Iris Karayan

Iris Karayan: ‘My Work Looks at Memory and Reenactment’


By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN/ATHENS — Iris Karayan is a dancer, choreographer and teacher living in Athens. She studied dance at the Greek State School of Dance and completed a Master of Arts in Performance and Culture: interdisciplinary perspectives at Goldsmiths College, UK. She is the founding member and choreographer of ZITA Dance Company. Her works have been presented in Greece and around Europe.

In 2010 she was awarded with the 1st prize of the Jarmila Jerabkova Award in New Europe Festival 2010 in Prague for her choreographies, “A Time to Mourn” and “Leg Acy.” In 2013, ZITA and Iris Karayan were selected by the international dance network Aerowaves with the work “Mothers” and in 2014, Dancenet Sweden selected and supported a tour of “Mothers” in Sweden. The program has been widely presented in European Festivals and venues.

“Alaska” (2016), an Onassis Cultural Centre commission, premiered in Athens on February 2016 and has also been presented in the Dansfabrik Festival de Brest, France.

She collaborates with other artists from the fields of dance, music, theatre, cinema and the visual arts and has been actively involved in two collectives, Syndesmos Chorou and the Collective Choreography Project. Since 2013, she has been leading a movement and improvisation workshop for people with and without visual impairment, part of the Onassis Cultural Centre’s educational program.

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She is a Fulbright grantee for the year 2018-2019, planning to continue her research in affiliation with Movement Research in New York City. She teaches choreography and improvisation at professional dance schools.

Dear Iris, I am a great fan of contemporary dance. However, I know almost nothing about it in Greece. How will you describe it?

Contemporary dance in Greece and dance education has been developing over the past years. The situation in Greece has been following the trends in Europe and the US, with a delay. There are professional dance schools that offer vocational training to dancers. The students study ballet and contemporary techniques such as Graham, Limon, release techniques, improvisation and eurhythmics, ballet and contemporary movement analysis, history of dance, music, choreography, etc. There are some festivals that present contemporary dance and other festivals and venues that have in their programming contemporary dance and live performance works. There are a lot of contemporary dancers and fewer choreographers who create and produce their works. They could get funding from the Ministry of Culture, when there is a call and a state budget to subsidize contemporary artistic production, and/or by some private institutions that support and produce the contemporary live arts. A lot of Greek dancers travel mostly to Europe (Belgium, Germany, UK etc.), to continue their studies and look for work as dancers, choreographers and teachers. There are no dance or performance studies departments at the state university, meaning at a higher education level, therefore the educational status for dance studies offered in Greece is a dance teacher diploma.

Cultures with rich folk traditions always use elements of their national heritage in what now is called contemporary art. Is the same with Greek contemporary dance?

Yes, some choreographers work with the issues of historical identity and tradition. It depends on the specific work, but I would say that there are choreographers who are interested in looking at the Greek folk tradition and its elements through their contemporary works, while they develop a movement vocabulary that is influenced by traditional dancing, music, literature, folk songs, poetry etc.

What are your inspirations for creating new dances?

Topics: Dance

I am inspired by everything around me, the sociocultural context that I live in, works by other artists, readings and ideas I am interested in the internet and generally my way of living and everyday practice.

Please tell us about your background.

I am what might be called a Greek Armenian. Actually I am a third-generation Armenian living in Greece. My grandparents came to Greece when they were very young, around the 1920s. Both sides of my family sides are Armenian. We come from different areas and places in the wider region of Anatolia.

Has your Armenian origin somehow influenced on your art?

I am certain it has in subtler and esoteric ways. Being of an Armenian origin is a mixture of experiences and feelings I have throughout my life as an Armenian of the Diaspora: my upbringing was full of stories narrated by my grandparents about the past and our origins, the experiences and the genocide, the way they survived and created a new life in Athens, the need not to forget and keep history and memory alive. I think it has influenced me as a person in general, and I can describe myself as a fighter, someone who values hard work and commitment, relation to history, culture and society, justice and freedom.

Through Greek-Armenian dancers I know also the names of the Dakessian sisters from the 1950s, Alis Furundjian and Anah Sari (Anahis Saribekyan). Have you any idea if there are other Greek dance professionals of Armenian origin?

Occasionally I come across an Armenian last name, but most of the times it is just the name of one of the parents.

Do you have any plans to do an Armenian project?

Yes, I am very much looking forward to coming to Armenia for an artistic residency where I can research and work with local artists, make and present a performance. My work looks at memory and re-enactment of events and the ways digital media stimuli become the material for a new work. I would love to come to Armenia study and research recent social events and make a work in collaboration with other artists.

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