral, somehow distanced from the stage space and the stage presence. It comes as a surprise thinking that Greek people are known for their intense physical temperament and overt expressivity, especially in the way they speak and gesticulate. As a spectator I am surprised to see this lukewarm approach to physicality, of distanced bodies which become neutral vehicles dealing with abstraction. What is missing for me, is an intense physicality and the act of transformation. I miss the primordial element dance can have, I see more and more dance which is intellectual, conceptual and neutral. Of course there are some other dance companies that work with intense physicality… I need to mention here that I don’t watch much dance in Greece.

I am abroad most of the time and I get a chance to see a lot of dance there.

Would you say your work is dance theater?

 Yes, my work is closer to dance theater… We are who we are, because of our past and certainly working with Pina Bausch has played a very important role in defining my work. I don’t want to shake off this part of my personal journey, it is evolving and transforming with me anyway.

Are you using the principle of improvisation?

 Yes, of course, at first. It is my source of material which then becomes structured improvisation, then becomes composition and then I have all these elements to play with. When onstage, shifting from set material to improvised material, happens when I find a moment which dramaturgically in line with the thread of the work. The shift needs to be performed well so the two kinds of movement materials merge together, so that one is part of the other, so that one cannot identify which is set and which is improvised. I work this way in order to keep the work alive all the time: the set material evolving in every performance and the improvised material informing it.

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

 Don’t we all need to have expectations and demands each moment we breathe? Not in an ambitious manner but as a way of living and a way of working. Expectations and goals make one go further, research further, and develop as a person.

Do you have a daily practice?

 Yes, I swim, when I live in Athens and as I often work in Malta. When I’ m not by the sea, I go to swimming pools and after my classes I work out a bit for myself.

Why did you start dancing?

 I guess because I was a hyperactive child and I could never stand still…. There was a strong need for me to move. I started when I was seven, doing ballet of course.

Do you favor / use a specific dance technique?

 I use the dance theater influences from working in Brussels and Germany, I use floor based material, release technique and physical theatre techniques which are based on Grotowsky and Stanislavsky.

Are you always the performer in your solos?

 Yes, I am the performer of the solo works so far. Although I have been commissioned to make group works within which I have created solos for other dancers. Working with other people I get fascinated with what they have, it attracts me so much and I like to work on their physical and individual perspectives. I haven’t dared to choreograph a solo on someone else yet.

How would you describe yourself within choreography?

 I am an independent choreographer, I can’t really define it with words in each language there are different terms I use for what I do. Dance artist, is a safe choice, since it includes most of what I do. When you are a choreographer, you create choreographies, but I am also a pedagogue. I also work with other people and so I am not just a solo artist. I can say I am an independent dance artist. I don’t have a company, but I do have certain people I tend to collaborate with and always return to and work with.

 What are your next plans?

 One of my upcoming projects is at the Iceland Academy of Arts, I will work on creative process for three weeks with them. Then I will be in Athens for three months December to February in order to start a collaboration with two artists, one visual artist and one musician, working on the theme of dichotomy. Dichotomy as within a person and also in divided countries. My interest in separation and division. This research will be presented it in the coming year , possibly in a museum or another space rather that onstage.

 Do you create scores?

 What do you mean? I write, I draw layouts, plots, but only in the beginning of the process. The end product might be very different from the plan I drew initially, but the drawings help me keep a sense of clarity in my mind.

How do you archive your work?

 Only with videos.

How do you use the following elements of a stage performance?


 I don’t have a specific method I use, each time it is different. I like to leave space for experimenting and using different methods.

So far, I have created works: with no music, , with the music present from the beginning of the process, working on the music,  and I have commissioned music works. In ‘Ballast’ there was live music, composed and developed in parallel to the choreography. In ‘The return of Persephone’, ‘The return of Penelope’, and ‘In lo(e)verland’ the music was composed for the respective works.


 How does history see time? Time is seen as cyclical, a spiral moving from inside to outside, history repeating itself, a kind of centrifugal force being created. In another point of view, time is seen as linear , flowing from one place to the next. I prefer to see time as cyclical, I like the image of something moving from the inside to the outside, coming from within us , something that doesn’t stop and it has the capacity of changing direction and moving the other way. One losses perception of time when onstage. You can loose yourself inside the time of the performance, or you can have a bad show, in which time doesn’t move nor for you nor for the audience. Especially in the 50 minute works there is this danger of a thought not developing enough in time and this is when all the problems of non-clarity or incoherence arise. I feel that a time limit is needed, both for the performer and the spectators. You need to know how long this journey is going to last.


 I don’t always work in the same manner. For one show I might not need a specific place, in another the space might disappears, or in another the space need to be extremely specific. I sometimes work with the nine point system: with the idea that I am inside this cube and I have to touch all the points inside this cube with my body. And then what happens when this cube breaks, or when it disappears? How does that change the intention, the quality of the movement? When the space changes a lots of things are released.


 Lights play an important part in dance works. I like to use lighting design supporting what is happening onstage rather than competing with it. I don’t want that the lights become more overstated than the choreography, they have to become one with the dance.


 I have only used set design once, a collaboration with Thimios Atzakas. The concept of the work was this box, being inside this small box, testing the limits of mind and soul and what happens when this box breaks or disappears but the body is still trapped inside it.


 I now prefer the costumes to be light, neutral, simple, and weightless. I used to think that the costume can be the starting point of a dance piece.

As in ‘The return of Persephone’, the whole dance was based on the gas mask. Now I have departed from this view and entered into this period in which I want the body to be the main element, the primary focus, I don’t want the costume to prevail over the body. Maybe I will change my mind on this later on again.

What external influences matter to you?

I love cinema, it is a great source of inspiration. I admire the power of the image and the realism that coexists with surrealism. For example, Bela Tarr can capture a moment of stillness and yet inside this stillness during the seemingly endless five minutes of this frame, there is a lot of emotion and a big range of motion. My question is how do you create that onstage, only with a body, without the support of light, or the cinematic perspective?

I also love books, mainly literature, Greek classics because they touch on complex subjects.

I also draw inspiration from the visual arts, philosophy, installations, and new performativity. There are some visual artists dealing with performance, in installations, performances in museums, like Tino Sehgal, Shirin Neshat who I find very interesting. I admit I don’t see much dance. I need time to observe other art forms otherwise I fear my perspective might become too one-dimensional.

Do you believe in less is more?

 I am struggling to adopt this motto in my life. I try to use it, but it is only recently that I feel I understood the meaning of this important phrase.

 Do you feel you have sometimes failed?

 I think we fail all the time. I celebrate that. I am a fan of Samuel Beckett! I enjoy his nihilistic approach on things and life. I find great fun in failing and I believe that success is in the fall and the failing.

How has that affected you?

It’s a pattern of life, a part of our human nature. After all we luckily have the option of falling all the time. A fly can only fall once-when it is dead. We have the chance to fall all the time and if we can find a sense of acceptance and joy in that, our lives would be much easier. Regarding failure not as disaster but as an indispensable part of our process. We should not judge it, we should just live with it! I guess that this perspective is my own self-defence. If I would not accept my failures I would suffer and it would make my life much more difficult. I prefer to accept them and embrace them as part of the process of living.

What do you wish for?

I wish to have children, a good  partner, to continue researching, and to always find interesting fellow- minded travellers on my journey.

Thank you.

Athanasia Kanellopoulou