Haris Mandafounis’ Contemporary Dance Company
Haris Mandafounis? Contemporary Dance Company
Athens Concert Hall
Reviewed by Natasha Hassiotis
Haris Mandafounis first became known to the Greek public in the late 1970s. His jazzy, plotless choreographies met with much enthusiasm from audiences, making him the leading Greek contemporary dance choreographer in the years up to the 1980s. His work also gave impetus and courage to other choreographers to seek different stylistic choices and a more complex movement vocabulary. They eventually broke away from performances that sought to reproduce and repeat the ideal synthesis of the chorus of the ancient drama or the Greek folk tradition. It was then just a matter of time until “new dance” in Greece would arise in the early 1990s, brought about by a generation of choreographers who returned to Greece from France, England and the United States.
During all these years, Mandafounis went on choreographing, blending his neoclassical approach with more theatrical elements. His work became more and more conventional, even predictable. The theatricality of his works, deriving directly from nightclub or music-hall numbers, was mixed with a flair for a lighter version of psychological ballet. Characteristic of his work were notions and stereotypes about men and women, and these remained unaltered through time. In his version of Romeo and Juliet a few years ago, Romeo was a macho, self-assured young man, while Juliet was an all-innocent victim. In his Taming of the Shrew, choreographed two years ago (Katherine and Petruchio strongly reminded one of Marcia Haydée and Richard Cragun), not only were the stereotypes amplified but a few more were added via the invention of the character of the Haute Couturier, a caricature which bluntly ridiculed camp gay icons.
Mandafounis more recently has attempted to catch up to postmodernism. He’s moved into the field of contact improvisation, more acrobatic dancing and improvisation to assemble material for his choreography. The mix of techniques and styles he approached rather late in his artistic life with his still-traditional notion of performance was rather awkward, and Swings had a bittersweet taste when it was presented at the Athens Concert Hall.
In autumn 2000, Opposite Itineraries still showed an effort to reconcile improvisation, athletic dancing, a predictable structure and subject matter, and a recovered abstraction (undermined by the fact that abstraction functioned more as a distraction to the audience) while he kept developing his subject matter, which presumably was the eternal struggle of the male and female. Biological theories of survival of the fittest were much alluded to; women were characterized as the true masters of the game; and strong, aggressive people who take advantage of others were usually the winners in the game of life. Cliché! What this performance lacked was an identity and an apparent understanding of the aesthetic choices the choreographer had made. Opposite Itineraries left little room for humor or subtext.
Mandafounis probably should have remained faithful to his own history and style; by transforming it so rapidly and drastically, he ultimately presented something superficial. The audience is left with a bitter taste when it sees an established artist create work hastily, possibly just to catch up with a younger generation.