“Reviving and preserving Greek dances”, “establishing them in the urban environment” and “presenting them to foreigners as part of our national heritage” are inscribed, right from the beginning, as the goals of the first generation of the LtE members.
This particular interest of the LtE for Greek dance remains undiminished to our days, while this relation is reflected in the performances, in the official receptions but also in the teaching of Greek dances, activities which form the triptych of the Section of National Dances, while at the same time constituting a precious asset for Greek dance as a whole.
From 1911, the very first year of the Lykeion’s operation, a Sub-section of Greek Dances was formed, and, together with the Music Sub-section and the Painting & Sculpture Sub-section, became part of the Arts Section.
An independent Dance Section was formed in 1914, consisting of the Greek Dance and European Dance Sub-sections. In 1935, it was renamed to Section of National Dances – Rhythmic Gymnastics, while in 1936 it became the Section of Dances and Popular Entertainment, with the Sub-sections a) Recruitment of Dancers, b) Supervision of Dance Classes, and c) Selection and Technical Supervision of the Special Dance Group, together with the Special Dance Sub-section. In 1947, the National Performances Section was created, with Angeliki Hatzimichali as an advisory consultant.
The Dance Ephors have been Nina (Anna) Krestenitou, Ourania Dousmani, Callirhoe Parren, Panayiota Pistoli, Ioanna Dekazou-Thanou-Gennaropoulou, Pothoula Kapsambeli, Anna Papamichail-Koutrouba, Eleni Tsaldari, Amalia Markatzi, and Maria Passa-Kotsou. Today, the Ephor is Eleni Tsaldari.
The first dance performances and official receptions by the Lykeion ton Ellinidon
Before the Lykeion even had its own premises, the Section of Greek Dances, led by Anna Krestenitou, was already in a position to present its work. So, in February 1911, the Lykeion held a reception “with tea and Greek dances” at the Aktaion Hotel in Neo Faliro for the official Canadian delegate of the International Council of Women to Athens, Mrs Chamfort. A bit later, on 1st May 2011, the Lykeion organised the Anthestiria at the Zappeion – “the first genuine Greek festival [...] with Greek dances, with Greek songs, with Greek dances”, albeit all arranged in Western musical modes and performed by young women in costumes in an archaic style. For the musical and orchestral arrangement of the dances, a committee was formed, consisting of A. Samaras, Manolis Kalomiris, George Lambelet, G. Lavragas and Dimitrios Lialios.
The traditional New Year’s custom of cutting the Vasilopita followed on 6th January 1912 at the Royal Theatre, with Greek dances and tableaux vivants inspired by the ancient, Byzantine, and modern eras. In the spring, the Lykeion took part – once more with Greek dancing – in celebrations for the 75th anniversary of the University of Athens. At the same time, dances for the Apokries (Carnival) were established for children and adults.
The Lykeion’s performances were interrupted by the outbreak of the Balkan Wars, and restarted in 1914 with the “winter festival” at the Royal Theatre, followed by the first festival at the Panathinaikon Stadium. This grand festival appears to have been inspired by the performance at the Stadium in February of the same year by the ballet troupe of American choreographer Loie Fuller (1863-1928), who was knows as The Serpentine Dancer for her dances with large pieces of fabric. The Lykeion, in fact, organised a tea with Greek dances for Fuller. The pinnacle of the 1914 festivals was the appearance of the Lykeion at the “Achilleion” in Kerkyra in honour of Kaiser Wilhelm.
Modern Greek dance begins to shed the togas and clothe itself in Greek costumes
The Lykeion’s dance activities were curtailed by the National Schism and Greece entering World War I. The Lykeion recovered during the 1920s, and its dance activity was consolidated by the presence of Angeliki Hatzimichali, who contributed to creating an organic relationship between dance and costume. So, without completely renouncing archaic costume in its interpretation of modern Greek dances, the Lykeion started to emphasise the representation of regional costumes.
In 1920, the “annual Hellenic festival of the Lykeion” was organised at the Municipal Theatre. The programme included a recitation by Marika Kotopouli, Greek dances and songs, a “Byzantine mural” and a “procession of Caryatids and Peplos Korai (Peploforoi)”. In 1925, the Lykeion organises another festival at the Stadium; from this point, they will be held annually and will become its most important events in the Interwar period. The Lykeion was one of the main contributors to the celebrations of the centenary of the Greek state in 1930, while in 1932, the Folk Dance Group, trained by pioneering choreographer and dance teacher Koula Pratsika, travelled abroad for the first time, and participated in the Hellenic Product Fair in New York. In 1935 and 1937, the Group participated in Balkan Week in Constantinople. In 1936, they took part in the Olympic Stadium Festival for the handover of the Olympic Flame, while, at the opening ceremony of the Games, young women from the Lykeion appeared in Berlin Stadium in traditional costume. However, World War II and the Occupation put a halt to the Section’s dance activities.
