My Erasmus Experience at the Akropoditi DanceFest in Syros, Greece
Angela Bettoni is a young writer and performing arts student living in Malta, who has Down’s Syndrome. Through the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology where she studies, she received an Erasmus+ vocational education and training (VET) grant to attend the Akropoditi Dance Festival in July 2020. Unfortunately, that did not happen because of COVID-19. However, she was able to use the grant to attend the festival this summer. The following article is based on the daily records and reflections Angela made in her journal, together with quotes from the performers, tutors and participants she did Q&As with, as part of her Erasmus tasks.
11th July 2021
Can you believe it that I just came to the beautiful island of Syros just two days ago? I know! I can’t believe it, it looks like something out of a summer movie!
Last night I attended my very first event of the dance festival which was a performance called “Eyelands” directed by Riccardo Buscarini. It was a great start to my Erasmus. The people here are all very welcoming and very friendly and have made me feel at home straight away even though I am the only young volunteer.
As soon as I got to the venue after a very fun detour as I ended up at the wrong place, I set down to work straight away in helping out to space out the chairs, dusting them and making sure that they were in neat rows.
In fact I want to shout out a huge thank you to my tutors at MCAST for teaching me the necessary skills which are required to manage and go about setting up a performance which I can now incorporate into what I’m doing for the dance festival.
After the show was over I caught the director of the performance, Riccardo, to fill out a questionnaire for me so that I can use it for different articles and blog posts which I will be doing in the coming few weeks.
What are your best memories from this Dance Festival?
If you were going to do it all again, is there anything that you would change?
After that I went about putting the chairs away and a quick health and safety check to make sure that no one left their garbage and empty water bottles lying around in the dark which could be potentially a danger hazard for the other people around. Those that I found I asked the owners to pick them up and throw them away, which they did.
Overall it was a very productive evening and it left me very satisfied with myself with the work that I did. Now I’m really looking forward for the coming weeks with more great experiences, meeting new people and making more friends.
12th July 2021
Yesterday’s event Passing Through by Spela Vodeb and Christine Daigle, was awesome as I got to make better friends with the volunteers and to play with the babies before the event started. Other than that I really didn’t do much, just a lot of socialising and watching the show, but it was enjoyable.
The show was really something remarkable as it was showing off the strength and the flexibility of the performers, Spela and Christine. Later on during the week I was able to interview them, after their workshop called “Icarian Games”. You can see Christine’s Q&A under “Q&As with Tutors” and Spela’s under “Q&As with Performers”.
How did you adapt during the pandemic?
Less (time) being on stage, meant more time being able to dedicate to practise and to creation. I took a lot of time to refresh my inspirations.
(Spela Vodeb, Slovania)
How did you find having to keep to the Covid guidelines when it came to working with groups?
When we were forbidden to touch, it made it almost impossible to pursue the practise. Just having mask makes it hard to breathe and see each other’s expressions.
(Christine Daigle, Canada)
After the event was over I helped in stacking up the chairs and putting the cushions and mattresses which the audience were sitting on away, leaving the heavy job of putting the benches away to the others.
This afternoon I am attending my very first workshop which is called Autonomous Moves which is for people with and without disabilities. I am really looking forward to it, and to making some more memories.
13th July 2021
Wow, ok wow, my first workshop of Autonomous Moves was AMAZING I don’t know where I am even meant to start from!
The first time we met together was when we were on the sides of the basketball court just 5 girls all from Athens. I managed to do some small talk with a few of them before we started. Two of them had a disability and three didn’t and I loved how mixed we were. Our tutor was Medie Megas.
Once we got started the first thing that we did was to get on the court and sit in a circle where we broke the ice by getting to know each other. Two of the other participants are younger than me. One is Anastasia and she is 13 and another one who I don’t remember her name is 12 and spoke only Greek so I struggled in communicating with her which was a pity as she took a liking to me. The other two were Ioanna who is in her 30s and Maria who is in her early 20s so I’m bang in the middle of all of them.
What drew you to attending an inclusive workshop?
“I would like to have the experience to do a more open workshop with dance as a medium. And I always find very interesting how people with different backgrounds use their bodies.”
