The maturity of a compelling dance artist



Attending the dress rehearsal of one of Arianna Economou’s most recent dance performances I found myself immersed in her search to convey meaning to the artistic intervention she had been commissioned to do.

I watched her walk the space. Negotiate with the story at hand, the emerging shadows as the lightman did his thing, the floor that felt hard on the soles of her feet.

Her name was not unfamiliar to me, after all, since her return to the island in 1981, Economou has played an instrumental role in developing the infrastructure of the local dance scene. Precisely, she is familiar thanks to her involvement in various workshops, dance organisations and associations. And she has been instrumental in bringing world acclaimed performance artists in improvisation and performance to the island.

Through her Echo Arts Living Arts Centre Economou has built pillars for her own choreographic research and interactive artistic work in collaboration with dancers, visual artists, dramaturges and theatre directors from Cyprus and abroad.

Citing her CV perhaps gives an oversimplified picture of Economou’s path.

It’s clear her chemistry with the very essence of dance and her passion to explore has placed her in a paradox of ideals, which as she says today bring her to the verge of what I would call change.

Looking back

It was when studying under a dance teacher of the Darlington College of Arts in London that Economou’s identity as a dancer began to make sense. “When I managed to finish my ballet course I realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do because it was just about skills, being able to do certain things, it was not about the self, expression, perception, nothing of this,” Economou tells me.

“But there was a certain teacher who was teaching movement studies, movement for performance, a transatlantic connection from America, and she was teaching postmodern dance, pedestrian movement and how to do exploration of anatomical images, the study of Somatics with which you can arrive at your own technique,” adds Economou. Economou suddenly found herself learning to dance without having to follow any specific guideline of movement and concurrently flourished.

“It’s like the difference between perspective drawing and doing everything right and doing your own drawing, that’s the difference,” Economou clarifies.

Economou is an advocate of anything between modern dance to dance today. The study of Somatics bears a deeper relation to her work, though her knowledge covers the whole spectrum of dance movement.

“Abstract dance came much later, we had modern dance that was working with the vocabulary of movement that was set, what Martha Graham did and Doris Humphrey and all those who are tagged as modern dancers up to the sixties roughly, but they didn’t change anything in the form.

“They only changed the vocabulary. Instead of doing pirouettes for example, you did contractions or a special movement which Martha Graham discovered for her body or Jose Limon for his body.

“Cunningham also found something for his body but he also changed the form a little bit because he wasn’t telling a story anymore,” reflects Economou.

“And then came postmodern dancers who preached that anything could be dance. Sitting can be dance, lying, standing, walking, sleeping. And suddenly the research of movement came to the forefront,” says Economou which intertwines these notions with Somatics.

“Here you experience movement from the cellular aspect of dance, not from what it looks like. So you go in- to sensory awareness, you go within,” explains Economou. It’s throughout our conversation that I become very much aware of the depth Economou attempts to refer to when talking about her work. Precisely, it’s about what it means to embody a cellular understanding of one’s body and explore what it is to work from the cell, from other body systems, not just bones, but from the fluids of the body, the organs, the bone marrow, to name a few.

“There’s a different mind to each part of the body,” concludes Economou.

What now?

Throughout the years, Economou has been tagged a dance artist, choreographer, director, founding member; so many names.

Somewhere I read Economou referred to as a dance activist in the local community, a pioneer giving Cyprus dance a place with the European con- temporary arts. But I never assumed there would be a price to pay for this.

As we discuss the projects and foundations Economou has built, on her own initiative and in collaboration with other dance associations and the Ministry of Education and Culture, we have a tête-à-tête moment in which she cites her age and her status here as a mature artist.

I find it difficult to grasp at first. We both laugh at the fact that it’s difficult for anyone to find work nowadays. Yet her reasons defy the reality of things, or could one say, the dance scene she has been advocating.

“On the one hand I spent a lot of my life so far to create these substructures for the dance scene, and now I find my- self not being able to rest by making my own work,” Economou tells me.

And by this she means that the support mechanisms for dancers are made for all dancers, regardless of age, regardless of experience.

“It’s hard for me to make a living through my work nowadays, maybe because it’s considered that old people don’t have new ideas. Authorities want young people to come up with new ide- as, as though old people can’t. And be- cause there isn’t a strategy to receive the new artists, we are all on the same plateau.

“I find myself going for the same projects young artists are going for, and I feel, of course, that this isn’t right; they should get it (funding). The underlying question behind this of course is: “How does Cyprus support artists as they grow older?”

And here there are loopholes not only for dancers but for all types of artists who aside acclaiming an official freelancer status are not recognised legally by their profession.

Following her identity as an experiential artist yet getting involved in the very foundations and sub structures of her own dance space, but also Nicosia’s own Dance House for example, Economou willingly admits that she has shot herself in the foot.

“I know a lot of artists who did their best work in their 80s… who knows what’s going to happen when one re- laxes after they have built all these structures, have time to enjoy it, and contribute to these with their own work and not the struggles,” reflects Economou.

Beyond the two of us accepting that perhaps this is merely a time when Economou has to embrace change, look within and focus on her own work, there is a warning there too which Economou hopes young people will grasp.
“The youth will find themselves in

the same situation, we all will get older. If they see somebody getting older with grace, support and respect, recognition in a society, only then can they look forward to making work for many years. It’s not that young dancers compete with us; it’s just that authorities haven’t given other alternative solutions and platforms for mature dancers,” concludes Economou.



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About Melissa Hekkers

I am freelance journalist and author, who has frequently been featured in mainstream news outlets and other publications in Cyprus. Recently, I've been focusing on developing my writing, promoting my own books and teaching creative writing to children and adults. My most recent publication (2020) - Amir's Blue Elephant- pushes the boundaries of creative non-fiction, and recreates the moments that marked me the most, whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, and during her ongoing involvement with the refugee community in Cyprus. In 2018 I published My Capre Greco Mandala which is the third in a series, an interactive colouring book about the biodiversity of the Cape Greco peninsula in Cyprus. My Akamas Mandala, the second in the series, is a colouring book inspired by the variety of endemic plants found on the Akamas Peninsula. In 2016, I published My Nicosia Mandala, the first of the above series, an innovative, interactive colouring book about the historic fortifications of the old town of Nicosia. I also focuses on silenced communities in Cyprus: I writes about migrants and refugees, both as a reporter and a features writer; I profile them and teach them creative writing skills. In 2007, soon after graduating with a Communications degree, I published my first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled Crocodile, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. In 2012, I launched my second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (in English and Greek), using an experimental approach to literature, for which I was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. My third, similarly well-received children’s book was Pupa (Greek and English), published in 2014. In between the last two books, I published my first free-verse poetry book entitled Come-forth. In 2019 she was contributing author to the anthology Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City, published by Saqi Books, London