After World War II, the Lykeion’s dance activity recovered. Its first appearances included a festival at the Panathinaikon Stadium in May 1946 to celebrate the return of the Dodecanese Islands to Greece, a festival at the Herodeion in honour of the US Navy in September of the same year, and the “Great National Festival” at the Tennis Club in July 1947.
Greek dance is established at the Lykeion with professional-level ambitions. Dance performances in Greece and abroad
In the 1950s the winter festivals started up again, and now took place at the “Olympia” Theatre, with regular collaborations with the Greek National Opera, while the Carnival dance soirées also began again. It seems that a considerable influence on the direction of the Lykeion and the way it managed Greek dancing was the appearance in Athens in 1952 by the Yugoslavian state group Kolo, a purely folkloric group with skilled musicians and dancers, which performed dramatised folk shows in the style of ballets. Starting with a seminal performance in 1954 at the Royal Theatre, the Lykeion would mostly present choreographed dances, performed by a specialist group of dancers and accompanied by professional musicians and folk instrumentalists. In spite of moving increasingly towards the style of a folklore group, the Lykeion kept reminding its audience that it used authentic costumes for its dances.
The Lykeion’s 50th anniversary in 1961, in any case, found it in its prime. The Folk Dance Group was by now appearing regularly at events or festivals abroad (1960, Italy and the Netherlands; 1961, Cyprus, Germany, Austria and Switzerland; 1962, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Turkey, etc.) During the same period, following several decades of ad hoc collaborations with folk instrumentalists, the Folk Dance Group acquired a permanent folk orchestra for teaching and performances, headed by Aristidis Moschos and supervised by musicologist Fivos Anogianakis. In 1962, the first music and dance performance at the Herodeion took place, as part of the Athens Festival (followed by performances in 1963 and 1964).
From 1971, a series of dance performances organised by the Greek National Tourism Organisation took place at the “Aliki” Theatre and later at the “Rex” Theatre, while in July 1979 the Central Lykeion organised the first Panhellenic Festival of Traditional Dance at the Lycabettus Theatre, with the participation of 31 Annexes.
The participation of the Folk Dance Group of the Lykeion in international competitive festivals has also been notable; for example, the Dijon Festival, (1965 and 1968), where it won the “Silver Necklace” both times; the Bach Festival (1968 and 1979); the Susa Festival (1970, First Prize); Flanders (1977); Verona (1980); Castello di Gorizia (1972, First Prize); and the 3rd International Dance Festival in Palma de Mallorca (1989, First Prize). It has also participated in large international events such as: the Taipei Festival (1990); a festival in Sardinia (1994); the Agrigento Festival (1995); the Lyon Dance Biennale (1998); the 6th Damascus Folklore Festival (1999); the China Shanghai InternationalArts Festival (2007); the Beijing Chaoyang International Cultural Tourism Festival (2008); the Cavalcata Sarda Parade (2010); and the 36th Gerasa Jordan Culture and Arts Festival (2021). It has appeared at international sporting events, such as the Olympic Games in Mexico (1968), Montreal (1976) and Athens (2004); at EXPO ’92 in Seville; at the “Greek Month of Culture in Russia” (1997); at EXPO ’98 in Lisbon; at the Mediterranean Games in Tunisia (2001); at the IGA Exhibition 2003 in Germany; as well as in events for the Cultural Olympiad in Tokyo and Osaka (2004). It has performed at the Odessa Opera House (1994); the Cairo Opera House (1997); the Hanoi Opera House, as part of the official visit of the President of the Hellenic Republic (2008); at the UNESCO amphitheatre in Paris, as part of events for the Hellenic Presidency of the European Council (2014); and on various occasions, invited by the Hellenic Embassies in Ankara (2013, 2014), Nigeria (2014), Beirut (2016) and Paris (2023).
Since 1989, the Lykeion has focused on producing themed shows, directed by Lefteris Drandakis. The most important of these have taken place in the Herodeion Theatre, as part of the Hellenic Festival, in which the Lykeion has participated since 1962: “Songs and dances from Greek folk rituals” (1989); “Songs and dances from the Greek wedding ritual” (1991); “Songs and Dances of Macedonia” (1992); “Misemos: Songs of emigration” (1996); “Songs and dances in the cycle of life” (1997); “Thalassa” (“Sea”) (2000); “Dance formations from Greek folk dance tradition” (2003); “Colours of Greece” (2004); “In praise of talents, drums, and dances” (2008); and “Partridges are dancing and nightingales sing” (2013). Also, in collaboration with the Vouli ton Efivon (Youth Parliament), it has produced shows, also at the Herodeion, with the titles “Two millennia of Hellenic music tradition” (2000); “Freedom requires virtue and courage” (2001); “Dance, dance, to enjoy your youth…” (2003); “If you love me and it’s a dream” (2004); and “Sounds and colours of Greece” (2013).
