Modern dance magician

Invited by the Sydney Dance Company, prolific Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis visited Sydney to create a new work, Parenthesis. He reveals the secrets of his stage art and why Greece lets its talents go

It was in the picturesque Cretan town of Ierapetra, the so-called ‘bride of the Libyan Sea’, that Andonis Foniadakis made his first dancing steps. In the only town on the south coast of Crete, it was to the sounds of his musician grandfather’s mandolin that he first felt the urge to dance.

“From what my parents tell me, since I was a child I was dancing – as my grandfather would play mandolin, I would stand up and dance.”

As a natural progression from dancing to Cretan mandolin, the first steps Andonis learned were those of traditional Greek dances.

Once the local dance school opened in Ierapetra, Andonis was amongst its first attendees – and amongst rare males – training with Niki Papadaki.

“I followed with some ballet classes, but I didn’t really keep on going – at that time I felt it wasn’t my thing.”

From 1990-1992 he continued his studies at the State Dance School of Athens.

“I had to wait until I finished my high school to decide to dedicate more time professionally to dance. I went up to Athens, I started the State Dance School there and everything just followed up,” Andonis tells Neos Kosmos.

As innocent and spontaneous as his first dancing steps were, Andonis carries the same innocence about his dance inside him today – despite the fact that since the Ierapetra coast, he has performed on stages around the world, and is today known as one of the most prolific and esteemed world choreographers.

With over 20 years on stage as a dancer and backstage as a choreographer, at the age of 43 Andonis dares to say he has never thought deeply about what it is that attracts him to dance. As it comes naturally, it doesn’t need a reason to back it up.

“It’s an instinctive thing – I love to challenge my physicality, I love to challenge myself, to express myself through music – and the only way to do it, instead of listening, is through dancing.

“It’s a very deep expression of an inner self, it’s not something that you can understand or explain, and definitely for me dancing is not a job. It has become a job, a profession that I live on, but the first ever impulse was to feel good. I was just escaping any other moments of reality and I was in another sphere, it was enjoyable.

“That’s what dance gives me – joy, escape and relief.”

Prior to his graduation at the State Dance School, Andonis was awarded the prestigious Maria Callas Scholarship which allowed him to train at Rudra Bejart Lausanne, in Switzerland, from 1992 to 1994.

Since then, as a dancer Andonis has performed with Béjart Ballet Lausanne, Lyon Opera Ballet, Karas Company, and his own dance company, Apotosoma, which he founded in 2003 in Lyon, France.

He has choreographed for a startling array of companies, each one special to him in a different way – from Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Geneva Ballet, Bern Ballet, to Ballet du Rhin, National Dance Company of Wales, Cia Sociedade Masculina-Brazil, Helsinki Dance Company Finland, National Ballet of Greece, Washington Ballet…

In his rich opus stand two operas he choreographed – Les boreades of Rameau for Opera National du Rhin’s and Graeme Lyon’s Il canto de la pelle of Claudio Ambrosini.

Greece born and raised, Andonis carved out his talent in the cultural capitals of Europe and world. What Europe and the world of the ’90s offered him and his career, Andonis says he didn’t have in Greece.

“In Greece, at the beginning of the ’90s when I started, we didn’t have anything. Now 20 years and more after, things have changed – ever since the internet came to our lives, the borders opened with the European Union. When I left Greece there was a bit of isolation in the country. There was a community doing dance, but it wasn’t a very common thing nor highly developed.

“I had nothing in Greece other than some inspiration from people, some gifted people who had discovered dance and had passion about it. In Greece, I had people who gave me the desire and the dream to keep on working, but once in Europe I found all the work, all the ingredients I needed.”

Things have now changed. There is still an ongoing development in Europe that Greece can’t follow up all the time, Andonis says, but it’s radically different.

“People can have great education in Greece now and a much higher starting point than I had when I started dancing. There are festivals in the country that are bringing a lot of exciting works from abroad, and that affects whole generations – there are also fantastic dancers in Greece now.”

This year has started big for Andonis, as the highly anticipated movie Noah by Darren Aronofsky premiered, with Andonis as its movement coordinator.

The experience of working with Aronofsky was thrilling for the Greek choreographer, his first ever on film.

The process was very different to that of working with a company.

“It was very specific, as I had to give life to 3D characters. Approaching the movement for the characters of the ‘Watchers’ in the film was a very long and hard process focusing on minimal details around walking, running, seating, fighting, falling, and all kinds of ordinary movements that these non-human creatures were required to perform in the film,” Andonis explains.

