Musicians and Dancers from Paleokipos 1937
Posted by Christos on Monday, May 30, 2005

(Photo courtesy of P.Agiakatsikas)

A friend has sent me this lovely old photograph of a Kompania (group of musicians) from Paleokipos (Gera) in 1937.

Wind instruments were very popular in Lesvos before the Second World War, and there were a number of bands on the Island. Brass instruments are still included in traditional local groups.

The dancers, wearing the clothes of the period, seem to be dancing a syrtos, perhaps the Gerogotikos Syrtos. The raised hands, and the way they are holding the handkerchief, are typical of Lesvos. When the arms are held so high, it is easy for the dancers to turn under the arch they make.

Lesvos dances with nine beats in a bar
Posted by Christos on Sunday, May 29, 2005

In his book "Mytilini Santouri", Dimitris Kofteros considers Zeimbekika, Aptalika, Karsilamades and Aidinika together in one section. This, I think, is wise, since in practice there is no clearly defined distinction between them. Some experts will classify a dance as a Karsilamas, while others classify the same dance as a Zeimbekiko or Aptaliko.

According to Kofteros, "All these dances allow free expression for the dancer. Therefore there is no essential difference between them in Lesvos. All four are danced vis-a-vis, the only difference being the tempo of the tune."

Since these dances are danced by two dancers face-to-face, with no handhold between them, each individual dancer is free to improvise his own steps to match the music and his own abilities and mood. Often you see different dancers dancing in different ways to the same music! A dancer needs to feel comfortable in order to dance elegantly and gracefully, and a young and agile dancer may be able to do more steps to a bar than a heavier or older dancer can do comfortably! In practice, of course, the dancers usually respond to each other, but it is a creative collaboration, rather than the slavish following of a fixed routine.

In particular, the dancers follow the tempo of the music, and the way it is played. It is important, as in most dances, to relate the steps to the rhythmic beat of the music.

When the music is slow, as in the Vari (heavy) Zeimbekiko, each of the nine beats can have its own step. Often the final ninth step is a closing step, enabling the dancer to begin the next bar on either foot. In the most common form of the Zeimbekiko, there is time to vary the pattern of nine slow steps by replacing one or more of them with two quick steps on half-beats. Thus the pattern "slow-quick-quick-slow-slow, slow-quick-quick-slow-slow-slow" of earlier Zeimbekika, and the modern syncopated "quick-slow-quick-slow-slow, quick-slow-quick-slow-slow-slow". In some music, the sequence begins with the final three "slow" steps. In all these, the "slow" steps are one-beat steps, and the "quick" steps are half-beat steps: making a total of nine beats.

When the music is faster, there is no time for half-beat steps, and indeed steps often take more than one beat. The beats are grouped in twos and threes. Thus there are two-beat steps and three-beat steps. For example, in the "Palaios Karsilamas" from Aghiasso, we find a "slow(2)-slow(2)-slow(2)-quick(1)-quick(1)-quick(1)" pattern. In some music this pattern is the other way round: "quick-quick-quick-slow-slow-slow", and there are many other possible combinations, but they still add up to nine beats. A popular variation is "slow-quick-quick-slow-slow-quick" (or "slow-quick-slow-quick-quick-slow").

When the music is faster still, the slow 2-beat steps become quick steps, and the three 1-beat steps are combined into one longer step, giving us the popular "quick-quick-quick-slow" of the Fast or Pedhektos Karsilamas (Aidinikos). "Aise" is an example of this.

Building the 'Koukoura'
Posted by Christos on Saturday, May 07, 2005

Every year, on the Saturday before Easter, the boys of Skala Kallonis in Lesvos build an enormous bonfire in the Square in front of the Church. This is the Koukoura, on which they burn the effigy of Judas Iscariot later that night. They have been collecting wood for weeks before: huge logs and fallen trees that have been washed down into the Gulf by the winter rains. It is a matter of local pride that their Koukoura in Skala should be better than any others in the villages round about.
The main workers are 14-17-year-olds, directed by older boys of 17-20. On the fringe of the operation are younger boys, watching, hoping to be asked to help, sometimes offering to help, though they are too small to be able to make a useful contribution, and their offers are usually rejected. One or two adults act in a supervisory role, especially with regard to safety, and adults with special skills or equipment - a power-saw, ropes, a trailer or a tractor (this year even a JCB!) may be persuaded to make a specialist contribution to the boys' operation. The girls watch from further away, for this is a strictly boys-only activity, as the decoration of the Epitaphios, two days before, was strictly for girls only.
Over the years, the roles change. Last year's workers become this year's leaders, the little boys who were watching last year become this year's workers, and the older boys (usually after their National Service in the Army) become spectators again.
In this way the tradition is handed down, and indeed, the 'Koukoura' is bigger and better every year, as a new generation takes it over and brings their own talents to it.


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