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Greek music, dance & theatre

Greek Dance

Music: When you think of Greek music, all that comes to mind is Mikis Theodorakis' soundtrack to the film Zorba the Greek and the ever present sound of the bouzouki (mandolin). Also due to the fact, that many of the restaurants catering to the tourist play this popular type of music. Greek music is as varied as its regions and islands, from ethnic music to modern techno/pop.

The bouzouki is one of the main instruments played in the “rembetika” style of music; rembetika is the Greek equivalent of the American blues music. This style of music has its roots in the less than salubrious cafes called “tekedes”, here the clientele often poor workers, gathered together and smoked hash, the lyrics of the rembetika were often about prison, fighting, hash smoking and the hard life they endured.

After General Metaxas in 1936 decided, enforce censorship and imprison those who did not agree with him, the music of the tekedes all but disappeared. During the 1950s and 60s the music became popular again, but in a more sanitised version, today old style rembetika music is once again becoming popular.

Other song forms are the “dimotika” and “elafrolaika”, dimotika is poetry sung accompanied by musical instruments, and elafrolaika is popular middle of the road music. The songs sung in the Epiros region, called “pogonisia” are of Byzantine origin. Another popular music form is “skyladika” or dog songs, the name derives from the sound, it is supposed to sound like a dogs whining! A few Greek performers have made it onto the international scene, Nana Mouskouri, Demis Roussos, Mikis Theodorakis and Yanni.

In classical music, Maria Callas was perhaps the best known; the soprano opera singer Elena Kelessidi is famous in the classic music world. Music for the younger generation is much like that of any other country rock, techno, etc; there are some good local rock bands, but they prefer to sing in English rather than their native tongue, like most bands they are looking for international fame.

Dance: the Greeks love to dance, whether it is at a wedding or in the local café. Each region has its own local dance. The “sirtaki” dance featured in the film Zorba the Greek is perhaps the most well known, The “kalamatiano” dance is a graceful dance originally from the Peloponnese region, is performed in a circle with the participants holding on to each others shoulders. The “sirtos” dance is from the islands also performed in a circle, many of the dances have their roots in ancient history. The male Greeks often dance the “zeimbekiko” this dance which the males perform alone is spectacular, with its many improvisations its roots are from the tekedes bars and prisons of the 1930s. The women have their own variation of this dance, the “tsifteteli” which is a sensuous, intense dance evolved from Turkish belly dancing.

Theatre: performances at the Theatre of Dionysos in Athens date from the 6 th century BC. These were more of a competition, the Thespis came on to the stage and gave a solo performance, (From Thespis comes Thespian=Actor). The father of tragedy, Aeschylus (c 524-456 BC) known for his Oresteia trilogy, Sophocles (c 496-406 BC) was one of the most prolific writers of the time, only a few of his plays remain today, with Oedipus Rex the most famous. Euripides (c 485-406 BC) was also a popular writer, many people preferred his dramas because they were more exciting, the most famous being Andromache, Orestes and Bacchae. Possibly one of the first comedy playwrights was, Aristophanes (c 427-387 BC) his works made fun of the Athenian society and their gullibility. Modern day Greek theatre has many good directors and playwrights, however many of their works are only in the Greek language.

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