After our introductions and now that the ice was broken, we set down straight to work by first filling up the space by looking into each other’s eyes following by taking poses and quickly snapping out of it. From there we explored many different things like how to connect with our surroundings and let ourselves feel free to move on many different levels like standing up, letting one part of the body move us and some floorwork.
After that we created a solo dance piece with an object in the middle. One of the objects was a sheet and we could do whatever we wanted with it. Once the solo dances were over, we could go in threes and twos to create one full dance piece. From there we took it to new levels by filling up the court exploring what we could do with the object, this time working as a group. For me personally this exercise was the best as we did it as well with a water bottle as the object.
The last part of the session was the five of us creating a picture which we could start on our own initative and we could add to it. So once Medie said ‘action’ or clap her hands together, we would come alive and come up with a dance performance together as a group, each with a different story to it.
During the Autonomous Moves workshop
What I really loved about the way Medie works is that she focuses on being part of a group, in trusting and building a connection with each other. The fact that we were all in an inclusive setting made even more of an impact.
Now I am really looking forward to going back today and seeing what other beautiful things we can create together.
14th July 2021
Once again I had a blast yesterday, always so much fun and yet our second session only. Basically what I realised from yesterday was that we were following the same patterns as the day before but we were expanding on them and adding new things to the exercises. This made things interesting and fun to explore and create, though I really hope that today we will be doing something different to the last two days.
Both in the break and after the session was over I gave Medie a small red book for her to write her answers to my questions for the interview and surprisingly it went really well and the interview was a huge success.
Before the DanceFest was over I was able to publish her interview on the blog I write for a theatre group for adults with disabilities that I am part of in Malta called Opening Doors: https://openingdoors.org.mt/no-assumptions-please-9/
Ioanna, Maria and me improvising during the Autonomous Moves workshop
It was also a huge relief to find out that the timetable I had was wrong as according to that today was the last day of the workshop! But in actual fact we have it till Friday which is AWESOME because I’m really having the time of my life doing the workshop, learning from what is being done and from each other as well from the space and our bodies.
From the last two days I have also learnt from myself that I’m good at exploring different dynamics and floorwork and seeing where my body can take me. I’m really looking forward to going back today and seeing what else we can share and explore together.
15th July 2021
Yesterday’s session is what I call unique. Very unique. In fact everything about it was different to what we have done in the last two days.
The first part of the workshop was taken to make different shapes with our body and let it move us through the space with us through the space with free feet we also did the same thing with different angles like making curved and straight movements letting one part of our body lead us like with the hips to the elbow to the head.
After that we moved onto walking like the figurines in a game of chess where we were meant to walk straight, sideways and backwards and from there we were doing it by keeping eye contact with the others around us as if we were keeping something between us which we couldn’t let fall, sometimes we explored with different levels to it.
Once everyone came back to the court after the water break we started to do something very different. Instead of exploring movements like we usually do Medie got us all to sit down in a group and gave out papers and pens before splitting us into our partners, I was with Maria. From there we were told to write our own poems which was a really fun exercise because we could write whatever we wanted, in our case me and Maria were writing only one sentence each. Our one was in English so I was helping her with her writing.
What does it feel like going back to watching performances or taking part in workshops after the Covid19 restrictions were lifted?
· I feel excitement, a little bit out of shape, I also missed exploring and sharing arts with others. (Evangelina)
· “Feeling connected to people feels great. Feeling some kind of freedom.” (Manuel, Switzerland)
· “On the one hand I love it, but the whole mask thing drives me crazy.” (Ettychia Pauopoulou)
After we came back to the main group each one of us read out our poems (which we had worked on) to each other. Based on what we had written we each took a word from our poems that we liked so that Medie could write them down on a blank sheet of paper and then give them out to each one of us. Our one had the words in Greek and the English translations next to each word.
Based on these words we put in different movements according to what the words said, it was almost as if we were choreographing our own dance. Then we showed it to the others after we put it altogether.
The last part of the session was basically us incorporating everything we had done from when we first began the workshop into one, so that it was a fully-fledged dance piece. It allowed us to interact with each other, in fact I think that we will continue to build up on what we have done yesterday so that tomorrow we would be doing a performance out of it, I really think that will be something which we would be doing.
