Léim Live

Maria Kirchhoff: Module B placement in Dance House Lemesos

Author: Maria Kirchhoff

“The Dance House Lemesos is the first space in Cyprus entirely devoted to the support, promotion and development of professional contemporary dance and performance practice in Cyprus. Stegi (Dance House Lemesos) is a consequence of the rapid development of contemporary dance/performance the last few years in Cyprus and especially in the city of Lemesos.“


This is the first information given, when you click on the DANCE HOUSE button, while surfing your way through the website of this core place for contemporary dance in Cyprus.

Indeed, somehow the winds blow differently here at Dance House Lemesos than in many other European institutions for dance. This became clear to me the first time I met Natasa Georgiou, representative of the dance house and project manager of all European projects. Ever since her enthusiastic and inspiring presentation of Dance House Lemesos at the Léim encounter in October 2013 at Mercat de les Flors, I was curious to see this upcoming institution in Cyprus, which is operating in a completely different cultural and economical environment than many other European countries. In the end it was the pioneering spirit, which drew me to Cyprus.

Initially the aim of my placement was to work on the Summer Dance Festival, happening in Cyprus in August 2014. I was hoping to be able to contribute some fresh ideas to involve new audiences and attract new visitors to a festival, which, according to many people I spoke with, would be happy to evolve and continue to gradually transform and change through time. I completely failed to reach this goal in any way. On the surface the reason for this is really simple: I could not find anybody who really felt responsible for the festival. But why? Is nobody interested in doing the festival? Is it a lack of motivation? What is happening? I wanted to dig deeper by researching and getting together with a line of people who shape the contemporary dance scene in Cyprus (such as choreographers like Alexis Vassiliou and Lia Haraki or members of the board of directors of Dance House Lemesos such as Chloe Melidou, Evie Demetriou and Natasa Georgiou, as well as the participants of the Léim project Maria Philippou and Argyris Argyrou, who belong to a younger generation of  artists and art supporters in Cyprus). I tried to find out what the situation of contemporary dance in Cyprus is right now. What are the difficulties they are facing? I do not want to rephrase or summarise each interview I had or emphasise one opinion while neglecting another. Instead, I try to stay neutral as an outsider and describe certain points that stroke me, when observing the dance scene in Cyprus.

1)     Background information – Dance House Lemesos, a unique place for international contemporary dance

2)     Financial cuts and economic crisis – lack of substitution

3)     Lack of professionalization – art management is not a job

4)     Exhaustion of staff – How to make a living in the art field

5)     Small community – We are family!

6)     Isolation – Topographical, political and financial obstacles

7)     The beauty of the island – Source of inspiration and creativity

8)     The new creativity – A young and uprising generation in Cyprus

1)    Background information – Dance House Lemesos, a unique place for international contemporary dance

In order to understand the current situation of Dance House Lemesos, it is important to point out the great international reputation it has gathered over the last 7 years. It is not only nationally the most important institution for contemporary dance with regular platforms and festivals. It heavily supports the festival Cyprus Dance Platform – a festival presenting the most promising Cypriot choreographers – by inviting guests to perform at the dance house. Also the program Dance Throughout the Year is hosted by the dance house, which presents selected performances of the past year as well as lectures, workshops and discussion. It also supports the Summer site specific festival by offering rehearsal space to participating companies and hosting the final party. In addition to this Dance House Lemesos organises an annual Open House Festival.

The art institution is also a place to practice dance and rehears. Most importantly though Dance House Lemesos has gained international reputation by participating in European programmes such as AeroWaves, Emotional Bodies and Cities, Act your Age and Léim. These achievements are quite remarkable considering that around 1,1 million people live in Cyprus, of which around 235,000 live in Limassol. All of this gives proof to the fact that Dance House Lemesos has become a known European player and partner of major international institutions shaping the global dance scene.

2)    Financial cuts and economic crisis – Hardly any substitution

Despite this successful development in the past month the dance house as well as the entire contemporary dance scene is going through a serious crisis with major difficulties that caused the resignation of Natasa Georgiou and her colleague Nicole Constantinou. These two – until this moment – had been managing the every day business of the Dance House Lemesos with great passion and expertise. The decision of Natasa Georgiou to step down from her position came suddenly and seems to be just one symptom of the critical state of the contemporary dance scene in Cyprus. One major factor, which hinders the development of the dance house are the severe financial cuts, which have been made. The cuts do not only hit the substitutions for the running expenses but especially the various programs in which the dance house is involved. In this situation it is even hard to maintain a daily business. One day during my stay, we did not have internet, because one bill had not been paid yet. Many times it was not possible to pay the staff at dance house – Natasa Georgiou and Nicole Constantinou. And in the case of the EU-programmes it is often unsecure whether the financial share of Dance House Lemesos can be met or not.

