Within the Creative Walls of Paradise

It was one of those connections that happened in the blink of an eye. Maria and Katerina wandered up the stairs on the ferry from Athens to Mykonos and I spotted them right away. Like I said before, Maria’s eyes caught me immediately. The bright blue sparkled off the water and the spirit of them both traveled right to me. I saw them looking around for an empty seat and was disappointed when they sat in a few chairs on the opposite side of my area. Moments later, it was as if they heard me thinking and headed over to put their stuff by mine and sit down.I learned that they were contemporary dancers. Both from Greece, they were traveling to the island of Syros for a dance performance that the two of them have been working on since 2011. Not only that, but Maria’s other genius idea was going to be explored through a workshop. Her plan has been to combine contemporary dance with the art of synchronized swimming. Previously a synchronized swimmer herself, she collided her two passions and created something that has flourished over the past few years. It’s such a beautiful form of expression and I encourage you to take a look at her website and see for yourself.

The topic of my photography came up and she asked to take a look at some of my work. Even before she saw my photos, she had asked if I had wanted to come and see the performance on Friday. Now she suggested that I spend my time there taking photos as well! My heart jumped at the opportunity to take on yet another new challenge and grow. I immediately accepted and was even more thankful than usual that I was traveling alone and able to take on such a hasty detour.

We corresponded over email and she told me that they would have a space for me to stay overnight when I arrived. It was a blessing, really, that I was not only able to photograph this performance but was also offered a place to rest my head. I boarded the ferry on Friday morning with very little idea of where I was going, one small slip of paper with an address written in Greek clutched in my hand and no idea how much I would end up feeling attached to this group of people and all that they did.

After exiting the ferry, I found my way to a coffee shop and struggled to find directions. No one seemed to know where I was going. I managed to connect to the internet and had a quick Skype call with Maria to figure out the direction I should be heading. Alas, after a short walk and a bus ride, I arrived at a wooden white door and walked inside.
Right away the smell of freshly baked pastries from the bakery below filled my nostrils. It was the sweetest scent I have ever experienced and mixed with the heat of the studio, it couldn’t have been more heavenly. This place was huge. It was huge and gorgeous. A stone staircase led me to the top floor. Tall ceilings sheltered me overhead and the place was covered in a clean laminate flooring. There were huge windows letting in sunlight with flowy curtains that blew in the breeze and photos from past performances hung on the walls.

ImageMaria greeted me right away in her yellow parachute pants with a big smile that I was happy to see. After kisses hello, she led me into the back where I was surprised to see a cute little kitchen, a bathroom and an area set up with air mattresses. They had made a home in this place and from the smell of it, they had made dinner as well. I was introduced to the two men sitting at the table. One was Spiros. He is the musician for the group and didn’t seem to go anywhere without his wooden drum. He was probably the coolest looking guy I had ever seen and added such a good energy to the room. The other guy was Helmut. He traveled here from Germany on vacation away from his job as a teacher. He has been in charge of taking underwater photos and videos for Maria in the past and she had invited him here to do the same!  When I said I hadn’t eaten, the team sat me down and we enjoyed a great meal. “It’s not much”, said Maria, “but it’s from our hearts.” I smiled as we all toasted to new friends and great company.I noticed right away that the creativity never stopped flowing through this studio. There was constant music playing, always calm and peaceful. Spiros would be playing his drum quietly and Maria and Katerina would be relaxing and stretching with their eyes closed softly shut. It was the perfect place to think, write and create. I had never felt more at home because I was surrounded by that one thing I had been missing over this trip. Artists. A studio. Something very similar to a family.

ImageThe performance began late that night around 10pm. The rest of the dance team lined the front row seats. I watched as the two ladies got ready in front of the mirror lit up by florescent little light bulbs. I felt the feelings along with them that come before a performance and could see the determination and passion in their eyes before they walked outside. With my camera ready to go and two empty memory cards, the lights dimmed and the show began. It was a two woman show based on the seven deadly sins. Maria and Katerina each represented one side of a single person struggling against the temptations of life. In the end, one chooses Hell while the other decides to stay pure. It was an extremely powerful piece and you could tell they had been working on it and perfecting it for quite some time. Everything down to the lights, music, precision of their movements and their facial expressions made me feel raw emotion. Mix that with the clicking of my camera and I could have died in that moment. ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage
Later that night we went out for drinks and souvlaki. One of the things I appreciated the most was the chance I had to feel like I was a part of their culture. Helmut and I were the only two of the group who couldn’t speak Greek so the others continued to communicate in their language most of the time. I loved that it gave me the chance to sit and observe for a while. It gave me a rare break from my usual talkative self. I was able to focus on their body language and the expression in their voice in order to get a feel for what they were saying. By the end of my stay, I felt like a true Greek, even though I still can’t get past saying hello. I fell asleep that night on a platform that I had to climb a tall, wooden ladder to reach. It was amazing sleeping so close to the beams after such a rewarding day.The next morning I participated in a workshop led by Maria for the team of dancers. I am by no means a dancer myself, but the small routines we went through brought me back to some acting movement exercises and I think I handled them pretty well! Actually, the most challenging part was understanding the choreography in a different language! Heck, it’s sometimes hard enough in English. I even got the courage to perform a small routine with Katerina in front of the whole group!

We packed our things and headed to the pool next to work on the routines in the water. I was told that this pool was in a stellar location on the property of an unbelievable house but don’t think anything could have prepared me for what I saw. This pool was surrounded by the ocean and this house was built in the middle of nowhere. The panoramic view of the deep blue sea was all you could see for miles from the pools edge. I couldn’t imagine living in a place like this all the time. It was just a short distance from the city and it still felt like you had entered an entirely different world. The house itself was made of mostly stone and decorated to the nines with trinkets and personal touches.

ImageIt was amazing to watch the same movements that we performed on the hard ground being performed in the water. It has such a different feel and it was really great to watch all the dancers with different experience levels excel. It was obvious that they all seemed to bond as a family and there were smiles and laughs shared all around and at all times. I felt like I had known these people for much longer than I had. Maria was right when she told me it felt like we were at that studio for days and days instead of just one weekend. Time flies when you’re having fun but it also seems to slow down all the same.
ImageImageImageImageImageImage Another performance followed our time at the pool as well as another fantastic home cooked meal. I ended up staying a little longer than I intended thanks to their generous offer. I felt blessed to have this new family of friends around me and never wanted to leave. I was wowed again by their work on stage and loved seeing the performance for a second time. Spiros, Katerina, Helmut and I went out and shared drinks by the harbour that night and talked about the Greek language and culture. I’m beginning to love harbours. They’re all over the islands in both Greece and Italy. There’s something really special about the sound of boats rocking in the water late at night.
On my very last day we went to the pool once more. I knew that my departure was nearing and it broke my heart. I hadn’t realized just how attached I had gotten to the people and the place until then. Spiros and I walked through the city and we all sat down for dinner one final time. Before I knew it, Sunday came and went and it was my time to leave. Maria, Katerina and I all exchanged letters. I was so surprised when they handed me two newspaper wrapped gifts tied with colourful string. Inside I found a pair of hand made earrings and two hand made bracelets. Their notes contained words that I will hold so close to my heart just like I will this experience. Image I can’t thank them enough for being so kind and supportive and loving to someone who they just met. You are all so special to me and it was a pleasure watching you do what you love.
None of it was by chance at all, trust me.


2 thoughts on “Within the Creative Walls of Paradise

  1. Sam, this sounds like a total dream of wonder. Congratulations on having this experience! 1000 times over. I feel so happy for you! It sounds like the richest time.

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