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Vassos Kanellos

 

Vassos Kanellos, Greek dancer. With his wife Tanagra he gave many performances in Europe and the USA featuring his choreographies, inspired by Ancient Greece and the style of Isadora Duncan.

 

From his bilingual (Greek and English) book Ancient Greek orchesis and Isadora Duncan. Athens, 1966.

 

 

The Golden Chariot

 

When I was a student in Athens at the School of Fine Arts, an extraordinary thing happened which, at the time, seemed almost a miracle to me. It changed the direction of my life and swept me unexpectedly towards a career on the stage.

 

  It was an early spring morning on the banks of the Ilysos. The mountains were violet blue with a soft haze over the valleys. As was our custom, some of us boys had been practicing the five games of the pentathlon in the outdoor gymnasium before going to school.

  I was about to throw the discus when I happened to look up and stopped, amazed. In the midst of the foothills I saw a chariot! A chariot glinting golden in the sun! It was coming rapidly down the mountain road toward us, drawn by a white horse.

 

  I shouted in astonishment to my friends. They came running, and we stood with mouths open watching this miracle coming towards us, seemingly from the past. And then as the chariot swept by, I saw the driver standing straight and tall, and saw that five people were seated in it, dressed in classic tunics. My curiosity was inflamed.

  Were they ghosts, or real people? Who were they? I started to run. I saw the chariot disappear in a cloud of dust. As I ran I caught sight of it again and saw that it had slowed down, but I ran a mile before I caught up with it.

 

  The people in the chariot laughed as I came up beside them, panting, my heels flying in the air. The chariot slowed down and someone spoke to me in Greek, “Who are you, boy? Are you a Marathon runner?” I shook my head, trying to get my breath, and then blurted out, “Who are you? You must be the ghosts of my forefathers!” "No… we are the Duncans".

 

  All I could do was stare at the lovely lady beside me. Her sheer white scarf blew against my face, and I felt the touch of a goddess. Her classic features, her chestnut hair, her flowing robes and her gentle smile enchanted me. “Here is Isadora", said Penelope, who had first spoken to me.

 

  So this was Isadora… the famous Isadora Duncan ! Embarrassed, and suddenly conscious of my dusty clothes, I turned to run away, but Isadora put a hand on my shoulder. She and Penelope spoke for a moment in English and then Penelope turned to me and said, “Would you like to join our dancing school and work with us, boy?”

 

  On my part, there was no hesitation in accepting this amazing offer. Two weeks later, Isadora gave a concert at the Municipal Theatre in Athens interpreting pastoral idylls and heroines of ancient Greece to symphonic European music. She brought alive the characters and dramas of the ancient world which I had studied in school and which had become so real to me.

  Her “Dance at the sea shore of Aulis" by Gluck; her “Moment musical” by Schubert, and her “Bacchanal”, gave wings to my spirit and stirred my ambitions. I was awakened and kindled with fire. Instinctively, I knew this moving, plastic art would be my mission in life.

 

  Isadora became my guide and inspiration and my teacher. So began my artistic career. I had dropped my paints and my brushes and had run after a golden chariot – the chariot which has carried me to the happiest expression of my life… the dance-drama.

 

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  I had the fortune at that time to be the first to guide her in that sacred place on the Acropolis. I shall never forget the highest moments of true aesthetic enjoyment which I had near her on the eternal rock where for hours I stood beside herself with joy and she was embracing the Parthenon and the Apteros Nike.

 

  Several times she climbed the Acropolis with the full moon, musing and seeking new inspiration from the ancient Gods. Isadora at that time was very young and since then was always wearing the ancient chiton and Peplo with unique grace, like an ancient woman. Also her tender feet never felt the rude bonds of shoes.

 

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  In the Hotel Angleterre where she was living she was changed to an ardent herald of the Entente and Venizelos. Under the echoes of the Marseillaise she altered to a true Bacchante and with her hair loose she was executing archaic dances and like a maenad was rolling on the ground, kissing the French and American flags united.

  I remember one night after dinner, followed by her guests and holding the French flag she came out in the Constitution Square and there among the multitude of Athenians sitting at Coffee began to dance singing the Marsailleuse and to deliver speeches. Since the majority of the public did not understand she was begging me to translate to them…

  The spectacle was really comico-tragic. But after a few days the Greek parliament was dissolving and Venizelos was falling from power. Miss Duncan then broke into abuses and was furious against Greece not tolerating the new State. She abandoned Greece of course not for ever; since that time of course her house on Kopanos hill was abandoned too and became an object of wild looting of tramps and mischievous elements…

 

  Her departure from this sacred land of great inspiration this cradle of the beautiful and high was not a little disastrous for her, because from that time Isadora did not see «the face of God» as the proverb says. She became entangled in the martial strifes.

 

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  The same majesty and ideal appearance Isadora always had in her famous dinner banquets and symposia. No woman artist has ever reached her in the grace, the beauty and the majesty of the way she was receiving her guests, and the way she knew how to decorate the table for her dinners. She was always giving special importance to the lighting.

  Even when corpulent she was jumping like a bird on the table already overloaded with flowers and fruits and with different colorful goods was making the lighting the parlor perfectly and fascinating.

 

  At dinner time she was entering followed by her guests, one thought it was the ancient Cleopatra when she was coming to sit with Antony, honoring him with most luxurious and almost mythical in wealth of her symposiums. And Isadora had always some Antony near her because she was never concealing her sympathies, her love affairs and her relations.

  In this regard she was as the great Cortesans of antiquity who were immortalized by the ancient Art and Poetry – Often in presence of her guests and still during the dinner I remember one time even before the Ambassador of France was kissing his face which during those days had conquered her heart.

  In these matters she was perfectly sans façon (open) and went further than any Anglo-American woman (more extreme).

 

 

 

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