Ioanna Portolou- Griffon dance company- interview by from stage to page

Posted on November 29, 2015

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Could you briefly introduce yourselves?

I am Ioanna Portolou, I was born in London and I grew up in Athens, Greece. I studied in London (1987-1997) and I have been working in Athens ever since. I studied fine arts BA and MA, and then for two years contemporary dance and choreography at Laban Centre. Griffon dance company was founded in 2000 and in 2012 I became interested in education, teaching children improvisation as a technique. I have been choreographing since 2000 up to now.

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

The current project started last year. It is a trilogy: ‘Forest’, ‘Taboo’ (which have already been accomplished) and ‘Porn’. The 3rd piece will be a quartet while the first two were duets. All three pieces have to do with the basic and deep relationship between a man and woman, the relationship of the self and the other and archetypes.

In the past I had been making one piece a year. Then I stopped working for 2 years and I thought I would never choreograph again. We started this project because this was the need for all of us. Due to the circumstances we started with something basic, affordable and ‘naked’ as a duet. We dealt with what is essential and not superfluous. The four of us- Cecil Mikroutsikou, Yiannis Nikolaidis the performers and Antonis P the musician and myself- we had this common need to enter into creation process again. So we began to rehearse, but we had no idea what we were going to do. Once in the studio, we discovered we had common difficulties with our relationships, coincidentally.

So ‘Forest’ emerged and developed into a study of everyday life and repetition. We kept the movement strictly confined to an initial looped phrase, since whatever else we tried to add felt foreign to it. Once we defined the subject we followed the piece and its subject through: wear and tear of everyday life – decay. This is decay is a ‘fact’, a socially acceptable consensus through which one can end up in monstrous situations: you can be at the wedding thinking of killing the other person at the same time, or this can be happening on a daily basis-imagine this. In ‘Forest’, in a way Cecil ‘says’: grab me by the hair and pull me around, I ‘m ok with that and society seems to have no problem with that either. There is a silent contract- I am going to pull you by the hair and you are going to like it.

Then we went back in time. We looked into the roots of how we came to today. Our research into our ancestral heritage, lead us to the man-woman relations in Polynesia, which led us to “Taboo” (a word that come from Polynesia).

We then studied the Maori war dances, read more about the social function of taboo which protects societies from incest, an idea similar to the forbidden fruit idea from western cultures. Today for incest cases there are trials, while there it was punished by death. In Polynesian societies, teenage daughters move away from their fathers in order to live elsewhere, on the grounds of approaching womanhood. There we discovered similarities to western psychoanalysis theories, like the Oedipus syndrome. Each of the different tribes was protected by a special-sacred animal, and marriages were only allowed between people of different sacred –animals, hence tribes, hence genetic material.

Spatially in “Forest’ the performers are always facing each other, while in ‘Taboo’ they never look at each other (taboo), always next to each other, communicating in different ways. At the end of the show, they dance a western-type dance, the blues, a decision based on us living now, still having to live our everyday lives despite this consequential burden from our history.

In ‘Porn’ we will be investigating the idea of measure, the relationship of man with moderation and man’s tendency to exaggeration.We will not focus only on sex, but on the moderate /immoderate basic concept.

Is questioning actually the process?

I am constantly questioning, being alive for me equals questioning. When you stop questioning you die.

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

Yes.

Do you think audiences are looking for a message?

Not everyone is looking for a message, some people feel lost without one- when there is one they feel they can understand. Others feel comfortable as an audience, even without a message. You also have to define what message is. A message doesn’t need to be linear or rational. A message can just be intensities or images, not necessarily narrative.

What does it mean to produce work?

It helps me understand life, myself and others. And it helps me communicate, afterall these questions are not only mine.

How did you start this research?

Discussion with the ones involved in the show, looking into internet, books, photographs, texts and free association.

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Are you interested in the individual?

Yes. In the same way that I set my questions, I want each performer to do the same for themselves. I want them to be themselves, so that they interact from a personal basis from which they can absorb materials. Your reactions are for real, when you are yourself. So the more space I give them, the more real they can become and I can set the limitations afterwards.

Do you have a specific method?

No. I don’t know what method is.

Do you consider yourself funny?

Why not? My work is not trying to be funny, if something funny comes up we let be, it’s the same like nudity, only if there is a need for it. We won’t put it there for the sake of it.

Are you interested in text or sound (voice) in your work?

Yes. Interested in sound, not text in the theatrical sense. I use texts for situation, specific energy or content. I use text as soundtrack or movement. Never in the sense of language -in order to communicate something- I use it either as an extension of the body or like music.

Is text improvised too?

Some texts are improvised, some recited, or just sometimes it is just sounds exuding from a physical state.

Are you an artist?

