KALAMATA – Variety is everything at the International Dance Festival of Kalamata and this year is proving to be no exception. «The great virtue of dance lies in its many shapes,» said the festival’s artistic director Vicky Marangopoulou and that is something she has remained faithful to since the festival first started in 1995. Over the first weekend alone, four productions revealed entirely different facets of the contemporary international dance scene (from a choreography on Vivaldi’s «Four Seasons» to improvisations and from the exploration of the female identity to South African vibes) setting the tone for the rest of the festival, which runs through this coming Sunday. Kalamata’s 12th festival, which this year features 11 ensembles from nine different countries, has by now gained a loyal audience which keeps increasing. With dance gradually establishing a firmer presence in Greece’s cultural life, the festival, which was founded at a time when Greece lagged in the field, is now a prominent institution. As always, fans traveled all the way from Athens and other parts of the country to the southern city of Kalamata to attend shows that cater to all tastes, many of which were sold out. Angelin Preljocaj’s choreography on Vivaldi’s classic «Four Seasons» marked the beginning at Kalamata’s castle in a sold-out performance last Friday. Members of the Ballet Preljocaj took to the stage before a striking and inventive set that hung suspended from the ceiling and was an inextricable part of the performance. The set was designed by acclaimed artist Fabrice Hyber. The equally imaginative costumes (from inflated transparent plastic suits to bikinis, to mention just a couple) completed the sets and played along with the weather changes, as Vivaldi’s seasons rotated. The audience seemed captivated by the playful and rich choreography, and was particularly taken with the two male dancers who skillfully moved with two chair legs attached to their buttocks, the round chairs which provided the setting for a spectacular choreography and the mysterious mask that shaped the relationship of two women and a man. As the seasons changed, bits would occasionally drop from Hyber’s suspended stage set, which included a chair, a sun, a moon and even a huge bunch of grapes. Loud applause greeted the end of the performance as the public expressed its enthusiasm for the work of France-based choreographer of Albanian descent Preljocaj, well-known to the friends of the Kalamata Festival since he has presented his work there in the past. The scenery was entirely different on Saturday afternoon when award-winning, Venezuela-born choreographer and master of improvisation David Zambrano presented his duet «Maza-Dama» with Ermis Malkotsis, dancer and choreographer of the Greek dance company Sinequanon, who is also known for his participation in the opening ceremony at the Athens Olympics. In the foyer of the Cultural Center, which provided the setting, Zambrano (who is also conducting this year’s seminars) and Malkotsis informed those present that they were free to walk around the two dancers during the soul music-inspired performance, or could climb onto the balconies to get a better view. In what turned out to be one solo after another, sometimes with music and sometimes without, the two dancers seemed to plunge into their inner selves and move according to their feelings and need to express themselves. As the audience gathered around them curiously, they fell, rose, trembled and huffed with a powerful intensity that appeared to stem from deep inside. Although «Maza-Dama,» which is an anagram of their names, was clearly a very personal show, at the same time it sought the involvement of the audience, which in turn responded accordingly, as those present seemed completely intrigued and eagerly followed every movement. Shortly afterward, at Kalamata’s Regional Municipal Theater, an up-and-coming choreographer of Israel’s dance scene, Yasmeen Godder, performed «Two Playful Pink» along with dancer Iris Erez. In the duet, which Marangopoulou had described as «very introverted but very interesting,» the two women explored parts of their identity and developed a relationship on stage which went through different phases. During the show, they sometimes changed outfits as part of their inner search, which peaked at the end when they both performed wearing huge, fake breasts. The festival’s first weekend ended with a powerful and uplifting message by South African company Via Katlehong Dance, which celebrated the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Apartheid regime with «Nkulukelo» at the castle on Sunday evening. The group was founded in 1992 by young people who were brought up in a ghetto and took refuge in a culture of alternative music and dance, «pantsula,» in an effort to survive the oppressive regime. With the fall of Apartheid, pantsula, which bears some resemblance to hip-hop, became more commercialized and Via Katlehong took it to the stage, embellishing it with other South African traditional dances. The audience responded enthusiastically to the young dancers from the moment they stepped on to the stage. Through a mix of techniques, from tap-dancing to scenes reminiscent of musicals and even whistling, and always with intense body movements, the dancers seemed to create rhythm even when there was no music. Reflecting the spirit of true entertainers, they cheerfully and cheekily interacted with the audience who would often interrupt the show with applause. After making a spectacular exit, with each dancer presenting himself, they invited the public to join them on stage for a spontaneous dance, an invitation which did not go unheeded. Representing the social aspect of dance, Via Katlehong sent a positive and youthful message to the world with a natural ease that made it almost impossible to remain seated. The festival, which ends on Sunday, further includes shows by Zoe Dimitriou and Alexandra Waierstall (tonight), Belgian ensemble Peeping Tom (tomorrow and Friday), Portugal’s Sonia Baptista (Friday and Saturday), Austria’s Chris Haring (Saturday and Sunday) and Israel’s Emanuel Gat on Sunday.