Horos at The Sanctuary: An Interview with Magdalena Gyftopoulos

BLE dancer Magdalena Gyftopoulos
Magdalena Gyftopoulos, teacher and dancer with Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre. Photographed by Michael Seamans in Larz Anderson Park, Brookline, MA.

Magda, how long have you been involved with Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre and the Boston Lykeion Ellinidon?

I’ve been part of the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre organization for almost 20 years now. I became a student in 2000, joined the company as an apprentice in 2005, and became a full company member in 2006. I was a company member until 2018, when the company went on hiatus. And I’ve danced with the Boston Lykeion Ellinidon for 9 years. Both organizations have been very influential in my life, and have helped me understand more about myself through movement.

What is so unique about Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre?

At JMBT, performances are more of a cabaret style – so the audience is very close to the performers. Currently, there is a focus on outreach programs, including Dance for World Community™. Dance for World Community™ is a broad program that includes not just the festival, but also talks, workshops, film screenings and other events. And Dance Saturdays, which features BLE this Saturday, April 13th,  is a really cool new program that allows a lot of different dance groups to showcase their work. Most, if not all, of the groups have performed at the Dance for World Community Festival. This is part of the expansion of that program – trying to get more dance out there, expose it to new audiences.

And how about your Greek dancing background?

I grew up going to Greek festivals, and dancing with my family in the living room or the backyard at Christmas and New Year’s and Easter. In old home videos, I’m often dancing ballet to Greek music – I was exposed to both from a very young age and both are very important to me. I remember my grandmother teaching me kalamatianos in the kitchen, listening to music on the way to church, and stuff like that.

Have you ever combined Greek dance and ballet? How do you feel about fusion of dance forms?

I’ve actually choreographed to Greek music for my ballet students. I taught them some of the steps to the traditional dances before I started choreographing, to expose them not just to the movements but to the feeling of Greek dance. It is very different but also similar in a lot of ways – for example, posture is very important, how you listen to the music and comport yourself. I’ve also taught traditional Greek dances in the summer program at JMBT.

I think I prefer the word collaboration to fusion. Each different element that is combined comes from something else, and it’s important to know what those distinct things are before you bring them together. Fusion, to me, is taking things and making something new that can stand on its own, without necessarily needing to understand where all those pieces come from. Collaboration is more about understanding the context of their origins. 

Magdalena Gyftopoulos, teacher and dancer with Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre. Photographed by Michael Seamans in Larz Anderson Park, Brookline, MA.

We’re excited to take part in Dance Saturdays, and be a part of your worlds coming together. What would you say to someone who is on the fence about coming to the event?

This event represents how important dance is in the Greek community, and what kind of role it plays, and all of the different ways that it has stayed alive and thrived. It’s not what you think it is. It’s not just “Never on a Sunday,” hasapiko all day long every day.

I think that Greek dancing is interesting in that it is physically unifying – with people holding hands and having to move together – which isn’t always the case in ballet. I think that this physical unity is an aspect of body language that people are missing nowadays: the ability to physically interact with people, to be able to feel the rhythm and beat together with other people at the same time. And for Greek people, it’s just a part of who we are – I grew up around people who were dancing all the time.

There are so many people now who are just afraid to move; it’s not normal anymore to express yourself through movement, and it should be. You should dance if you’re happy!

I just want everyone to move! Jose Mateo often says, “Everyone has a dance story, whether they know it or not.” Everyone can dance – it doesn’t matter what your physical abilities are, if you have two left feet, whatever. You just have to open your mind a little bit.


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