3)    Lack of professionalization – Art management is not a proper job

Even the staff at Dance House Lemesos, both working only part-time, does not get paid on a regular basis. All extra hours of work put into the managing of this internationally operating institution are not even mentioned, yet. Having in mind the financial crisis of the country, there seems to be no consciousness whatsoever that art management is a profession. If you work to support artists and create an infrastructure for artistic production, this is part of your hobby and not a proper job. Or so it seems. This is also the reason why participating in a programme such as Léim, aiming to educate young European professionals who work in promoting and supporting the arts, is such a great opportunity for Dance House Lemesos. According to Natasa Gergiou this might open doors and attract new minds with fresh ideas for Cyprus.

4)    Exhaustion– How to make a living in the art field

During my time in Cyprus, I have hardly met anybody who has got less than two jobs; many have three and no one has just the one job. Money is so rare and income so insecure that most people stand on more than just two feet in order to make a living and get the family through. Time and energy are rare goods in Cyprus, leading to a population that seems to be constantly under time pressure and is physically and mentally at its limits. However, since art is hardly to be called a proper profession and it is difficult to earn any money with it, people do not have a lot of energy and motivation left to put extra work into the art in their spare time.

5)    Small community – We are family!

Another factor, which influences particularly the decision-making processes regarding contemporary dance in Cyprus is the small amount of people who actively participate in the development of the scene. Many of the people who gave birth to the scene of contemporary dance in the 1990ies are still part of the scene today. Because of this many artistic and managerial decisions regarding the dance scene are done in grass-root democratic processes. There is a board of directors deciding on any artistic decisions at Dance House Lemesos and a committee of various people managing the summer festival. These structures make it almost impossible to act promptly to new developments or to take a clear artistic position.

Of course the dance community is also growing, but only very slowly. It is helpful, that the university of Nicosia has established a degree in dance now with contemporary elements. However, many people believe that it is really important to leave the island as a young ambitious dancer or choreographer in order to encounter different approaches and create new views and ideas.

6)    Isolation – Topographical, political and financial obstacles

Due to the geographical location of Cyprus at the very edge of Europe, closer to none-European mainland than other European countries, it is expensive and time-consuming to leave the island. Travelling to Europe is difficult for Cypriots and hinders a quick and easy exchange with other European countries. This is vice versa, of course. It is a very simple but profound factor, which influences the artists living in Cyprus. Many of them, at one point of their career, need to decide whether they wish to come back to their homeland with a stonier path towards a successful career or stay abroad and take advantage of the geographical closeness to important festivals and institutions of contemporary dance.

7)    The beauty of the island – Source of inspiration and creativity

Nevertheless, isolation is not only negative especially for artistic inspiration. In many Cypriots I have experienced a profound love for the beauty of Cyprus and the uniqueness of the island they come from. Many artists enjoy the isolation from the rest of Europe, especially, when they are in a phase of artistic production. The sea and the mountains, the flora and fauna and the sun seem to have a good influence on their bodies and minds and are a fertile ground for a concentrated and deep way of working artistically.

8)    The new creativity – A young and uprising generation in Cyprus

By having had the chance to meet a lot of interesting people, who belong to a younger generation than the founding members of Dance House Lemesos, I realized that this generation has a lot of creative energy. I met young film-makers, poets, fashion designers, dancers, owners of cultural bars, who dare to open businesses, create websites or host off-mainstream artistic events in private homes. For these people I have to express my admiration. They keep up the hope that there is a lot to be expected from Cyprus, even in difficult times.

In conclusion, I have spent most of my time in Cyprus observing the status quo of the contemporary dance scene, speaking with a lot of different people who expressed their various opinions and view points. Cyprus is very literally a unique place. It is demanding to dare to deal with contemporary art in this difficult surrounding. But it also has the potential to foster new approaches, new ideas and fresh ways, such as experimented and tried out by many young people in Cyprus. Europe can only hope, that it will furthermore be possible to influence each other and learn from each member country via personal and political engagement.

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