Christos Papadopoulos interview fromstagetopage

Posted on April 10, 2016

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Christos Papadopoulos photo: Julian Mommert

 

Could you briefly introduce yourselves?

My name is Christos Papadopoulos and I am a choreographer. I studied Politics at Padion University in Athens, where I also joined the university theatre group-discovering theatre. I then studied theatre at the National Theatre School of Greece. During my theatre studies, I discovered dance, through the dance lessons of the school but also took more dance classes independently. I then continued with dance studies at the SNDO School in Holland, a Bachelors degree in Choreography studies.

 

What do you want to question with your current project?

My experiment or the starting point of OPUS was the idea of visualizing a music score. Similar to screen savers affected by the music that’s playing, I questioned how vision can assist hearing or more specifically how seeing can influence the way you listen to Johann Sebastian Bach. At first, I wanted to conduct an experiment, working on a ‘quartet’ composition of music pieces by Mozart, Bach, Ravel and Beethoven. Looking into this idea more carefully, I realised I was giving myself a task that would take years to complete. I finally decided to focus and work solely on the Art of Fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach. The question was how to lead the audience into experiencing the composition of a fugue. I chose to begin with silence, then rhythm, then melody: the first voice, the second voice etc. Each of the four performers ‘was’ one of the instruments in the music. So effectively I deconstructed the fugue, gradually building it up again, until one can finally listen to this masterpiece, in its entirety.

I was looking for ways of moving that can visualise the music but can also become a state of being for the performers. One potential danger was for movement to seem as ‘pantomime’ of the music, but we avoided this by using movements that became a state of reality for the performers- which reflected their world and engaged their focus accordingly. This is the principle I used: this is the rule but this rule creates a life. I strongly believe that the performer is not there to explain, but to experience and live in the work.

 

Why did you choose this?

It had already been there in my imagination, when listening to classical music and closing my eyes I would see shapes and colours moving in space (a bit like Disney’s Fantasia). The real question was how to create an appearance of the emotional world and performance of this music. If you think about a melody in shapes, it is all about small lines or segments which when composed altogether, create a harmony. Any emotion emerging from this melody comes from our interpretation attitude towards it. Diving into the source of this piece, our aim was to create/ translate Bach’s composition in bodies- a visual equivalent of the instruments on stage.

 

Is questioning actually the process?

I always start with a strict limitation. I feel that if I worked on what arises in the process of making, I would never manage to finish any piece. I remain loyal and firm to the limitation I set to myself. This limitation evolves, prompting all the materials that become the performance, unravelling things I would have never imagined also.

‘Elvedon’ was based on Virginia Woolf’s most experimental novel ‘The Waves’. I was inspired by this novel with no paragraphs, no chapters, a story of 6 people written like a waterfall as it proposed a specific rhythm. Central themes of Wolff’s text are the connection and relationship of man to nature and man’s existence within this ever changing, constantly and incessantly shifting world. I proposed a constant rhythm, similar to the ongoing drive of man, for this creation. The question was how to make something which goes on and on and never ever stops. I had no intention of discussing growing older, but about growing tired, fatigued, depleted. I proposed a limitation through which the constant and ongoing drive of the performers results in exhaustion, a real exhaustion in the performance.

In OPUS, each of the dancers move only when their respective instruments resonate, no extra movements were added. Bach’s ‘The art of fugue’ is attempting at communicating with the divine, while he wrote it shortly before he died. All of his music was about extending to the divine. We come closer to Bach and through his music we attempt at approaching the divine element. For me the divine, is nature, our world, our planet and the consciousness or transcendence of nature. It relates to the realization of how ‘little’ we really are. A few years ago, I was in Kenya for a month and half in the middle of the Savannah where lions passed right outside my tent at night. This is when it occurred to me: how little and expendable we all are, we ‘re nothing really… and it is so liberating to realize this. This thought uplifts me and offers the exaltation one seeks in connection to the divine.

 

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OPUS photo Patroklos Skafidas

 

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

Partly. It is important for me that the audience understands the limitations I set and the materials I work with. Afterwards I would want them to let go, become carried away by the work and forget about its structure. I believe that recognizing, allows people to release and open up more.

 

Do you think audiences are looking for a message?

Yes they do, this quest is a trap and it is our greatest enemy. Trying to understand actually limits the spectator’s potential of communication, it is a restraining experience and becomes very stressful. In both past works, I use repetition and long duration so that one has plenty of time to see over and over again that which is happening on stage. This obsession and insistence of mine on the materials and the time the spectators are offered allows the audience to gradually become lured into the piece. I try to create the sense that something is progressively opening up. If the duration was shorter or if the parts were organised in recognisable scenes, the experience would be very different for the spectators. This generosity with time and long duration is what I propose and hope it works for the audience.

 

What does it mean to produce work?