Yes.

Are you a good artist?

I don’t know.

Do you like your work?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Do others like your work?

The same. Sometimes yes sometimes no.

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Are you happy with how you do things?

No.

How would you be happy?

I would be happy if I were more organized, if I didn’t feel the futility of it all that intensely, if my work would continue, rather than fade away after each piece. You constantly have to be reborn from your own ashes.

Are you teaching workshops?

Yes, improvisation to children, based on Laban star and their own movement. In my teaching, I try to strengthen the children enough-not only physically-so that they master their own movement.

Is your work set or improvised?

It comes from improvisation and sets itself at some point, when the time comes.

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

I use intuition all the way through. I might have small goals, for instance within this week we need to finish this bit or that. I work with intuition, linked to tension. When I am the spectator of my piece, I watch it with my ‘tension-ometer’ switched on! I see whether I can get what I need it: am I bored, am I restless?

Do you have a daily practice?

Pilates, and lately my plants are becoming extremely important, I look at them daily, I stroke them… My daily practice is my plants, my crystals and tidying the house.

Do you create scores?

I never write notes. If I would need to rework something, what I have is what’s left of the piece in my head and the video. Memory, the visual and the present moment affect how I would rework something.

How do you archive your work?

Video. I am very bad at that.

Do you believe in less is more?

I do now. It is part of growing up. I don’t need this, or that anymore. I don’t need to prove anything and not everyone has to like it.

Would you say your work is dance theater?

No, not now, maybe I was a bit more in the past, now no longer. The work becomes more abstract.

Are you influenced by other art forms or sciences?

I am influenced by life, not art-forms. I don’t have the time to see things, anyhow. I feel closer to the art-form of cinema in the sense that you can move from one scene to the next by a simple cut, like in editing.

How do you treat the body in your work?

With respect, but at the same time, I can’t say I don’t take the body to its limits. When I am going near the physical limits, I am trying to go there together with the dancers. I am not imposing it, I try to gradually go there, so that they feel good and understand why we are doing this. It is not my body after all.

Time?

Fast. I am impatient. Ants in my pants.

Space?

For me space has its own ritual. Each point in space has a meaning, there is a special semiology for each point and its counterpoints. Different points in space have a memory of their own, returning to a point is also returning to its history and what happened there.

Lights?

I don’t use the lights solely for the purpose of being able to see the dancers. I don’t need lights to be discrete. With lighting design you can associate with a familiar image in nature or some other atmosphere. I use lights as natural sources and artificial sources and switch from one to the other.

Set?

No set anymore. Before I used minimal set.

Costume?

In past works, costumes were frenzy. It can also be a choice of something symbolic reflecting social conditions. Now, it is bare essentials.

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Do you feel you have sometimes failed?

Oh yes.

How has that affected you?

I stopped choreographing for two years, after ‘Prometheas’ in Stegi, Onassis Cultural Foundation. I had a lot on my plate and it took me some time to recover. It felt like a total life failure, it was a terrible experience.

When you started your company back in 2000, were you dissatisfied with the kind of dance that was on offer at the time?

Yes, I was mainly dissatisfied as a performer back then. I was dissatisfied by the options of dance companies I could work with, but at the same time I was dissatisfied with my own performance as a dancer. These two things lead me to become a choreographer. Maybe if I was living elsewhere, I would have kept on dancing for ever? Or maybe I would have become a choreographer regardless of where I was.

Is your work Greek?

What is Greek? I don’t know what Greek is. I don’t know what a modern Greek person is. I find the predicament of inadequacy in defining what a modern Greek is, a much more significant concern than defining whether my work is Greek or not.

Is there a Greek dance scene? Can you identify Greek characteristics?

I can distinguish Israeli dancers and choreography anywhere, there is something I can recognize. As for the Greek dance scene, we all know each other, I know the dancers, I see the people behind the work and it’s hard to say. I can say I can identify Greek dancers, they are very generous, exuberant and extroverted. They are very open and give a lot of themselves on stage. In fact, it is easier for me to recognize a Greek dancer, than a Greek choreographer. I suppose I can’t distinguish any generic characteristics because I know the people.

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

If we stopped making work today, nobody would notice, it wouldn’t even have a butterfly effect. Nobody would notice, if you are not there anymore. There is an intense feeling of futility and loneliness in thinking that. At the same time, our work matters to me, and it is really important for us. And you never know, in our last production, there was this girl in our audience who came to the see the show three times- she was moved to tears and said it changed her life. Maybe it matters to other people apart from myself and I don’t know it.

What do you wish for?

I wish that the effort and energy we put into our work, can continue somehow rather than being constantly disconnected- simply because it is very difficult to start all over again, every single time.

Thank you.

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