CULTURE

A dancer with an acting twist

Are there limits to what an artist can experiment with? Not for multi-talented artist Kyriakos Kosmidis, former professional swimmer-turned-dancer, choreographer, dance teacher and, as of late, actor as well. Currently a principal dancer for the National Opera, a position he has already held for several years, he started his dancing career with choreographer Daniel Lommel, founder of the Aenaon Dance Theater. Last month, Kosmidis starred in the National Opera production of «Panoria,» a ballet commissioned of composer Alkis Baltas and based on Georgios Hortatsis’s play of the same name. The modern version of the Cretan Renaissance play combines dance and video projection, adding a twist to customary National Opera productions. What made you turn to dance after you stopped swimming? Dance is something I got involved in by chance. Initially, I just wanted to find some sort of exercise after I stopped swimming, so that I wouldn’t let my body go. I joined a ballet school in Thessaloniki, where, after a year, I was spotted by Daniel Lommel. I discovered an entirely new world that made me want to know it better and keep moving forward. So Lommel was your breakthrough in dance? Lommel was definitely my mentor and I have never since had the kind of collaboration I had with him. Dealing both with classical and contemporary dance, which do you prefer? Classical dance does not move me as much, it feels a bit like visiting a museum and seeing the same exhibits all the time! But I do think that all dancers should have classical training. It perfects techniques and enables you to then move on to other things. After all, all contemporary dance began from classical dance. Unfortunately, not everyone in Greece believes that. You are a dancer, a choreographer, a dance teacher, an actor… How can you combine all these activities? I like trying out different things and pursuing them if they suit me. I don’t want to become hooked on just one thing, because I want to keep having fun. When I dance, I sometimes feel the need to speak and vice versa. I believe I can contribute to art in more than one way. What I want is to be able to be creative and put my soul into what I do. Do you think that a career in dance has an age limit? Yes, in the sense that the body cannot respond in the same way it used to. I find that I can’t work out as hard as I did in the past and that I need more time to rest. Injuries also take longer to heal. It is ironic, because the older you get, the more experienced you become and then your body lets you down. But that doesn’t necessarily mean one has to stop dancing; there are many outlets. Did you find «Panoria» more challenging, seeing that it is an entirely new ballet? A new production is always more interesting and creative than a ballet that already exists. The problem with ready-made ballets is that the choreographers cannot help being influenced by the way they have been staged in the past and they sometimes expect things that the dancers cannot give. The audience seemed to like «Panoria,» as far as I can tell, and there was something different about it that made it worth seeing. Do you find that being a principal dancer for the National Opera restricts your activities? Being a member of an organization always restricts you in some ways, but I can do what I like in my free time, as long as it doesn’t violate my contract. I was able to found the Prosopa theater group with Emilios Heilakis and Vana Pefani and, when I received the State Award for Best Dancer in 1999, I decided to put the money into founding my own dance group. I haven’t produced anything with the group lately, but we might. How did you become involved with theater? My first attempt was in 1992 with Isidoros Sideris and a text by Jean Cocteau, where I just read out a few sentences. I started out with small parts and gradually took on more; I particularly enjoyed doing «West Side Story» because I have a passion for Bernardo, whom I played. I enjoy theater because I am a stage person; I love performing on stage. I believe in the show: If I see that a theatrical production needs some dance elements, I won’t hesitate to add them and the other way round. What about your activities as choreographer? I couldn’t say that I have been 100 percent active as a choreographer so far, because my work at the National Opera takes up too much time. However, I have greatly enjoyed choreographing for people like Isidoros Sideris, Thymios Karakatsanis, Stathis Livathinos and Giorgos Kimoulis. Working with Kimoulis was very interesting because he gave me incredible freedom of movement. As a teacher, how do you see the future of dance in Greece? There is no structure here. If we want dance to evolve, the entire system needs to change. Kids can’t just wait to turn 18, then join a dance school for a couple of years and decide they are dancers. We need a school that will train children from a very young age so that they are already proper dancers at the age of 14 or 15, as is done abroad. I have worked with young dancers who lack proper posture! The way the National Opera functions leaves no room for anything new, nothing budges. For example, in the recent production of «Panoria,» we used video projections during the performance, an established practice abroad but which, for National Opera standards, was a complete novelty. The National Opera needs to set some standards and train children correctly from an early age. Do you think that dance events like the Kalamata International Dance Festival help to promote dance in Greece? Festivals like that are very good for informing the public or for giving ideas to dancers and choreographers but they make no contribution whatsoever to the heart of the problem. So, are you planning to continue combining everything? Combining allows me to have fun with what I do. So far, I have followed my gut instinct concerning my choices in trying out different things, and it has worked out. I don’t really have any regrets. I don’t see why I shouldn’t continue. Wide-ranging career Kyriakos Kosmidis was a member of the Ballets Jazz de Montreal and the Ballet Victor Ullate, among others, before joining the National Opera in 1992. He co-founded the Theatrokinissis group with Isidoros Sideris in 1992, productions of which also include «The Bacchae,» staged at the Athens Concert Hall last year. In 2000, he founded the Prosopa theater group along with actors Emilios Heilakis and Vana Pefani, while, after receiving the State Award for Best Dancer in 1999, he decided to found his own dance group, Rezous O. As a choreographer, he has worked with many theater directors, including Thymios Karakatsanis and Giorgos Kimoulis. As an actor, he has appeared in cinema and in last year’s popular television series «Fevga.» His current activities also include the choreography for Gogol’s play «The Marriage,» currently being staged at the Poreia Theater.