Me and Medie
What I have learnt from yesterday’s session is that I’m slowly improving my core muscles. I have seen an improvement from when I first began the workshop because just yesterday when I was doing some work on the floor I went into a plank and I actually managed to hold myself up instead of belly flopping onto the floor, and I managed to do a spin out of the plank. In fact I’m really looking forward to see what we will be creating today.
What do you find the most rewarding and the most challenging in your work?
“I call the workshop ‘Autonomous Moves’. Autonomy is for me the challenge and the reward at the same time. Finding the line between the following structures of a task and keeping your own thread of thought is the aim of the workshop. It is most rewarding to see change in the participants even the tiniest change. A sudden initiative. A holding back if one is always going for action. Going for action if one is always holding back. Standing still if one is always moving. Moving if one is always standing still. The challenge is to get away from a virtuosic definition of dance. To accept presence and every kind of motion as dance.”
16th July 2021
Just like I thought, yesterday was different than the day before and we did not continue with the poems that we worked on.
Yesterday was more about exploring our bodies and voices and taking the initiative in leading something. We focused more on working in a group, learning how to communicate with each other through our bodies and noises that we made and also to build a relationship between each other, like with one part of our bodies guiding each other. An example of this was when we were given a pile of red socks and only one of us had to play the role of a set designer where we could lay out the socks in any way we liked, then once the set designer was done she could call out a certain number of performers she wanted and then step out to watch the performance. I did one with Maria and another piece with Ioanna.
The last part of the session was taken to a full improv dance performance where we incorporated everything that we had learnt between the last two days, adding our own movements to it the end result looked like an actual performance, as if we had rehearsed for it!
Scene from the Autonomous Moves workshop
Then straight after the workshop I had an event to go to, which was Pièce de Poche by Tristan Bénon and Prunelle Bry. As soon as I got there I was given the job of handing out the small tickets which were for counting the number of seats. The people I gave them out to all thought that I was someone younger or a little sister of one of the performers, one lady even called me darling! While for the interviews I did of the performers, one of the dancers called me small and cute!
How does dancing make you feel?
· “Depends. It can mix different feelings from freedom, joy, satisfaction, to frustration, tiredness; despite, but finally, always joy!”
(Tristan Bénon, Switzerland)
· “Alive and healthy. So I can bring light to others”
(Prunelle Bry, New Caledonia)
After I gave out the tickets I could go and find my seat for the performance. I was in awe, literally in awe, it was like something magic! I honestly don’t know how the performers did it, with their flips, and body entanglement. And the male dancer literally stood up on the female dancer’s head, like I said it was literally magic for me which was also the reason why I interviewed the two of them straight after the performance. It was great research for Cameron and Martha (I am a writer, and am currently working on a book where the main characters are dancers). You can see more about my writing at: www.angelabettoni.net.
Unfortunately no one told me that they were putting the chairs away so when I got there to do my part of the job I found out that there was no chairs left!
How did you adapt during the pandemic?
· “We managed to keep on training and tried to contact people (via) the internet to keep on sharing and developing our work….”
· “We never stopped questioning, adapting, wishing, sharing, but it was difficult.”
Today is the last day of the Autonomous Moves workshop and I really hope that it will be a session we can all enjoy because I have had a blast taking part with new friends and discovering what I can do along the way. Actually there is no need to feel disheartened because I’m taking part in other workshops and I am now friends with most of the group on Facebook so that’s good news. I am also really hoping that I’ll be able to observe the Icarian games workshop today. Oh and guess what? I have only two days left to go for my birthday!
17th July 2021
Yesterday was the last day of the Autonomous Moves workshop and it was so much fun. In the end we were all working in more of a group setting.
At the start of the session one person had to use a finger to form a movement. We would use only one finger where we would be following it gently, till someone passed the movement to someone else by touching their shoulder and we would all follow it.
From there we experimented with balance and off-balance, seeing where our bodies would take us. With this we basically filled up the whole basketball court doing a dance of its own with the environment around us. For this exercise we would also take the challenge of taking the initiative of leading the group. What I discovered is that I have become more confident in myself to actually lead a group and have the ability of being a leader myself, being in charge of something, because usually when it comes to group activities such as this I am more of a follower.
When we came back to the court from where we first started, Medie split us up into separate groups. I was with her son who decided to join us, and Hara. With these groups we were experimenting with different movements, seeing what we could come up with.