Production can be a headache. Creation is demanding and painful. I enjoy myself whilst I suffer, immersing myself into the process, almost detaching myself from reality. It is creative in all its complexity, both a dream and a nightmare. Both pieces were self-financed and self-produced which was very difficult for me. Box office proceeds were just about enough to cover wages for the collaborators. Moreover, this lack of production funds means that I have to accommodate to performers’ schedules from other work they have (which pays their rent). I would like to have a studio, to afford to pay the dancers normal wages so that I can have a steady rehearsal schedule 12 to 6 daily, working smoothly.

 

Do you start with research, how?

I read a lot. Personal research, not with the dancers. For ‘Elvedon’ I would go to the mountains and stay there for a while in order to come closer to nature. My research is philosophical and personal, in order to consider all the facets of the limitation I choose and propose. Then comes the practice, a lot of work, entering the studio, working with the dancers.

 

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Elvedon photo: Patroklos Skafidas

 

Are you interested in the individual?

Yes, in a particular way. I am not interested in creating characters or personas, or using materials that declare particular personalities. By setting a very strict form applying to all the performers, allowing enough time, one begins to observe each performer carefully and their individual differences reveal themselves. This is what I am interested in.

 

Do you have a specific method?

Yes. Limitation. When living in Holland, I made a piece investigating how space can change in relationship to time. The element of time is always present in my work.

In Plato’s Symposium Socrates mentions that we have innate ideas in our minds ‘remembered’ or forgotten at times. Both anamnesis and lethe of knowledge are within us. That which cannot gain or loose anything is an absolute essence, which is the divine.

I was thinking about how space transforms in relation to time. Imagine someone inside a room who is and has been only there. How would their imagination change the space in time? I investigated how space can change in the performer’s mind and whether it would transform in the spectators’ perception. The main principle of that work was: if I stand here, only observing how space changes, if I forget how to move, what would the body do when it tried to move again. The generosity of time, long duration is something that deeply moves me and is always present in my work.

 

Do you consider yourself funny?

Yes, lots but I have not used it in my work.

 

Are you interested in text in your work?

Not in my choreographic work. Maybe it is a possible next step, applying limitations both to body and voice. So it would not be working with text, but creating a ‘text’ by the use of voice within specific limitations proposed.

 

Are you an artist?

I am.

 

Are you a good artist?

I ‘d say yes, since I have had the fortune- while watching one of my pieces- of feeling joy, as the finished work was very near to what I originally intended to make. In this regard, I have achieved something and I am very happy about it.

 

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OPUS photo: Patroklos Skafidas

Do you like your work?

I like it a lot.

 

Do others like your work?

I think yes.

 

Are you happy with how you do things?

No.

 

How would you be happy?

I would be happy if I could manage to handle creation with less stress. If this divine answer came to comfort me: Do not be afraid, the more you create, the less stressed you will become in the future. I am questioning whether this total absorption into creation is an egotistical thing. I would like to have the ability to allocate to my work, the appropriate space and proportion of myself.

 

Are you teaching workshops?

Not recently. I have taught workshops in the past in Crete, in Athens and also worked in schools. Currently I teach movement for actors at the Drama school Odion Athinon (dance technique, improvisation and composition principles).

 

Are you using the principle of improvisation?

Yes but not much. I use improvisations within the limitation proposed. I would never use free improvisation.

 

Is your work set or improvised?

My work is primarily set. In ‘Elvedon’ everything was totally set. In OPUS the first part -which focused on the rhythmical value of the fugue- is improvised within the specified limitations, containing certain landmarks.

 

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

Yes. One expectation is to find the production funds necessary so that I can continue with my work more calmly and peacefully. Like many other colleagues, I wish to find someone to manage the technical and production parts so I don’t have to do all this myself. I would also like to promote the work I have created and try to present it as much as I can.

 

Do you have a daily practice?

I run daily in nature, in the park close to where I live.

 

What do you think about solos?

The piece I aforementioned created in Holland was a solo for a 45-year-old dancer.

 

Do you perform in your work?

I don’t dance in my work, I am not ready to be both creating and doing. When I enter the creative process I don’t want to be performing as well.

 

Do you create scores?

I create the structure and the composition. In both works (more prominent in OPUS) there is a lot of technical work involved in making it.

 

How do you archive your work?

I video it, I keep notes and also take pictures from the notebooks of the dancers, the way they note things down,too.

 

Do you believe in less is more?

Yes! Absolutely despite the fact that a spectator recently said-enough with this minimalism…

 

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OPUS photo Patroklos Skafidas

 

Are you influenced by other art forms or sciences?

Mathematics for sure. I will rarely look into another art form. I would look into dance studying videos of rituals, Sufis dance and traditional dances, anything that uses repetition in movement as a pathway to ecstasy. These can be an immediate source of inspiration in my work. I once was at a fiesta in Ikaria, after six hours of continuous dancing all the people there were in a specific state- this experience was one my main questions for creating Elvedon. What appears when many people are dancing and pulsating together?

