Blurring Boundaries of Identity Through Movement: Experiencing Inclusive Dance at Greece’s Prestigious Athens Epidaurus Festival

  My first impression of Athens should be disappointment. Sitting on the airport bus, apart from the dazzling Mediterranean sunshine, there are mountains, khaki and bare mountains, silently serving as the background in the distance. After about thirty minutes, I finally recognized some of the city’s features, but I still didn’t feel the excitement that I should have when airborne into a strange city. There are many more shops outside the window, such as car repair, sporting goods, bakery, and small supermarket. If it weren’t for the Greek marked on the facade, I really thought I had come to Southeast Asia. Between the urban and rural areas there, there are often equally disorganized pavements, as if deliberately forgotten by urban planners.
  It was not until 2018 that Greece ended its nearly decade-long economic crisis, and the entire country is already on the road to recovery. But the scars left by trauma can be seen everywhere in the city: most of the buildings in the city center are dilapidated, and there are hardly any amazing modern buildings; the shops in the unfinished buildings are presumptuously occupied by graffiti like weeds; Those tourist attractions in the city do not seem to be well maintained, and the only remaining ruins look at tourists coldly.
  This trip to Athens, I presume that I will probably return with a disappointment. But I didn’t expect that the surprises this city had to offer would come in unexpected ways.
  In order to pass the long night, I searched for recreational activities on the Internet, and after automatically filtering the common eating, drinking and shopping, the name Athens Epidaurus Festival attracted my attention. After I clicked in, I suddenly realized that I happened to meet the 68th Athens-Epidaurus Art Festival – one of the largest art festivals in Greece and the oldest in Europe, every year from June to August, throughout the summer, there are different forms of performances including music, drama, dance, etc. every day.
  Immediately booked a ticket, I took a taxi and set off for the performance venue Peiraios260. In fact, a small number of heavyweight performances in the festival will be arranged in the Epidaurus Theater. For example, Teodor Currentzis, the most popular Greek conductor in the world, will give a symphony concert there. The venue I am about to visit is an art space transformed from an old factory, adjacent to the Academy of Fine Arts in Athens, and it is also the office location where the Ministry of Culture of Greece will be stationed.

  As soon as I got out of the car, I was attracted by a pair of huge palm graffiti on the wall. Stepping through the door, the staff in white shirts kindly pointed me in the direction of the performance location. The show didn’t start until 9pm, so I wandered around in my spare time. Looking around, the huge and empty site is a reminder of what used to be factories and warehouses. Now, the characters have changed. The ladies drinking and smoking, the young people queuing in front of the small bar, and the men chatting in Greek not far away are all dressed in trendy clothes. The most fashionable and artistic people in Athens gather here. I also saw the President of Greece, Ms. Katrina Sacraropoulo, surrounded by bodyguards and officials, inspecting the grounds. Even a foreigner like me can feel the importance of the arts festival in Greece.
  The performance I want to see is called “Utopia”, and its most special feature is that disabled and able-bodied people perform dances together. Before entering the arena, several actors with the words “guide” on their chests came to greet the audience in advance, saying that there are already about 50 actors dancing in the venue, the audience can participate in it, and the actors will also come to interact with us . I noticed that there were many disabled people in the audience who walked into the venue with me.
  Under the dim red light, the scene looked unfathomable. Fortunately, the “tour guide” was present and took us deep into the performance venue. The arrangement inside is very different from what I imagined, there is no stage at all, only many people dancing their bodies. I was used to the bright eyes, but when I fell into the darkness, it took me a while to realize which ones were actors, which ones were audiences, which ones were disabled, and which ones were healthy people. But soon, I no longer struggle with these identities. Disabled people and able-bodied people dance together in this space, where the boundaries of the body are blurred. 50 actors contribute their own body shapes, just like the big trees in the forest, with various shapes.
  As for the distinction between audience and actors, it is equally vague. We, the audience, are all participants. Even if I choose to sit in a corner, seemingly passive, I am actually promoting the development of the performance. A silver-haired lady in a red dress stood in front of me. She looked at me for a long time, gently, and then she sat at my feet with her head lightly resting on my calf. I raised my hand, and with the impulse that came out of nowhere in my heart, I also gently brushed her silver hair. At that moment, I felt a wonderful connection between myself and this foreign lady whom I had never met. I didn’t have any verbal communication with her, but we were extremely close. During the watching process, I strongly felt that I was not only far away from Athens with its famous places and historical sites, but also far away from reality: strange soundtrack, dancing figures, English and Greek words flickering on the wall-I just dreaming!

  The inspiration for this dance drama comes from the lesser-known work “The Dreamer” by Austrian novelist Robert Musil. The choreography explores the relationship between the logic of reality and dreams in the form of people with disabilities dancing together in a space. After the performance, I had a brief communication with the choreographer, Mr. Michael. He is also from Austria and is now a professor at Duke University in the United States.
  He said that although the Greek economy is not good, it is very tolerant of innovative and bold plays. London, where he used to work, is too conservative even though it is also famous for its plays. very famous. The troupe has only two full-time staff members, and everyone else is involved because of love. They spent 7 months rehearsing for the performance of “Utopia”.
  ”Is there any challenge in working with people with disabilities?” I asked.
  ”Not at all!” he said, “I forgot that they were disabled.”
  I thanked Mr. Michael and walked out of the venue. The sky had just darkened, and the faint blue stage lights were turning on, and another jazz performance was about to begin.

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