Let’s dance

posted in: Life in Lesvos | 1

I was handed a flyer today, which turned out to be for a performance of traditional dance on tonight in the big municipal theatre next to the harbour. Since I was keen to look inside, I decided to give it a whirl (so to speak).  It turned out to be an impressive place, with a massive marble-floored foyer and a modern auditorium.  But it was as well that I arrived on time, for the place was filling up fast (and before long was absolutely rammed full.) The organisers clearly understood one basic principle of guaranteeing a big audience, which is to have a huge cast.  It was a showcase given by a local drama teacher, and clearly she is very popular, for there were about five different troupes performing.

It began with the obligatory children’s group.  It started off promisingly, with a group of about five small boys in traditional dress one side of the stage, kicking around a piece of cloth wrapped in elastic bands – presumably a traditional game rather than lads who couldn’t afford a football – while on the other side a group of about ten small girls in traditional dress skipped about a bit.  They then formed into two facing lines who marched back and forth across the stage for rather longer than was interesting.

When the adults took over, the technique improved, but it soon became clear there were some structural problems.  For one thing, a basic pattern of many of the dances was people dancing in a circle, which isn’t the most audience friendly of arrangements.  Secondly, what you saw at the beginning of each dance was what you got all the way through (and again, for rather too long.)  And third, which is not uncommon with such community events, the same gender imbalance which affected the children applied to every group.  One of the troupes varied things with a sort of waltz at one point, which left about a third standing around the outside.

It did tend to be a bit samey.  One group of men injected a bit of morris-like cheerful vulgarity by putting on headscarves and doing a pastiche of a women’s dance (and one bloke even produced a pair of handkerchiefs.)  And there were some half-hearted attempts to inject a bit of drama: at one point they all gathered round an old radio and listened to some crackly broadcast, after which they hugged and the men left to go to war.  Except there was only one who would have been young enough to enlist.  Unless it was a sort of Greek Dad’s Army (complete with a Greek Private Pike.)  This did lead to one of my favourite moments where the compere recited something emotional while a man in WW2 uniform sat next to her wrote a letter… with a quill.  It was hard not to giggle.

You would think from this that Greek dancing is absolutely uncool and on the way out… except that it isn’t.  At the folk rock concert the other night there were loads of young people desperate to get up and dance, and they did so with enthusiasm and energy and athleticism.  I did enjoy it, despite everything – the costumes were nice, there was live music and it was great to see so many people involved in a community event.  So – nice, but not exciting.

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