 

How do you treat the body in your work?

In my imagination and hopefully also in my work, I have no interest in the body as a dancer’s body. My desire is that the bodies you see onstage are bodies of people (and people are not dancers). Any movements that can be directly ascribed to ‘dance’ or dancers impersonating ‘people’ are not within my interests. I believe that dancers’ focus should not be the movement itself. I am trying to create the sense that whichever movement is happening in this body, it is or becomes a state of being. It happens in absentia, as the performer is focused on communication. Movement is a means of relating to space and the others. Maintaining this ‘extroversion’ is important to me, each dancer connecting to space, other dancers or spectators.

 

Time?

Yes! It is the most fundamental element in my work and also the underlying subject matter: how time affects performers and spectators.

 

Space?

The different tensions created are related to spacing: When the body or the gaze shift in space (looking at the other, the spectator, the space shared with the audience) there is an affect. The way the space is perceived can also be modified through the performers’ imagination. The actual spacing of the performers or the shifts in their imagination can potentially enlarge or minimize the sensed space. My work is about trying to create and alter spaces.

Lights?

With lighting design, I try to create an atmosphere totally integrated to the choreography. The aim is for lighting changes is to neither be seen, perceived, nor observed by the spectators.

 

Set?

I don’t use set design, I am not interested in the stage as place. In my work, I can see only empty spaces and bodies. Ideally I like to create slight differences, unperceivable changes, which always seem invoked by the system of bodies, which are pivotal to all that happens. Set has a rather undermined dramaturgical role in my work.

 

Costume?

Costumes relate to the idea of dancers as people. In ‘Elvedon’ the choice of costume aimed at subtlety, you didn’t really notice them. It was important for me that the costumes did not suggest any specific attributes to the performers you were looking at. In OPUS the black costumes referred to musicians’ dress code as well as creating a similar environment to a musical score (black costumes on white floor).

 

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Do you feel you have sometimes failed?

Many times. Daily. But I have not yet come to the conclusion- or absolute certainty- that I have failed completely.

 

How has that affected you?

In reading more, preparing myself more.

 

What do you wish for?

My wish is that peace prevails in the world, so that this misery around us comes to an end. That we can come to terms -reconcile ourselves- with other people, the world around us, and the environment. Taking our lives a little less seriously.

 

Do you consider your work Greek?

No. I have undoubtedly been influenced by Greek art: the splendor of Greek art in which the idea transcends matter, when what is expressed exceeds the marble stone. This principle, you do not need to be Greek to appreciate. Another influence by Greek art, in my work, is the absence of emotion. I am happy I have been exposed to some great art.

 

Is there a Greek dance scene? Do you recognise specific characteristics?

I don’t know. I can identify something I don’t like. I don’t know if it is limited to the Greek dance scene, but after Pina Bausch and Dance Theater, text somehow became connected to dance. I see this ‘recipe’ repeated over and over again: a bit of dancing and a bit of talking. I feel that a great misunderstanding is propagated when a dance performance conjures theatrical dramaturgy (assuming a more linear narrative or a theatrical development shifting the ‘story’ forward) without adequate reference to the movement vocabulary used.

I have not yet been able to discern recognizable characteristics of Greek dance but recently I have often seen dance pieces liberated from pluralism. On the whole, beyond personal taste of course, I sense that we are all getting rid of a lot of excess. More often now than in the past, I see choreographic works consistent with their subject, also on a dramaturgical perspective. There is more experimentation going on at the moment. Persistence on experimentation is important even if the work fails. When one’s intention is experimentation, it is very different to aiming at creating something beautiful. So, it is clear when compromises rendering the piece more accessible or likable to the audience, are made. I am disconcerted with dance relying on visual elements (aesthetics). I feel that more dance makers have access to ‘high’ aesthetics in their works and the danger is that often the visual part is more important than the dance. Like a successful show admired because of its immaculate aesthetics instead of excellence in dance or choreographic terms.

 

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OPUS photo Patroklos Skafidas

 

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

The company co-founded with Amalia Bennett is called ‘Leon ke Lykos’. We created two pieces (one each), presenting them at Porta theatre. My piece was based on Virginia Wolff (wolf=lykos) and Amalia’s on Leon Tolstoy (leon= lion).

So, this company matters because we live in this world: within this exhausting socio-economic situation and still artists want to and create work. With minimal financial means, they stand for what they want to do, with much faith, and this is valuable for our society, today. The artistic product is important to me but the group is essential. I like group work, it is wonderful, being all together in this. It is also important for the spectators, this effort we put into the work, in order to release the struggle of ‘understanding’ meaning or message in dance. I propose another way- letting go- asking spectators to become active, creative and imaginative. It is really important to be able to do this, in the present moment.

Thank you.

chpapadopoulos.f@gmail.com

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