Kinesis Dance’s Paras Terezakis journeys from the army to fine art

For ODDessay 114, Kinesis Dance’s Paras Terezakis drew on his Greek military service more than four decades ago
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One night in 1974, Paras Terezakis was acting in the play Ploutos in Athens, Greece, when all hell broke loose. He was 21, and his home country had declared a state of general mobilization because of conflict in nearby Cyprus and the fall of Greek dictator Dimitrios Ioannidis. During an interview at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre, the artistic director of Kinesis Dance somatheatro explains that his introduction to mandatory military service, which was to last 28 months—and even inspire a dance work almost four decades later—was unnerving.

“It was very violent,” Terezakis says. “They [army members] came in at night and stopped the performance. It was very scary. I didn’t know where I was going. I smashed a window on the way out I was so upset. I was put in restraints and arrived at this place at night, and the next morning there were 2,000 people there, all new to the army.”

That place was Orestiada, a town near the banks of the Evros River, which forms a natural border between Greece and Turkey. Terezakis specialized in Morse code and went on to manage a telecommunications team known as Division 114. He spent his days in tiny man-made cubicles and his nights in trenches, where he began teaching his comrades all about theatre and dance. His commanders didn’t approve.

“They wanted me to teach exercises in the morning, and I said, ‘If you want me to do this, I’m going to do it my way,’ ” Terezakis says of his artistic efforts. “I basically said, ‘Fuck you.’ I got two months of probation, so ended up doing 30 months instead of 28.”

When he looks back on his military service now, Terezakis says in some ways the period is a “dead space” in his life, but he doesn’t deny the lasting impact it’s had on him.

“At first I felt very lost, because my mom was in Canada, and I was in this strange place; I lost a sense of who I was,” he says. “But I found out I was very strong. The military didn’t faze me at all. It was a very deep psychological experience. The bonding with other men was intense. And being in those small spaces was claustrophobic.”

Terezakis is drawing on his army days for his newest piece, ODDessay 114. It builds on a site-specific work Kinesis performed last fall, called Compartment 114—An Odd-Essay, for the Scotiabank Dance Centre’s 10th anniversary that explored spatial confines and limitations, both physical and emotional. This time out, he’s working closely with set designer Craig Alfredson to re-create the atmosphere of squatting, spying, and strategizing in small spaces.

“We wanted to build on that idea of confinement,” Alfredson says, sitting across the table from Terezakis. “But there’s also the theme of being on a journey. In a way, Paras’s military service was an odyssey.”

Terezakis’s choreography is inspired by his Greek heritage, and he says his new work for eight dancers draws on Homer’s epic poem of Odysseus’s 10-year voyage home after the fall of Troy. Terezakis’s own journey from soldier to dance artist saw him leave Greece for Canada a year after his service ended, joining Toronto’s Dancemakers Theatre before going on to study at Simon Fraser University. He started Kinesis in 1986 and has since made dozens of dance works and developed a vocabulary that’s highly physical, with nods to contemporary dance, contact improvisation, and martial arts.

ODDessay 114 aims to take audience members on a journey as well—figuratively and literally, with viewers themselves travelling throughout the theatre space and in and around the sculptural, movable set.

“We wanted to change the idea of the conventional way we see dance,” Terezakis says, before Alfredson adds: “We want to make it a lot more immersive and interactive.”

Using materials such as scaffolding and corrugated metal, Alfredson designed the set in a new way as well: instead of having something prepared for the first day of rehearsals, he spent two weeks with the dancers during the company’s residency at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, building the set as the piece progressed, collaborating with the dancers.

“It’s not all prepackaged,” Alfredson says, a point Terezakis jumps on.

“We have too many preset things,” the choreographer says, noting that ODDessay 114 doesn’t follow a narrative arc. “Let us be surreal and dreaming. I hope to take the audience to a dream, so they can make their own metaphors and their own images. I’m impulsive and sometimes I’m cryptic on purpose, just to see what I can pull out of people.”

Kinesis Dance somatheatro’s ODDessay 114 runs at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre tonight through Sunday (September 6 to 9).

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