Arianna Economou

The picture shows a woman (Arianna Economou). She is sitting on a blue cushion and supporting herself with her left hand. She has short red-dyed hair, wears a necklace and a light grey knitted jumper.
Photo (detail): Lisa Fuhr

Arianna, when people talk about modern dance in Cyprus, your name always comes up. You brought modern dance to Cyprus in the 80s. You co-founded the Dance House Lefkosia (Nicosia) and were its director for more than ten years. You are still active as a choreographer and dancer, and your most recent solo performance, Breathing Eye, was shown in Nicosia this summer.

Which dancers and choreographers have influenced your work?

Modern dance is referred to dance as a break away from ballet, it uses steps and it is the dance traditions of great choreographers up to the 1960s. Before Merce Cunningham. I belong to postmodern dance. My work stems from what came after that, the area known as new dance or referred to today as postmodern dance. In new dance choreographers and dancers were influenced by the work of his collaborator and painter John Cage. They tried to redefine dance, away from steps, by using pedestrian vocabulary (walking, running, standing, sitting, laying down) and studying movement and stillness where perceptions of the body open up to a dialogue with gravity and sensory awareness. This revolution had been influenced by New Music and the work of John Cage, whose work challenged the understanding of sound and silence. Choreography after that researched movement within stillness.

I was fortunate to be there at this historic moment, when during my studies at Dartington College of Arts, postmodern dance entered Europe at this very college at the TransAtlantic event. New Dance first entered the UK, and later Europe, the very time I was studying there! My teacher there Mary O’Donnel Fulkerson, the director of Movement Studies at the Theatre Department, would invite all the pioneers at the time to work with us at the College. Some of these pioneers were Steve Paxton (USA) the founder of Contact Improvisation, Marcia Palludin (USA)/ release work, Nancy Udow (USA), Lisa Nelson (USA), Nancy Topf (USA). Alongside dance, there I was also able to study Theatre (Devised theatre, Live Art, Voice Work and Performative Writing) with a focus on the application of the Arts in a social context and Education. All this gave me great confidence to return to Cyprus in the 1980s and share this knowledge, at a time where not even Modern Dance existed in terms of schooling.

(Postmodern dance* differs to postmodern visual arts)

What dance events were there in Cyprus in the 90s and how did the audience react to your performances?

My first performance in the mid-80s was received with much fervour at the Municipal Theatre and at Nicosia festivals, though it caused violent reactions from viewers when shown on Cyprus Television CyBC, causing a storm, a furore in the media and newspapers. A few days after the attack, more aware journalists defended the role of the Arts to develop new forms. My work caused a reaction, unknown up to then on the island. A violent one at that. Though this left me wondering as to the reasons behind this reaction, in a paradoxical way, it made me and my work known as the most avant garde on the island, and this was the case up to 2000 when the next generation of choreographers arrived. It was not easy, but it gave me the ability to work with upcoming theatre students and students at the Pedagogical Academy and people who wanted to investigate creative thinking processes and dance as a healthy interaction between the body and mind, what is now known as Somatics.

You have very strong family ties to Germany, you were married to a German artist, your daughter lives with her family in Düsseldorf. When did you first come into contact with the Goethe-Institut Cyprus? And how did the Goethe-Institut work back then?

Yes, indeed! Horst Weierstall and I got together at Dartington College of Arts, Devon, UK where Horst was also studying at the same time as me there, at the Visual Arts Department. We collaborated as early on as then and he became very involved in dance and performance, joining my dance classes for students from other departments of the College (the Music and the Visual Arts Departments). After our graduation I followed Horst to Falmouth School of Arts for his second Degree in Painting. At the end of his studies we all came to Cyprus with our 2 year old daughter Alexandra. My ties to Germany were strengthened further through our visits to Wuppertal, which is Horst’s birthplace. Another fortunate coincidence was the presence Joachim Sartorius when we arrived in Cyprus, with whom we established a great friendship and exchange as he was a poet with a deep knowledge of the Arts and Dance, he was very up to date with the current developments on both these artforms coming from his last post as a diplomat in New York. We had so much to share. A real blessing.