After this exercise we came together as one whole group where we let the air suck us into the middle of the court and then back out into a circle, this was a form of a breathing exercise.
To finish off the session we put on a performance of everything which we have learnt from the whole series of workshops which we had done together, along with some improv thrown in. It was also an awesome way to end everything.
I have learnt so much from these workshops and along the way I have learnt to become more brave and daring, trusting in myself and to put myself to the test which I can now challenge myself with.
Part of our group from the Autonomous Moves workshop
In the evening, straight after the workshop was over, I went to observe the behind-the-scenes of the Icarian games workshop which was AWESOME. It gave me a feel and a better insight to see where the magic really comes from, even though there were a few scary mistakes along the way. It was a great experience.
At the end of the workshop I even managed to get three interviews to be filled in, by two tutors and one participant, who all gave great answers.
Now it’s time for an awesome Saturday and my 20th birthday at the beach doing Movement Waves. I really cannot wait to get started and to create some new memories and friendships!
17th and 18th July 2021
What drew you to dancing?
What inspires you when creating a choreography?
I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence but even though Movement Waves was only a two-day workshop, it was at a beach in the weekend, and to be honest it was perfect like that! Our tutor was Vivian Triantafyllopoulou.
I could literally write a whole book right now about the workshops. Because I really don’t know where to start, this is only going to be a reflection. Once again it was a great learning experience to be connecting with the environment around us, being in touch with our inner selves as well as connecting and trusting the group for us to be able to do so.
Have you taken part in the Akropoditi Dance Fest before? If yes, what made you come back?
· “Yes, I have. As a teacher and also as a student. I love taking lessons from different tutors every time.”
· “No, but I will definitely come back.”
Like I said about what I had done on the last day of Autonomous Moves, I used the things I learnt to allow myself to develop as a dancer and to welcome new challenges and to actually grow from them. Despite my old hamstring injury I was actually able to explore what my legs could do and create just like the others in the group did, although some of them were like in their 70s.
What I liked about Movement Waves was that it was a free space for us to bring in literally anything that we wanted no matter how silly and crazy it was, and a chance to just be one with the environment around us. I also learnt to be more vulnerable in my own skin and body but most importantly to listen to what my body wants to do and where it wants to take me. At the end of the workshop on the last day as it was my birthday they all sang me ‘Happy Birthday’ in Greek and English so I felt really special.
Movement Waves at Galissas Beach
My 20th birthday on the 18th of July at an authentic Greek restaurant. This me cutting my birthday cake, which I did not expect! Our landlady gifted it!
19th July 2021
Today I went to my first workshop of Improvisational Acoustic Movement by Thanos Daskalopoulos. I don’t think I have ever been to something like this before because it was all very unique.
In today’s session we were working on the voices of our body and in getting them out into the open. We ventured into each different body part to see what kind of noises came out of it, attaching a beat to it. To attach a beat to it we first had to break it down by trying the beat out by using our voices, and then bringing in our bodies as a separate thing. Then once we were confident enough we combined our voices and body together, getting out one common rhythm.
What is your favourite part of teaching dance?
““I always love to teach, sharing the information that I (have) received and trying to transform it, to adapt. With teaching I am teaching myself as well, it’s a good practise of self–discipline”
How does dancing make you feel?
“I feel free, I feel like in heaven when I’m moving, dancing. It goes beyond everything.”
(Milan Herich, Solvakia & Belgium)
From there we broke into partners where we did a question-and-answer game using our voices and bodies but keeping the beat going throughout. For example, when I asked my question my partner would give me her answer before sending off her question to me. So in the end it all came down to fast thinking which I find difficult to do, I found it tough to be exactly on time. But when I did it with our tutor Thanos he was able to break it down for me and make it simpler, so I could do it and at the end he even gave me a fist bump! The last thing we did for the morning was to do the same thing that we did with our partners but this time we were doing it with ourselves as the partner.
In the evening I went to my first Passing Through workshop run by Milan Herich. Passing Through is strenuous, it is demanding, but it is a great experience and I think that I really need this challenge to get to know my limitations and to actually listen to what my body is telling me to do. I have a feeling that I am really going to learn a lot from these workshops which is why I’m open to this challenge. I also want to prove a point for my advocacy that I can actually do this workshop despite my low muscle tone and the fact that I’m always the first to become drained out in our group.