Moreover, there have been performances at the Megaron (the Athens Concert Hall); the first was “Songs and Dances of Macedonia” (1992), followed by “The Greek wedding ritual” (1996) and “Maypole of kisses” (2016). The Group participated in Costa-Gavras’s show “... both with light and with death incessantly” (1994) and in the show “Roads of the Fiddle Bow” (1998). It presented “Festive Choreographies” at the Thessaloniki Concert Hall (2014) and has also performed at Epidaurus, the Piraeus Municipal Theatre, the Lycabettus Theatre, the Kotopouli Theatre, the Greek National Opera, the Katrakeio Theatre, the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation, and other theatres in Athens.
WhoLoDance (Whole-Body Interaction Learning for Dance Education H2020-ICT-2015)
The Lykeion ton Ellinidon participated in the three-year project WHOLODANCE (European programme HORIZON 2020 for research and innovation/modern information technology in dance education). The project aimed to develop and apply pioneering technological tools to aid dance teachers, students, choreographers, dancers and researchers, while simultaneourly strengthening their innovative thinking and creativity.
The Lykeion ton Ellinidon’s proposal, which focused on modern technology and dance, was the third of five approved proposals among 174 entries from across Europe. Ten partners from a wide spectrum of research interests, and from different European countries collaborated on the project. The dance styles that were studied were classical and contemporary dance, flamenco, and Greek dances.
Fifty-two Greek dances were recorded for the first time using motion capture technology, and were added to the large digital library of dance moves of WhoLoDancE, while the mark the LtE’s project received from the European committee in its final assessment was the highest score possible.
The project was completed in June 2019, while throughout 2018 it was promoted through workshops and performances at international and European science conferences for information and technology as well as at artistic events.
In charge of the process for including the Lykeion and of the completion of the required reports and deliverables of the project was Ms. Amalia Markatzi.
The teaching and learning of Greek dances at the Lykeion, from its beginnings to the present day
During the first three years of the Lykeion’s existence, from 1911 to the creation of an independent Dance Section in 1914, a strong interest is expressed in the “revival of Greek dancing”, with a particular emphasis on teaching.
It is interesting that the first “Ephor of Dances”, Anna Krestenitou (née Kallifrona), prioritises the acceptance of Greek dancing by high society and its promotion to foreigners as part of Greece’s cultural legacy, but at the same time puts pressure on Eleftherios Venizelos and Minister of Education Ioannis Tsirimokos to add dancing to the curriculum for all schools, state and private. Moreover, up until the Lykeion got its own premises at Syntagma in autumn 1911 and began to offer Greek dance lessons, Krestenitou herself, who was only indirectly associated with dancing, taught informal lessons to friends she invited to her home, in the way that dance teachers would teach European dances at home.
The first dance teacher at the Lykeion in 1911 was Argyrios Andreopoulos, already a well-known professional who taught at home, organised dance soirées, and ran a dance school. From October 1912, he was assigned regular dance classes, alongside the lessons for primary school teachers that were taught by the ladies of the Section. In 1913, Haralambos Sakellariou was hired as a dance teacher; aside from one break (1917-1930), he remained at the Lykeion until his death in 1956, and familiarised entire generations of young people with Greek dancing. Over the next years, the Group was taught by Evangelia Michalou, one of Polyxeni Matey’s students who had studied dance in London, and by Kostas Viglas, Angelos Karapetsos, Kostas Lambrou, Ioanna Papantoniou, Katy Mitsakou and Yannis Zervas.
In the 1960s, many members of the Folk Dance Group would become the first generation of the Lykeion to learn Greek dance not from a single dance teacher, but at its place of origin, surrounded by local residents, during visits to the Greek regions. This experience would then feed into their teaching as well as their performances.
During this time, there were children’s sections (for girls), a ladies’ section, and the Specialist Group, which Lefteris Drandakis took on in 1966 along with other valued collaborators.
From 1965-1969, Greek dance training seminars were organised for physical education teachers, and a decision was made to train members of the Central LtE so that delegations could be sent to the LtE’s Annexes. The Panhellenic Meetings of Presidents, Ephors, and Dance Teachers, which began in 1990, can be seen as an extension of this effort to train LtE members and strengthen the links between them. In total, there have been eight such meetings in Athens, one in Thessaloniki, and two “Dance Seminars”, in Karpathos in 1999 and in Ioannina in 2001. Meanwhile, training seminars for the teachers of the Central LtE have been held, with the support of the “Friends of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon” Society.
The LtE’s longstanding activity in the field of Greek dance can be credited for the Ministry of Education’s decision, in 2003, to begin the pilot programme “Greek dancing in schools as an elective activity” at 25 primary and secondary schools in Athens, Thessaloniki, and Patra, with the aim of acquainting and familiarising pupils with the wealth and expressiveness of the Greek music and dance tradition.
Today, the teaching of Greek dances to children, adolescents, and adults remains one of the Lykeion’s top priorities. To serve its educational activities, 10 Regional dance sections have been created in ten boroughs of Attica.