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Greece, a living museum.

A unique theatre is preserving a nation's folklore.

The Unesco courrier, 01/1996, pp 34-35.


On the pine-covered Philopappus Hill • opposite the Acropolis in Athens stands an open-
air theatre that has become an institution now almost as famous as its neigh-bour across the
road. It houses the Dora Stratou Theatre of Greek Dances, which was founded in 1953. Justly
called "the living museum of Greek dances", it is at the same time a museum, a theatre, a
research institute, a school and, of course, a dance troupe.
The theatre is unique in many ways, not least in the way it recruits its dancers. Every year
in January, dancers from all over Greece come to the theatre and rehearse alongside the
older members of the company. They continue to do so for about three months, by which
time the ones who don't make the grade will have left, a process which brings the numbers
down to around thirty. From this group a final selection of new dancers can be made before
performances begin in May.
Once they are in the company, dancers are required to work three hours a day (including
rehearsals and performances), seven days a week for the five months of the summer season.
Since they are paid only a small fee for expenses, it is obvious that for the dedicated core of
dancers this is a labour of love.
What the audience sees on stage each night is the result of months of painstaking work—not
only in the form of rehearsals but also research. Every step a dancer performs has its roots in
history and village culture.
The process begins when the theatre decides on a particular village or island it wants to
include in its programme. A team of folklorists is sent to gather information about the history
and folk customs of the area. Then a team from the theatre, often joined by a few dancers,
goes to the village and stays there for at least a few days in order to make contact with the
local people and study their culture.
They conduct informal interviews with the older members of the village, who are encouraged
to play traditional music and dance for their guests. The music and dances are recorded and
the recordings are taken back to Athens to be studied by musicians and dancers from the
A group of villagers is also invited to Athens, where members of the company have the
opportunity to dance and play music with them and absorb their particular style of execution.
As unofficial "goodwill ambassadors" for their local culture the vil-lagers are usually filled
with pride, and feel a renewed interest in keeping it alive at home. At present the company
has eighty different villages in its repertoire and each year one or two more are added to the
The principle used for dance research is applied to music as well. Special attention is given to
the unique style of singing and playing in each village and the particular instruments that are
popular there. The the-atre has two singers and fifteen permanent folk musicians who play for
rehearsals and performances every day. No recorded music is used, in order to maintain the
personal rap-port between dancers and musicians which is inherent in folk culture.
Great emphasis is also placed on the per-formers' attire. The theatre houses the country's
biggest collection of traditional Greek costumes—2,500 at the last count— half of which are
between fifty and a hundred years old. The costumes cannot be bought in shops and are either
sold to the theatre by elderly villagers or else the villagers are asked to make them, using
traditional weaving, dyeing and embroidery techniques.
As the "preserver of traditional Greek dance" and a cultural centre for Greek folk-lore, one
of the most important of the the-atre's activities is spreading the dance mes-sage via courses
for beginners, advanced dancers and children. Regular weekend workshops are held featuring
dance, music and costumes from a particular region. The Theatre also holds summer courses
for non-Greek dance teachers from other countries who want to incorporate Greek traditional
dance into their teaching programmes; this is a particularly good way of ensuring that the
traditions of Greek dance are kept alive the world over.
Finally, the Theatre acts as a publishing house. It has produced forty-five records and
cassettes, as well as numerous ethnographic books, all dealing with the different aspects of
Greek dance, costumes and music.
Alkis Raftis is a Greek sociologist who is president of the Dora Stratou Theatre of Greek
Dances, in Athens. A member of the International Dance Council, he has published several
works on dance, including The World of Greek Dance (1987).
RaftisA06EN site
Wednesday the 8th. Alkis Raftis Personal website.