What I have learnt from the exercises that we did like walking in a curve and walking backwards in a curve is to keep my eyes open at all times, to be aware of myself and of the others around me, because I was basically like a bull in a china shop. This also means that I need to be more aware of my surroundings, keeping my arms at a good height where I am able to see them, and to keep a good pace which I am able to do throughout, and to know how to take care of my own body and protect myself. Now I’m looking forward to going back and seeing how I can develop and improve from today.
20th July 2021
Today’s workshop of Improvisational Acoustic Movement was fun but got complicated, unlike my first session from yesterday. But I have still made somewhat of an improvement, first, by not straight on slapping myself (to get the body sounds) as I was basically treating my body like how you would dribble a basketball with my palm and ended up yesterday with a big bruise which only went thanks to nursing it with ice!
I would say that today was more of a challenge for me because we were counting beats and keeping one regular rhythm throughout while we were creating and experimenting with our bodies.
The problem was that while that was happening you also needed to keep your mind active by coming in on the correct timing and beat and to be able to actually keep to the beat. That basically just messed me up as it was tough doing both at the same time, but with Thanos helping me throughout I managed. I really feel that I could improve it and work on it some more tomorrow as I feel that there is room for improvement.
Oh and guess what, I’m continuing with the workshops of Passing Through as I feel that it will really help me as a person.
x x x
In the evening, during Passing Through, I noticed a huge improvement from the day before as I was taking more stops and was more in control of myself, my eyes always open. So in that sense I am getting there. I was able to do most of the exercises, of course playing by my own strengths. I have a whole team taking care of me: our tutor Milan, the photographer and Anastasia who observes the sessions.
What drew you to dancing?
“A friend that I saw tap dancing.”
How does dancing make you feel?
“Like being in a strange new land waiting to be explored.”
But when it came to twisting our bodies and running up and down the basketball court in one neat line, that was when I really couldn’t manage to keep up with the others as I got mixed up on which direction I was meant to go! So in the end Milan gave me my own lane where I could do it at my own pace and take water breaks whenever I felt like it. This was good, even though I still got mixed up on where I had to go!
The last part of the session was so much fun as we were just leading and following our partners in curves. My partner was Manuel and the two of us had a great time in establishing a bond through the exercise by playing from each other.
The leading and following exercise with my partner Manuel during Passing Through.
21st July 2021
In today’s workshop of Acoustic Movement we focused mainly on long and short breaks with one rhythm throughout, which was also the same for the pattern that we came up with. With this pattern we could also feel free to explore and experiment with various different patterns but keeping in mind the first one we came up with, which we could go back to whenever we felt like.
I found out that I have also improved from yesterday in being able to keep to the beats and come in at the correct timing. In fact, I was also helping my partner with the long and short beats by nodding my head which really helped both me and him.
In a way I owe it all to Thanos for my improvements, even the ones today. He is just so encouraging, motivating and just keeps on challenging me, getting out the best. His motto which we start the class with first thing every morning is ‘we don’t judge, we love’ and the great thing is that he always comes into the space with so much energy which then radiates on to all of us.
Now let’s see if I even come back alive from Passing Through as this evening Milan is teaching us how to run properly.
x x x
I was lucky because for Passing Through we didn’t learn how to run. Funny enough I really love these workshops!
In fact, I’m even pleased with myself because I discovered that I have improved from when we first started. I have become more confident in leading a bigger group and in walking backwards because I know that I’m safe and that I’m supported by the others.
Photos from Passing Through
Milan is great, seriously great. He has literally adopted me as his new project, yeah he can be hard but that really helps in making me improve and getting the best out of me by constantly pushing me. I can’t believe that today is the day before the last. Passing Through has been one of the best workshops I have ever done and I really hope that we get to do something after the session tomorrow night.
22nd July 2021
This morning was so much fun during Acoustic Movement as we were working with the music, stopping and pausing in between, and using our bodies as instruments. I feel that I have really improved from when we first started and I can’t believe that tomorrow is our last day.
