Born and bred in Ierapetra, where he took his first steps as a dancer, Andonis Foniadakis is not just a Greek choreographer with an international career. He is an artist, who has had the good fortune to work constantly over the past few years and has shown who he truly is through his work. “Within the scope of what I create, what I do must have a very clear identity. I can’t rely on the imprints left by others to move forward, there always has to be a personal core to this. I’ve learnt to build my own projects and I guess I’ve started to appreciating that I am who I am. I get called to take on projects because of that, because that’s exactly what’s needed.”
The issue of identity is at the core of his latest work, Wisteria Maiden, which made its debut in April at the International Dance Festival of Belgrade. “I really wanted to present a topic which intrigues me, the co-existence of male and female, the image of a female realized and transferred into a male body. That is what Kabuki theatre is all about, all female roles are handled by men. I liked that naivety in the story of a young girl, who is played by a man, dancing bashfully, reminiscing about an old male lover. I started to slowly weave a story out of it, until it became what it is now”.
He studied elements of Japanese folklore, from the Noh theatre, to old sketchings, in order to properly assimilate the required elements into his work. “I liked the dark aspects of it, the idea of worshipping shadow. Everything is slightly implied, nothing is obvious. I liked the sense of self-restraint and that feeling that all women are looked upon as objects, without the European slant on the female form. In their mythology for example, most creatures are female. They’ve connected the female with darkness, with the sinister, the mysterious. I touched upon senses and experiences as I saw them, through my European outlook and then transferred them into my world, thus creating a parallel world”.
What happens though, when sense becomes images? “The images I chose were not selected at random. When you watch a Kabuki play, everything is perfectly placed. Motion itself is so stylized that it becomes an image, then it becomes motion again, because you see so many images in quick succession. There’s a very clear idea of self-restraint in form and in aesthetics and combining that with my natural pulse and energy as a Mediterranean person, creates a confusing result. While I want to try and be as simple and stripped back as they are, I can only react based on how I feel. Because an image is not an image without your personal input, the process hinges on what you personally bring to the table”.
He places his own sense of rhythm with his childhood memories. “I would listen to the lyre growing up, things with a pulse, with circular rhythms, with vibrato. I think what mostly defines me is the fact that I’m Greek. I don’t include all of Greece in that, but rather my exact place of origin. It’s a land full of light, alive, sexually intense, with a sense of pulse that isn’t strictly defined by the island folk, that wants to break free from its boundaries. You can find it in musical tradition, which has a pulse and moves in coil-like shapes. That’s what I find through my work as well, because I try to keep a center in it all, a center that always manages to grab me, I can’t avoid it”.
He wants his work to survive the ages and stand on its own two feet. “If it has a truth in it, if it stands on its own, then it can never be left behind. I see the essence of it. And what is it’s essence you ask? The transubstantiation of the artist himself. I personally don’t see my naturalness as something that could possibly be left behind by the times. On the contrary, many people accept it, because of its intensity, because of its violence and how pulsatingly dense it is. I think that’s why it stands out in these times which call for a greater balance and calmness, a zen state. I create something that stands true forever. That man is a pulsating being, a volcano. I derive my work and run with it through instinct and instinct could never be left behind by the times, because it stems from human nature itself”.
He is constantly on the search for new roles, new projects. “I’ve started to want different things, bigger responsibilities. I want to contribute in my own way, as a curator or as a director. I want to be able to escape from my work as a choreographer for a while, see things and bring people together, far from making just another dance routine for a festival. I’d really like to set up a repertoire group, something that doesn’t exist in Athens at this moment in time. I’m interested in re-activating the Mediterranean scene as a whole, because there are already numerous stand-alone groups. It would be good thing to revitalize the creative focus of the North”.
He doesn’t like to be classed as a “production machine”, even though he comes up with ideas and projects at a rapid pace. “You can call me a production machine, when I work freelance or take on projects to order. That still doesn’t mean the machine is an empty, hollow thing that automatically churns out copy pasted material. I do work like a machine, I’m very effective. Ultimately, when I’m at this “machine”, I need to locate the “lever” that will kick the whole thing into life. It’s that lever that will bring forth a number of feelings and sensations and may even have a choreographic result. I don’t want to be called a “machine”, it carries such a negative connotation. A machine can be just a means to produce empty results”.
Which brings us back to the issue of his identity, as a choreographer this time. “I think there’s a consistency to my work. There’s an Andonis Foniadakis “perfume”, a style of writing. I sometimes want to push the boat out even further, even if it means destroying it. I mean, I’m not a chameleon; every time can’t be completely different. There’s a core and after ten years I’m sure of this point: That as a young man, I wanted to be someone else, now I just want to be me. Picasso can’t be the same as Dali. And I’m not so bigheaded as to say that I am like Picasso. I’m just simply trying to point out that those that stand out, stand out for a reason. And that’s because they are defined by so many conflicting elements. And yes, that has been problematic for me sometimes but ultimately, it’s what makes it so important”.
And although he might seem more settled now as a choreographer, the geographic differences between his boyhood experiences and his adult life, continue to test him. “I’m expected to balance myself between the few things that I can achieve in Greece and the multitude of experiences that I find abroad. What is my identity in connection with these two opposing ends of the spectrum? Well, I’m still not sure. I continue to play. I feel like I’m in a constant state of motion, always tumbling towards some direction. I can’t appear conceited here, or act like a beggar abroad. When I occupy the space I’m in, I conform to its particular dimensions”.
*Andonis Foniadakis is in the middle of his Parenthesis shows for the Sydney Dance Company (4-18 october 2014). There are also more projects to come, such as KOSMOS (BJM, 26 October, Lakewood Cultural Center), Shaker Loops (Ballet de Lorainne, 18-19 October, National Opera de Lorainne) and CASTOR ET POLLUX(Theatre de Champs Elysees, 13-21 October, Theatre de Champs Elysees).