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Georgia Vardarou

Georgia Vardarou thoroughly immersed herself in the art of dancing before showing her own work to the world. She began dancing when she was four and studied dance full-time from the age of 10. Her higher education was also dedicated to dance. After a brief interlude as a performer with choreographer Apostolia Papadamaki, the Greek moved to Brussels in 2004 where she successfully completed the four-year P.A.R.T.S. programme.

Shortly thereafter she began dancing for both Salva Sanchis and Marc Vanrunxt, the two core members of the dance organisation Kunst/Werk. With them she made among others ‘For Edward Krasinski’, a choreography in the name of Vanrunxt but which is actually the fruit of a collaboration between both choreographers, visual artist Koenraad Dedobbeleer and pianist Yutaka Oya of Champ d ‘Action. Dedobbeleer hung an elementary sculpture of a plate sawn into four irregular parts above the middle of the stage where Oya presented ‘Triadic Memories’ by the American composer Morton Feldman. On both sides of the piano you could simultaneously see two different choreographic solos to the same piece of music. On the left, Etienne Guilloteau presented work by Marc Vanrunxt, on the right, Vardarou interpreted the ideas of Sanchis. Although both choreographers worked with abstract principles and images, the result could hardly be more different. This yielded a visually complex puzzle on which the dancers then put their own stamp. Even then, Vardarou’s unique style of movement, with complex, whimsical twists and unexpected outbursts, stood out strongly. Sanchis also made grateful use of this in his own production ‘Objects in mirror are closer than they appear’. Here Vardarou solos while the other dancers use questions to try to figure out what it suggests.

If you watched closely, you could see dance styles and techniques quickly pass, sometimes pure, sometimes in unusual combinations, sometimes mixed with everyday gestures. For Vardarou this was a way to investigate and elaborate what ‘her’ way of dancing was, independent of any concept or image.  

In retrospect, it appears that Vardarou was already paving the way for her own, as yet modest but fascinating and consistent oeuvre. The starting point for that oeuvre was the research project ‘Hardcore Research on Dance’ from 2012. This took the form of an ‘unplugged’ solo. You saw Vardarou dancing for an hour, in unflattering panties and a blouse, without any lighting effect and without music. Simply: a woman who moves for an hour. If you watched closely, you could see dance styles and techniques quickly pass, sometimes pure, sometimes in unusual combinations, sometimes mixed with everyday gestures. For Vardarou this was a way to investigate and elaborate what ‘her’ way of dancing was, independent of any concept or image.  Vardarou said of this: “When you dance, you are constantly making decisions. These are conscious in part. During your training you will learn a lot of techniques. Which leave their traces. You can draw from these. But the question is why some things are more appealing than others, or why you combine them in a certain way. That is a partly unconscious process. Your upbringing and origin then play an important role. I wanted to analyse how exactly that worked for me.” It is almost impossible to retell this piece, but it undeniably has its own tone: serious and searching, but also a bit cheeky, with a lot of humour and a touch of self-mockery. Vardarou also realises that something about the task she is undertaking is impossible, but that does not prevent her from using an audience to witness this search.

Out of this ‘Hardcore Research’, two other projects quickly followed in succession. In ‘Trigon’ (2012), both Marc Vanrunxt and Salva Sanchis choreographed for Vardarou their own, very different, interpretation of that ‘hardcore research’. In addition, Vardarou presented a condensed version of her work. So you got to see virtually the same material from three very different angles: twice with music, costume and lighting, once in its naked version.

The movements were equally as abstract, but Vardarou undermines the exalted seriousness of the abstraction. She plays with effects derived from the show business. She allows inelegant movements that impair the sublimity of the abstraction. And she shows that movement in the end is always about making contact.

At least as interesting was ‘Phenomena’ (2013). This production was initially set up as triple ‘hardcore research’, with Stav Yeini and Eun Kyung Lee in addition to Vardarou. Vardarou wanted the two other dancers to undergo the same research trajectory she herself did. This time, however, there was also scenography: three stark surfaces on the floor in the primary colours red, yellow and blue. This created a context and expectations: would the dance appear here as a refined, modernist gesture, as ‘pure’ art in the sense of Barnett Newman’s ‘Who’s afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue’? The reverse was actually true. The movements were equally as abstract, but Vardarou undermines the exalted seriousness of the abstraction. She plays with effects derived from the show business. She allows inelegant movements that impair the sublimity of the abstraction. And she shows that movement in the end is always about making contact. Yet at no time does she laugh at or ironically criticise the modernist desire to show things in their purest, unadulterated state – while in fact that is not so difficult. She only shows how that desire can be more subjective and subversive than the modernists ever suspected.

After ‘Phenomena’, Vardarou spent time on ‘Golden hours (As you like it)’ (2015), the unruly performance that Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker created with Rosas around the gender-ambiguous comedy ‘As you like it’ by Shakespeare. Among the special elements of the project was the way in which De Keersmaeker investigated how the fundamental relationships in the story could be evoked in the parameters of dance, without resorting to codified narrative movements as in ballet. Here Vardarou plays the role of the cunning Phebe, who strings along Silvius (a longing Sandra Ortega). It is a distinctly feminine role – unlike many others – but Vardarou portrays a very strong woman.

Coincidence or not, in 2016 Vardarou performed ‘New Narratives’ at STUK in Leuven, and later in Athens, for which ‘The Master and Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov provided the inspiration. At least, that’s what she says about it, though she immediately adds that you don’t have to take all that so literally. And indeed: you see four dancers evolve on a stage in a very personal way. What they share are a number of objects such as a plastic ball, a bright yellow book or a canvas. Their actions often have a very purposeful character, although the goal itself is rarely clear. In this way, Vardarou explores where the personal ‘touch’ of movements and the registers from which they are derived can meet and reinforce each other to mean something that is ‘like a story’.

Vardarou connects strictly abstract form principles with strong personal experiences in various ways. Her first work is an abstract investigation of form, which simultaneously shows how abstraction in dance always has a personal, specific, intimate side. The last work shows how this inevitable intimacy seduces the viewer to imagine a story, and thus always invites an equally intimate empathising.

(the accompanying video clips will later be added to this portrait)