The evening was great and I loved every single part of it. Passing Through is tough that’s for sure but I have been doing it since the 19th and I have seen a huge improvement since then, becoming more sure of myself, confident.
I never thought that I would have continued it but it’s actually a blast and the whole group is AWESOME. I have literally spent a whole week with them and they have just become like my family, caring and supporting me, always on the lookout for me.
While for Milan, he is great. He is a real drill sergeant but actually takes the trouble to break things down for me. He explains things to me and pushes me to my utmost at all times and seems to treat me as his new project. He is also a tease!
I just can’t believe that today is our last session together after everything we have been through as a group.
23rd July 2021
I can’t believe that today is even the last day of the festival it has LITERALLY been 2 wonderful weeks. As the saying goes, time flies when you are having fun, and I have been having A LOT of fun. I would give anything to go back to the Friday when we first came to Syros and to live through it all again.
This morning was the very last session of the Improvisational and Acoustic Movement and it has been a blast. I have been having so much fun and all the memories I have made in the sun. I have learnt so many new and amazing things from this workshop and it has been such an amazing experience.
Not to mention that I have also really improved musically, like I have actually developed a musical ear. I am now able to actually keep to a beat and have a really good timing for everything that we have done and learned how to use my body as a musical instrument. I have loved every single part of it. Light at the end of the tunnel, I still have Passing Through tonight which I cannot wait for!
Behind the scenes of the Improvisational Acoustic Music workshop
x x x
Did last night really happen? It was the BEST night ever. We first started our session with exercises so we could get into the zone and practised running in curves. All of a sudden I found myself actually catching up with the others and actually being in the same line as them!
At the end of our exercises we actually had a PERFORMANCE with an actual AUDIENCE. The performance couldn’t have gone better. In fact, it was wow. I really threw myself into it, literally killing myself, pushing and breaking my limits. It was like I was a totally different person and I actually wowed Milan and the audience by my performance and how I had magically improved overnight. I never felt so good after a performance, so proud of myself and satisfied, which I still feel, as I can’t believe that I just did that.
After the performance it was full of exchanging Facebook contacts and a lot and a lot of hugs all around. They are such amazing people and by far with this workshop we have become a family, spending a full three hours until 10 in the evening each day together. There has been such a great vibe all around and we actually got to know each other’s characters and personalities.
Cast group photo after the Passing Through performance.
After we gave all the final hugs and goodbyes, I went to an outdoor event organized by Akropoditi, which was just for the volunteers and tutors from the festival. It was GREAT fun as we were all going around talking to each other. There were so many known faces so I spent a lot of time with them. Some of them who had been there for the Passing Through performance showered me with compliments! In the end I ended up going to bed way past midnight. That’s the sweet life for me!
This has really been a great Erasmus experience, with all the friends I have made and all the beautiful memories that I have made under the sun. I would definitely do it all again. In a heartbeat I would.
I know that I’m really going to miss writing in this journal because it has been with me throughout and I know that I’m going to treasure it forever. So thank you for being good to me!
What are your best memories from this Dance Festival?
· “Warm welcome. Open minded and curious people. Amazing landscapes/context and the nice encounters and moments shared”.
(Christine Daigle, Canada)
· “So many! I loved the workshops and the locations of both workshops and performances.”
(Athina Liakopoulou, Netherlands)
· “The friends I made. Some concepts I learned and a performance we made, the warmth and summer mood of the community.”
· “Taking part of an amazing group of dance improv: Sensitive Memory and creating a performance and also connecting to a great group.”
(Natalie Thaler, Israel)
· “Meeting new amazing people, dancing again, having fun.”
· “This year I became a mother so it’s not easy for me to attend a lot of workshops. So this year I attended only Autonomous Moves 2 workshop. And it was the first time that I attend this kind of workshop and I liked it a lot. So this is my best memory.”
Me, writing my journal on the last day in Syros, feeling happy but sad
If you were going to do it all again, is there anything that you would change?
· ““No. I love this place, the school and I am very happy to make that decision. It’s very nice that I participate.”
· “Nothing, love it all!”
For an article I wrote after I got back to Malta about my experience for Agenzija Zghazagh (Malta’s National Youth Agency), see: https://eurodesk.mt/angela-at-akropoditi-dance-festival-in-syros/