Interview with Athanasia Kanellopoulou : “Art has the power to move people, shake up ideas, change and re-locate; it has the power to be in constant motion”

The pervasive sense of fear and insecurity is defining our everyday life, us. How is the individual able to carry the heaviness of the times passed and the present? Where is it looking for beauty, for hope? A universal quest. Only the actors and time change. Where is art embracing all that defines us right now? How is the artist marked, how does an artist leave a mark?

You have been directly involved in one of the most important humanitarian crises. Throughout our conversations the recent months, I have had an impression that you, as an artist, have felt a great responsibility to heal the wounds while working with the refugees, at least on a temporary basis.

 Art is connected to life; I cannot see these two elements separately.  As human beings, we try to be as solitaire as we can with each other, we cannot be unaffected by the crises around us, we are part of this precarious situation. I’m trying as I can, through movement and dance, to find the real meaning of this art, that goes beyond borders, language, ethics, that connects and unites all the people, despite all the difficult circumstances.

 In recent years, the sea has become the heavy metaphor of the human struggles in a new sense. How has the concept of the sea changed for you?

Over the last few years, the sea with its flow of immigration has been transformed into a wet cemetery. Thousands of lives have been lost because of the inhuman policies that have been implemented. How can we escape from this reality? It’s something that is happening next to us and we cannot close our eyes or deny it. However, I am trying to see always the poetic vision of the things, that’s why in my last creation “Behind These Walls, I Know There is a Sea”, the sea is the metaphor of the endless energy, the hope for a better place, something that we can always try to reach and long for. The sea has the power to heal, to cleanse and to raise to the surface all the lost beauty.

Your piece “Behind These Walls I know There is a Sea” explores the body in relation to its surroundings, the concept of vulnerability and escape; something universal yet with a bitter taste of the local history. How do the young bodies carry the heaviness of the past and the present?

 History is transformed in our bodies. We are who we are because of our past. I don’t know how you can delete and erase the past, this is something that is written down in the bodies. We are disconnected neither from the past nor from the present. Bodies and minds are channels, bridges of communication and in crucial times like these days, the bodies are reflecting the edgy trembling moments of the world around us. It’s very difficult not to become influenced by the unstable present; the bodies are the mirrors of the society.

The piece is going to premiere during the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival in April, 2017. Looking back at the 3 weeks of work with the dancers, what were the biggest challenges for you during your stay in Palestine?

 The challenge was to understand deeply the current situation in Palestine impartially, the deep conflict that is increasing over all these years. I had to research the actual situation in order to understand how the people live under occupation, what it means to be surrounded – physically and emotionally – by walls, fences, restrictions. In addition, I had to come across with a totally different culture and ethics to find a way to bring together all the stories that were inspired by the raising of the Wall. Another big challenge that I faced was the very limited schedule, all the performers were studying at the university or working during the day, so we had to create a whole evening long piece in 3 weeks.

This year “Behind These Walls I Know There is a Sea” is going to tour around Europe. Art being a messenger. Where do you see the potential of this art form to fulfil what you have all sewed into it?

 Arts in general have played a major role in the society, in forming people’s minds. It’s a way to alleviate, to find answers or raise questions, to get inspiration and hope. With my creation “Behind These Walls I know There is a Sea” in collaboration with Sareyyet Ramallah, we hope that contemporary dance in Palestine will get attention and importance and it is going to build a solid ground for cultural exchanges. At last, I strongly hope that the walls of fear, racism and infringement of rights will soon break down and disappear. Art has the power to move people, shake up ideas, change and re-locate, it has the power to be in constant motion.

Behind These Walls I Know There is a Sea

Concept, choreography: Athanasia Kanellopoulou 


27th April 2017, Municipal Theatre Ramallah,

30th April 2017, Palestinian National Theatre in Jerusalem

Athanasia Kanellopoulou is a choreographer, a dance performing artist, a researcher and a pedagogue based in Athens, Greece. In addition to her solo creations, she has been choreographing works in different companies and taken part in several multidisciplinary collaborations. Her pieces are a reflection on female identity and the concept of duality within the individual. In recent years she has given voice to issues of sociopolitical oppression.

Edit Bapcanyova, March 2017