‘Grecian dances’ and the transformations of corporeality in the age of moving images

Pantelis Michelakis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book

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The presence of dancing girls ‘in desert tents or in the courts of Roman emperors or within the palaces of oriental monarchs’1 is a well-established theme of films related to the worlds of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East throughout the twentieth century. In fact, dancing girls are so common in such films that they often go unnoticed by both the characters within the film narratives themselves and their spectators. As David Meyer argues, these dancers are little more than ‘set-dressing-part of the furnishings, mood enhancerswhich add nothing to the narrative’.2 But in parallel to the dancing girls of epic and sword-and-sandal films, and completely independently from them, another type of dancer inspired by antiquity developed in the course of the twentieth century. This is a type of dancer associated with experimental, avant-garde choreography by and with the film camera. From Martha Graham’s Night Journey to Pina Bausch’s Orpheus and Eurydice and DV8’s Enter Achilles,3 the art form of ‘dance film’ returned to the concept of the Greek body to explore complex ideas about alternative forms of aesthetic, personal, and political freedom.4 The aim of this chapter is not to examine these two distinct types of dance film but to return to a point in time before this bifurcation between commercial and avant-garde forms of film takes place, to explore the significance of some of the ‘roads not taken’5 by cinema for the conceptualisation of the relation between the modern body and ancient Greece.6 The emergence of cinema at the end of the nineteenth century marks a profound shift in the way in which Greece is conceptualised in the modern world. A culture previously perceived as remote and inaccessible, the object of contemplation from a distance or the product of the imagination, is suddenly transformed into a vivid but fleeting reality to be experienced through the senses. Early cinema makes possible the generation of new modes of perception and thought in modernity within which Greece becomes not only more vivid, but also more complex, dynamic, and enigmatic. Dance is one of the most distinctive features of this reconceptualisation of Greece in cinematic modernity.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHellenomania
EditorsKatherine Harloe, Nicoletta Momigliano, Alexandre Farnoux
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781351999151
ISBN (Print)9781138243248
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2018

Structured keywords

  • Institute of Greece, Rome, and the Classical Tradition


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