What was your first project with the Goethe-Institut?

A project called Cologne – Nicosia Exchange. This took place in 1987 and was initiated by Joachim Sartorius and Karin Graf. Both Horst and I presented our work in Cologne. During this exchange we also met great artists who came from Cologne like Hein Haun, with whom I collaborated closely creating many works in socio cultural animation from 1987-2013.

Your most recent project with the Goethe-Institut was in 2019 on the occasion of 100 years of Bauhaus, you created a dance performance inspired by the Triadic Ballet and the textile artist Anni Albers, which was performed at Dance House Nicosia. Between the first project and this one, there are many years and several joint projects. Which ones do you remember most?

This is really to honour this wealth of collaborations with the Goethe-Institut. These projects were created and addressed to all people. We had a lot of people from the Education sector, pedagogues in schools for whom this was a hands on practical as well as theoretical assistance for methods of drama, mask making, storytelling, devised theatre for primary and pre-primary education and socio-cultural application of the theatre arts.

I list some of our most memorable collaborations below:

  • In 1987 the rainbow story with Dieter Baum and Hein Haun
  • In 1993 Pandora‘s box with performances in Nicosia (Kaimakli, at Famagusta Gate Melina Mercouri Hall) and in Paphos (at the Ancient Odeon)
  • In 1995 a 4-hour event titled Niches/ Living Sculptures (Phaneromenis Square)
  • In 1999 the Fountain of Youth – Forever young with Raimund Finke and Hein Hau (Kaimakli, Kastelliotissa)
  • In 2004 a bicommunal event titled The Creation of our World with performances in Nicosia, Bellapais Monastery, Othellos Castle, Famagusta, Limassol (Ethal Theatre)
  • In 2013 a street event in the historic centre of Nicosia titled Dada / The Head is Round (Ledra Street, Solomos Square, Laiki Yeitonia)

Noteworthy is also a workshop and performance with Henrietta Horn, which took place in March 2012. This was a collaboration of Dance Gate with the University of Nicosia Dance Department, which took place at the Dance House Lefkosia and was organized by the Goethe-Institut.

In 2017 Come and dance with me took place, a youth audience development workshop series, organized by Dance Gate in collaboration with Dance House Lefkosia and funded by the Goethe-Institut. The workshops addressed ages 13-18 and were led by Alexandra Waierstall and Maria Kamberis.

I would like to conclude with the most recent collaboration, which you mentioned. This was in 2019, The event of a thread as part of the event series organized by the Goethe-Institut Cyprus on the occasion for the 100 years of Bauhaus. Here I choreographed two new works around the Weavings of Anni Albers and the Triadic Ballet by Oskar Schlemmer. This materialized in collaboration with Melita Couta of the University of Nicosia Art Department and the support of Dance Gate and Dance House Lefkosia.

This year the Goethe-Institut celebrates its 60th birthday. These are difficult times and all cultural institutions worldwide are asking themselves how things can continue. What do you wish the Goethe-Institut for the future?

As a child I remember going to a chamber music concert organized by the Goethe-Institut at the Ledra Palace Hotel in the 60s, and how that experience of listening to Beethoven Quartets live for the first time was of great significance and has marked my life in many ways. I wish the Goethe-Institut, in spite of the difficulties of these times, to find the stamina and resources to carry on with the legacy created worldwide so as to honour it. Culture and Education are what we need to strengthen ourselves in such times; food for the soul. In my experience, the Goethe-Institut has been instrumental here for exchange and development in these fields. Supportive of growth and development, offering a reflection of ourselves within a larger whole. We are an island after all. The significance of Arts Education and Culture in our lives can never have enough support. Art is political in that sense. In the arts and culture the world can become ONE. And this is in my belief, what the Goethe-Institut has been about. I wish the Goethe-Institut many many more years of life ahead full of inspiration and service.