THE NEED FOR CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN THE ART OF CONTEMPORARY DANCE



Cultural diversity is a recent issue which has come from the general tendency for globalisation.

Globalisation entails many issues: financial, socio-political, cultural, aesthetical, as well as many re-evaluations of the old artistic categories such as classical, modern, ethnic, traditional, contemporary and so forth.

The culturally diverse wave in contemporary dance.

The Leda Shantala Dance Theatre is obviously part of the new and continuously evolving international and culturally diverse wave of contemporary dance. Globalisation does not only have financial and political aspects, but also influences and is influenced by the cultural diversity of the evolving societies of today. Polyphony, and the creation of a cultural space for diversity, is not only an artistic but also a sociopolitical necessity.
The rapidly evolving new status quo creates the need for the re-evaluation of many given ideas, the exploring and the pinpointing of new social and cultural needs in Greek society - in the framework of the social politics of the European Union and the international community - as well as the re-evaluation and redefinition of values, concepts and artistic needs that will evolve hand-in-hand with the great changes that are coming for culture and more specifically for dance.
In the U.K. and in Germany, this train of thought has been active for decades now. Today, in Western Europe, those in charge for the configuration of state policies regarding art and contemporary dance, recognize the burning question of the redefinition of identities, they relinquish the old way of evaluation through opposition and equalisation, and, with the fluidity dictated by the spirit of our times, they expand their view to include new, international vistas. They include in the contemporary cultural scene the national production of every countries, different dance idioms belonging to different, non-Western civilisations, thus creating an international movement of artistic sharing and exchange.
Even the choreographies of contemporary Western artists take their inspiration from all over the world, including different continents, and especially from South-Asian dance languages, creating an international, multicultural dance language, which expands and enriches the existing European contemporary dance language.

Goals and sources of inspiration of the Leda Shantala Dance Theatre


In the performances of the Leda Shantala Dance Theatre, the movement often draws its inspiration from the Indian intercultural dance bharata natyam; it considers it and uses it as an international movement language, able to express, with refinement and depth, the ideas of any cultural provenance. In this dance idiom we see an international medium of communication with inter-temporal - and at the same time very modern - dimensions regarding its artistic essence.
We need to be free from the shackles and the limitations of form, and we are always on the lookout for the freshness of a contemporary and expanded communication language. We embrace technology and the methods of the 21st century but with a goal that goes beyond fashion: the configuration of the artistic landscape.
Of a Greece that does not pay lip service to culture by just singing the praises of its past while at the same time apes American paradigms.
Of a Greece that we dream to see integrated into the global cultural network, involved in a fruitful cultural exchange with the most creative members of the international community, a community which now includes the until now neglected but culturally and artistically rich countries of the so-called "Third World".
Those countries, whose citizens are now coming to Greece as immigrants, are often poor in financial or technological infrastructures, but are artistically and culturally rich, and are represented in other European countries with numerous communities, actively contributing to the configuration of the cultural horizon and the cultural policies. This means that Greece, every time it seeks to deal with other European countries, will find itself these new cultural elements, which it has to be able to comprehend and to interact with.


Cultural - "Ethnic" and Contemporary Cultural

Here it is necessary to make a distinction between what is cultural, what is ethnic and what is contemporary cultural, in the framewark of the globalised market.

The Ethnic product

It is a local artistic product that the Western market takes from its source, transmutes and transforms it until it becomes familiar and acceptable to the Western market, with an aim to attract and sell. The end product is different from its source, and its transformation is often structural, thus deeply altering its nature and its "differentness". What happens, then, is that the Western market, in order to sell, homogenises difference, at the same time advertising the very difference that is has adulterated and "tamed".

The cultural product

It is the primary artistic product as it came from its source. Here we must again make a basic differenciation between the expressions of its traditional folk form, and its artistically evolved, classical form.

The contemporary cultural product

It is the contemporary expression of a non-Western art form in its local country of origin or in other countries, before it passes through the filter of Western denaturation. The contemporary cultural product brings us to the clarification of two more arbitrary categorisations, which thus monopolise a great part of the Western market.

Classical and modern

The concept of classical is also fashioned by the Western market, taking into account only Western classical ballet. Through this prism, then, it arbitrarily approaches other, non-Western classical art forms that contain another classicality. Those forms are either denaturated, by giving them characteristics they never had, or, because of the inability to understand them, are relegated into the category of folk art, where they don't belong. On the other hand, the concept of contemporary is again confined to Western products only, that often emerged as a rebellion against the structures of Western classical dance. In Greece, at least in the field of dance, there is no education - from the responsibles of dance policies - and absolutely no thought regarding those issues: we are still stuck with the time-honoured traditional categories of classical and contemporaries, relegating anything else to the category of folklore.

The example of bharata natyam.

Let us take the classical Indian dance bharata natyam. It is an art dance dating from at least 2.500 years ago. In its structure, it carries elements with great history; on the other side, its classicality is not at all rigid or limiting, but on the contrary, it gives the opportunity for transformations, changes and contemporary experimentations, making it a contemporary expressive language and not a dance dogma. Both in India and abroad it is referred to as "Indian classical dance", with the expanded meaning of "classical". At the same time, there are its contemporary expressions. In England and in France it is included as a course in most universities, drama and dance schools, as a language of movement and expression.
I believe that the time has come for Greece to face these issues and take a stand taking all this into account.

Cultural diversity in Greece

Greece is more and more influenced by the phenomenon of globalisation. Globalisation doesn't only have its financial and political dimensions, but it influences and is influenced by the cultural diversity of the evolving societies of today. I believe that dance in Greece has to expand its horisons to cultural globalisation, taking into account the positive side of such an opening, which is the respect and the recognition of diversity in dance expression.
Polyphony and the yielding of cultural ground to diversity, the acceptance of "other" civilisations, are necessary not only from a cultural viewpoint, but also from the viewpoint of social interaction with new pupulations that daily expand in our country. A "new" workforce which we cannot keep meeting only in construction sites, in tax and security offices or in the "ethnic" shops and restaurants. We need to develop a language of communication, otherwise Greek society will end up with a lot of small ghettoes, isolated one from the other by the barriers of xenophobia and escalating violence. Instead of ignoring and marginalising every non-Western expression, it is in our best interest to get to know these other artistic expressions, judge them by new standards and insert into Greek artistic production a greater variety of artistic products, that will include the aesthetic both of Greeks and of foreigners who live and create art in Greece.
I wish, therefore, that contemporary Greek politicians will follow the example and the experiences of other Western countries and embrace in equality and respect other cultural voices that are no longer exotic and far-away, but, through the immigrants living in our midst, have become "Greek".


The role of the Shantom House of Culture.

Through performances and artistic events, this place will be a beacon for cultural diversity and dialogue between Greek artists and immigrants, initially by drawing them to performances of multicultural character as audiences, but also calling them to contribute to the creation of performances which they will enrich with their cultural knowledge and tradition. We believe that these culturally mixed productions will contribute to the expansion of the artistic vocabulary both of Greek and of European expression, as a result of the intermarriage and the intercultural relations. We also believe that, through this House of Culture, we present to the Greek socio-political scene a new concept and a new cultural product, the intercultural diversity, something that in other countries is already established for decades. Such a thing is in conformity with the present but also the future needs of Greek and European society, a sector in continuous expansion, with great utility and in constantly growing demand.

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Page last modified: August 26th, 2011