Weaving in and out of storytelling

Tracking the art of storytelling as an innate part of human existence, Marina Katsari embraces her art as a means of transcending random, traditional stories.

Accompanied by the sounds of a Zither, her voice comes through as magic.

Almost a year ago, Katsari and Veronica Aloneftou came together on a journey that has led them to tell stories across the island, in museums, festivals, bookshops, schools, everywhere.

This involves Katsari’s choice of traditional stories, mainly from Cyprus and Greece but also other parts of the world, and Alonefti’s accompaniment with sounds of the Zither and other percussions. These at times are enchanted with songs, at times dirges, and more than ever the duo’s physical presence.

The storytelling of traditional tales is combined with traditional music from the region.

You’ll recognise “a little bit of Arabic, a little Persian…the Zither is a multifaceted instrument which plays with elements from Asian Minor, Anatolia, Greece,” says Katsari. And by doing so it marries itself with the alternating genres of stories and plots.

“Veronica is a person who isn’t only a musician; she has other notions and instantly, from the tone of my voice, from the story itself, she’ll understand and know what to do. In essence, what happens is co-story telling, she does some of the story through the music, on her own, then there may be songs, some of my storytelling, a dirge perhaps,” defines Katsari.

Delving into traditional stories isn’t coincidental either. One parameter is the legal rights of authors; the ensemble presents works that have succeeded through time. Yet choosing stories is also based on the notion that, with due respect to the journey some of these stories have already faced, “someone else has written them and eventually they reached me, and I transcend them further… you may hear a story and pass it on to someone else”, Katsari points out.

Of course, the stories also speak to the storytellers themselves. “When I read some of the stories we now tell, I thought that I wanted tell this story, I thought that it has something to say,” says Katsari. “First it has to come out from me, to say something to me, I have to read it and feel something, and that may be any feeling.”

After a pause, Katsari reminisces that the first story the duo told was about hope, “that you don’t have to listen to anyone, that the power, or drive, in the end, is found within you, meaning, essentially, that you can do anything you want… I think at the time, it was something I needed to hear as Marina, it was like this was a way of life for me”.

Katsari comes to verify this process through differentiating storytelling from acting. If you consider that she tells her own story through other people’s stories that she not only selects but also identifies with, her ‘role’ on stage is non other than her own.

“It’s for certain that a lot of elements of storytelling and acting are taught; you learn techniques, speech training, managing your voice, your diaphragm…storytellers don’t say that they’re actors, they say that they simply heard a story and that they want to tell it in their way. You don’t learn text by heart, word by word; you improvise, you say it differently every time, you improvise in language and in music. You describe an image which you have in your mind, you know the plot, the different episodes and you describe that, you weave in and out,” explains Katsari.

Each narrator has to find their strong point.

“One may work with his voice, another with their eyes, their body, another may hold the book in their hands and use it as a tool. Each storyteller has to find who they are. Who is Marina?” she asks me. “You give your character and yourself, whereas an actor acts out that role.”

Acknowledging that a storyteller may have a role as a narrator, Katsari goes on to argue that the very act of using yourself as a driving force is where the magic lies in storytelling.

As in an inbuilt understanding she has of the art. “There was always, and I believe there still is the need for this storytelling as it is part of humanity,” says Katsari.

And she defines it by starting with the notion of rhythm which she depicts as an essential part of narration and music, and thus storytelling.

“The heart beat of a mother is a rhythm. A baby inside a mother’s womb coordinates with this rhythm and once out of the womb you have lullabies. The fact that a mother holds a baby close to her heart also coordinates a baby with the beating of the heart as well as the lullaby and so the memories of the voice takes you into the narration, something that comes to recall memories from somewhere you perhaps don’t recall and eventually you relax, just by hearing a voice that talks to you or sings to you,” tells Katsari.

This is also the reason why Katsari doesn’t refer to the people that come and listen to her storytelling as an audience: because they’re also making their own story as they go along.

“The music helps others to travel and make up their story visually because there is no book in front of them… and you tell them: ‘once upon a time there was a beautiful girl…’ For some, a beautiful girl may be with short hair and tall, for another she may have black hair…each one of them makes up their story as they imagine it and in my mind, I have a specific image which I will describe because I wanted it to be like that. That’s the magic of narration I think.”

In the name of an unselfish art then, Katsari admits that the duo found salvation in the stories they tell, after all, their name in Greek, Paramithies or paramithoume refers to words of consolation, of support.

And if we accept the fact that we as humans tell stories on everyday basis, storytelling is an activity that places us very much in the now, in the present. “To ask children and adults to stop and listen for a while, the very capacity to able to stop and listen means that people are hungry for this; to use their senses, to look, to feel, to touch the other sitting next to you.”

More information about the Paramithies on https://www.facebook.com/ParamythiesOmadaAfigisis?pnref=lhc

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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