“It was a very long, very delicate, very painful research about how these creatures could walk around, sit stand, act, fight. The process was different than creating for a dance company as I was working mainly on me, creating moves in a specific frame required for the motion capturing technology.”

In a different world to the stage – that of the camera, the beauty is that your product goes universal, stays forever, sometimes carrying your name and your work to the greater scale, Andonis agrees. Still, it’s not something he will be striving for in future.

“Working for camera does give you less freedom – but if you have good partners there is a great freedom in the research process.”

Since 2010, Andonis has been focusing purely on his choreographic work for companies around the world. For next year, he is planning to create a piece for himself and take it back to the stage. At the age of 43, he is still active in his research in dance and physicality.

“There is no age when you have to stop doing what you want to do, but there is an age where you have to stop doing some things that physically your body won’t allow you to do anymore. As a dancer there is a wide notion of how a body can dance, so I have to find my way of moving which allows me to keep on doing it today, without physical limitations. You find ways to dance and respect your body. However, it may not apply in classical dance where after 33-35 you need to retire. I believe today dance can be ageless as long as the expression of each one who is deciding to keep on dancing has the quality and a personal touch,” Andonis says.

“I believe that my work is a very powerful, very colourful and vivid dance. I’m someone who is pushing and exploring the creativity of gesture making and movement making, therefore my work is very physical and very developed in sense of structure in the body itself and the space itself. Yes, I’m the choreographer in the sense that I shape bodies and spaces and ambiences with the movement.”

With his work inspired by humans, Andonis loves the fragility of the human existence – both body wise and soul wise. From there, he is creating dances that are not only a plain demonstration of technique – but there is a deep connection to emotional and subconscious connection to the movement.

“I often work in things that are human related, like the struggle of the body, or desires or the dreams of each one of us, and I’m always in my work seeking an opening to the dream, the escape, the imaginary which makes us fly away to other spheres – more sensual, more pleasant. I’m searching for a kind of litrosis, catharsis, salvation, into my dance that gives way to the new start and rebirth.”

Louder Than Words

Andonis Foniadakis has recently been invited by the Sydney Dance Company (SDC) to create a new piece of work for the company’s forthcoming Louder Than Words season at Sydney Theatre.

The project will feature world premiere works from two modern masters – Andonis Foniadakis, in his debut presentation to Australian audiences, and Sydney Dance Company artistic director Rafael Bonachela.

Described as beautiful, brash, bold and unapologetic, in Parenthesis, Foniadakis’ new work for SDC, he focuses on the relation of duality in an intimate relationship, creating an environment of sensuality, comfort and ease, whilst also exploring the feelings of disorder, discomfort and chaos that result when the balance is disrupted.

“Parenthesis focuses on the relation of duality and all the external interactions that might disturb or interrupt it,” he explains.

“I was inspired by the idea of duality, that can be seen and sensed in our lives. It’s a very open, very wide and abstract theme.”

The production features an original score by French composer Julien Tarride and costumes by renowned Greek designer and photographer Tassos Sofroniou – both regular collaborators with Foniadakis.

“The more my work continues, I would like to find people I worked with in the past, collaborators for good that I really trust – like Tarride and Sofroniou.”

In Australia for the first time, it’s an enjoyable process, both working with SDC and being in Sydney, he reports.

“It’s a pleasure working with Sydney Dance Company. The company has interesting performers and individuals who all have in common the sense of focused and constructive work. It is really a challenging and exciting experience being here in Sydney.

“Even though I’m at the end of my third week here now and I can’t say I know Sydney, I do enjoy it – it’s a new and very exotic environment.”

With a busy international schedule, Andonis still visits his native Greece each summer. But, there are no plans of going back permanently with the lack of interest that Greek authorities have shown for the work of its esteemed children overseas.

“I have a feeling that Greek people do not appreciate and don’t support people who come outside of Greece because they feel they haven’t produced them. I left at a very young age, I’ve grown my way along in Europe, I found my own way in choreography without the support of Greek authorities.

“Maybe they do appreciate, but they don’t seem to be interested to invest in people from abroad. I feel there is a lack of interest… But it’s a small country with plenty of local artists who need to get supported from local government, so why on earth would they count on me?

“That’s the reality of things.

“Even though I’m Greek, I don’t think Greek people have solidarity amongst those outside of Greece, even in Greece there is no solidarity – there is a lot of competition so why would they have solidarity for someone who is not even living there?”

Louder Than Words is on at Sydney Theatre, from 4-18 October. For tickets, call Sydney Theatre Box Office on (02) 9250 1999 or visit www.sydneytheatre.org.au/whats-on/productions/2014/louder-than-words