• Photo by Stavros Petropoulos

    Creative Encounter, Greece

  • Photo by Stavros Petropoulos

    Creative Encounter, Greece

Dancer and choreographer, Medie Megas, shares her thoughts on her first experience of working with a mixed group in a cycle of regular weekly workshops at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens.

The workshop was co-led by Medie and Irini Kourouvani, dancer, within the EU-funded Unlimited Access project.

 

Advantages of mixed groups

Our group was quite a complex mix of abilities; of disabled and non-disabled participants who all had very varying experience of dance – from professional training to no experience at all. A significant number of participants had learning disabilities, two people had physical disabilities, and an equal number of participants were non-disabled; young dancers and dance therapists interested in experimenting a new way of working.

From a teacher’s perspective, I found this mix extremely helpful – I was less worried about safety issues, and was able to ensure each person was working to their highest capacity, especially when working in pairs. So progress was very fast.

The group bonded strongly and everyone contributed to the creation of a very special atmosphere; one of trust, caring and pleasure. This led to a lack of inhibition, fear and self-consciousness which has made the workshop feel easy-going, without any tension or awkwardness.

 

Language barrier?

As a choreographer and dancer, I work a lot with the voice and with text, and I knew from the start that I wanted to pursue this practice with this group too. It was great to see that the group also found it very interesting to work with these mediums within a dance context. In the process of working, it slowly became clear to me that the issue of language has an extra dimension when working with people who have learning disabilities.

In the second session I gave the group a task where one person leads with his palm and the group follows the leader as if there is an invisible connection between the palm and their heads. Maniolis, one of the leaders, got a bit carried away and started enthusiastically leading the group with both hands. Then Konstantinos from his group, said “Manioli. Lower your wings. Please lower your wings!” which miraculously did the trick. Maniolis continued the task in a much more sensitive way.

 

Turning point

This was a turning point in the process for me, as it helped me see ‘meaning’ as something much more fluid within this group. Rather than see this fluidity in a negative light, as some participants’ inability to understand the meaning that I wanted to convey, I decided to make use of it; see it as a tool for producing new potential in meaning, as a trigger for unpredictable movement possibilities in improvisation – an opportunity to bring out new poetics in performance.

I have now started exploring this idea in two directions. Firstly, asking the group to write, but keeping this action closely linked to movement. In one session, I asked them to traverse the room six times, by rolling on the floor in various ways. Every time they reached the other side there was a piece of paper waiting for them, with a word, or half a phrase they needed to extend to a line of poetry. So, we ended up with a poem, or six lines of poetry, from a movement task.

Secondly, I'm exploring the way I give instructions for a task or improvisation. So, rather than asking for improvisation with the hand as a leader/initiator of movement, I could instead use a line Helena wrote for me, saying “The theme of today’s improvisation is: my hand wants to tell me my destiny" and see where this leads!

Here are some of the lines the group wrote during these sessions:

  • 'I looked at your back and said "I will rest here for a little while".' Lefteris
  • 'I sunk into a dance for two.' George
  • 'My hand wanted to be close to me.' Maria
  • 'Around me I felt my body somersaulting.' Maria
  • 'I looked at your back and said "I feel what you feel".’ Flora

 

A second cycle of workshops will begin in October, and ultimately some of the work will be performed within the programme of a European Unlimited Access festival in Athens in February 2015.

 

Medie Megas is a Greek choreographer and dancer, born in England in 1978. She is a graduate of the Greek National School of Dance (1998) and has a Master of Arts in Contemporary Dance from Kent University (in affiliation with the LCDS, The Place). After dancing for various Greek dance companies including X-it, Sine Qua Non, Wrong Movement, Analia, Eldor and working as an actor and choreographer, she founded her own company, Fora, in 2008. Fora has so far produced: Poetic Asylum (Athens Festival, 2008); The Guardog. An allegory about the Media (Athens and Thessaloniki, 2010-2011) and Metapolitefsi (Onassis Cultural Centre, 2012).

Medie teaches History of Dance at Rallou Manou professional dance school and is a founding member of the Greek dance association Syndesmos Chorou. She was a dance editor for the Greek arts magazine, Highlights (2005-2009) and a member of the board of the DBM International Network (Danse Bassin Mediterranee, 2009-2011). She has co-directed three documentary films with Manolis Andriotakis. Currently she is responsible for the dance element of an educational project run by the Onassis Cultural Centre aimed at schools in poor areas of Athens.

Irini Kourouvani holds a BA in Political Science and is a full-time employee in the public sector, in Athens, Greece. She was a member of the Greek National Weightlifting Team from 2000 to 2013 and participated in three world championships. Prior to this she was a track and field athlete for 10 years. In the last five years she has been a member of the Greek sailing team for persons with disability. In 1992, she received the prestigious Academy of Athens award for surpassing obstacles due to her disability and her approach to life. In 1994, she represented Greece in the International Very Special Arts Festival.

Irini has been training in modern dance and contact improvisation since 1999. In 2007, she performed with Lathos Kinisi dance company in Megaron Concert Hall as part of the Athens Festival. In 2013, she co-choreographed with Irini Tsibragou the piece "together" which premiered in Cacoyiannis Foundation as part of Festival Anamesa, a festival that promotes social inclusion for youth with disabilities through the arts.