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Greece Dancing its way to Vision of a Shared Future

Panagiotis Andronikidis and Abduol Nazari during performance of dance, “roots,” about shared origins and histories. Photo by Nadir Noori.

On July 22nd, somewhere between 100 and 200 people gathered to celebrate Greek and Afghan dances, music, and culture at Kipaki, a small garden north of Platia Exarchia owned by Steki Metanaston Migrant Social Center in Athens, Greece.

Early in the evening, the celebration looked sparse, but at around 10:00pm, the square suddenly filled to bursting with members of the refugee community from City Plaza (a refugee housing opportunity close to Athens city center) and Elliniko Refugee Camp (refugee camp housed in Athens’ old airport), international neighbors from around Exarchia Square, Greek friends from Palaio Faliro, and a slew of curious passers by.

A brief moment of panic set in for the organizers when a microphone couldn’t be found, but thanks to help from the community, City Plaza’s attendees were able to quickly locate and share a microphone. Meanwhile, community members Abib Kamel, Shala Gafary, and Vicky Wang held the fort at the bar serving a wide range of juices (free), beer (one euro), and different potluck items that the community brought such as pasta salad, peaches, popcorn, chips, and other snacks.

Mohammad Mirzay, founder of refugee support group Generation Outside of Afghanistan, stepped up to the mic and welcomed the audience, introducing the evening’s coordinator, Angela Schöpke, and program of performances. Photographer Nadir Noori and videographer Panagiotis Andronikidis floated quietly in and out of sight, intently documenting the celebration.

Left, Mohammad Mohammidi playing the tar and singing. Right, Mohammad Mirzay providing technical support. Photo by Nadir Noori.

First up, Mohammad Mohammidi, musician from Elliniko Refugee Camp playing traditional Afghan songs on an instrument called “tar.” The tar is a string instrument (in Farsi, “tar” literally means “string”) vital to musics from Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, and several other countries in the Caucasus. Mohammidi’s voice keened alongside the resonating strum of the tar, both sounding as though born of the same body. Mohammidi’s songs introduced the evening with a somber reminder of our timeless origins.

Left, Abduol Nazari dancing with a skeleton-like branch. Right, Panagiotis Andronikidis lifting Abdoul Nazari into a spin. Photos by Nadir Noori.

Next up, a contact improvisation-inspired dance duet called “roots,” by Abduol Nazari and Panagiotis Andronikidis. The duet started with Panagiotis lighting an earthen censer on the ground, whose smoke floated snakelike upwards into a dance with Abduol and a blanched fork-like branch he carried. The smoke rising from an incense-burning vessel used worldwide for centuries to send prayers to the heavens as they blended with Abduol’s primal twisting that seemed to emerge from some untouchably profound foundation and the bone-white skeleton of a branch, was striking. Abduol continued dancing with smoke and branch, movements increasing in freneticism and intensity, before Panagiotis joined him with a second branch. The two appeared to merge into one being as Panagiotis lifted Abduol swiftly over his shoulders into a slow sweeping spin. The two remained in physical contact as they whirled and spun, temporarily caught in a deadlock as their branches tangled and they stared intently at one another. After a heavy moment, the two melted out of their tense impasse into each other in a powerful moment of unity. Different people, different places, same roots.

After resonating applause from the community, Mirzay introduced the next performance: an Afghan dance called Qataghani performed by Rahmat Loyal and Angela Schöpke (i.e. yours truly). A personal moment to share that I was pretty nervous to perform, in part because I am a woman and many of the audience were men, and in part because I would not consider myself a Qataghani expert by any stretch of the imagination. Rahmat was an incredible inspiration and teacher, and with some words of encouragement and a good push, we began performing. A few moments of adrenaline later, fear quickly turned to delight as the audience clapped heartily along to our dance. Shortly after beginning, community member Fereidoon, stepped into the round and joined us in performance. Our guest performer brought with him an ecstasy and trance-like state that I began to feel in my own performance. The joy was tremendous. Rahmat, Fereidoon, and I finished our dance with a brief bow and opened the floor to a round of open participatory dancing.

Fereidoon performing Qataghani with Rahmat Loyal and Angela Schöpke. Photo by Nadir Noori.

The program concluded with a final performance by Marina Christofaki’s school of dance doing a series of Greek dances. Though much of the music’s sound was lost among the many bodies and voices, the dancers managed to keep their rhythm and steps coordinated in an impressive feat. They performed several circle and line dances as the community kneeled and clapped to the dancers’ rhythm a la traditional Greek manner. A guest performer, Popy Meliou, joined them for a dance. The dancers brought their performance to a close with a Greek circle dance to which they invited the audience to participate. At least six community members of all different nationalities joined. In that dance alone, Greek, Afghan, Iranian, Guatemalan, German, Moroccan, and American nationalities were represented.

Marina Christofaki’s school of dance performing traditional Greek dance with members of Greek, Afghan, Iranian, German, Guatemalan, and American communities. Photo by Thomas Pieters.

A party attendee, retired Greek radio music show host and composer, made insightful observation following the performances that Greek dances weren’t so different from Afghan dances. He observed that both dances seemed to have similar body shapes - arms outstretched like an eagle - and similar formations - line and circle. He observed a difference in that in Afghan dances, men seem to move more loosely, with more twisting motions and flourishes than in the slightly stiffer and more angular Greek mens’ dances.

The floor opened to dancing by the community with support from DJ Rahmat. The floor filled with dancing bodies, laughing and celebration.

Community members dancing, celebrating, eating, and laughing. Photo (top) by Klaudio Llusku. Photos (bottom four) by Nadir Noori.

As the night approached 1:00am, it came time to wrap up the party. The audience was informed that the last song was about to play. Men and women of different ethnicities and nationalities swarmed to the floor and danced with glowing joy, kicking up a cloud of dust and laughter with their quickly stepping and hopping feet.

So much joy, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt. All of the sorrow, the questions, the uncertainty of the situation striking Greece at this weighty point in time, they were all still there, but somehow the crowd’s laughter and dancing seemed to keep it at bay outside the gates of Kipaki for that night as the community shared a moment of incredible happiness.

I left the evening full of love, built on a shared evening of what felt like at once a profound sadness and an overflowing joy made up of our timeless stories. I left with the feeling that that night, we had added a building block to a vision of our shared future.

Many thanks to the evening's organizers and the community's support for making the evening possible.

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© 2016 by Dance Afghanistan.

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