Vasilis Contos presented material on the island of Kassos at the May 3rd Koinonia Seminar. We are extremely gracious to Vasilis for his time and for sharing his talent with the community. Read a little more about Vasilis below:
When Vasili is not working he pursues his passion: Greek folk dance. Vasili’s research focus on Greek island dancing spans over 19 years. During this time he has conducted multiple field research projects, attending festivities in remote villages that exemplify the most traditional interpretation of dance in the areas that he chooses. His work is comprehensive in that it encompasses extensive interviews with musicians and live recordings of their work. Some of the musicians that he has spoken to and recorded play nearly extinct Greek folk instruments and styles of playing that have lost their popularity among the modern crowds today and were never recorded in their heyday.
Moreover, he puts tremendous emphasis in sharing the talents of these musicians in the United States as they are invited on an annual basis to play for dance presentations with the intention of preserving traditions of the Greek heritage. Vasili also plays the laouto in the unique style of Sifnos. He was mentored by the Late Ioannis Karavos from the village of Exambela, Sifnos.
In addition to his work with musicians, Vasili documents the dancing of individuals who are known to be exceptional in their village. This is especially true for men in these areas, as they are known to do the most improvisations while dancing. Their style is perhaps a skill they nurture in the process of getting older. For this reason, the seasoned dancers are mostly older people who resist the influence of modern folk culture. Each person offers amazing stories of their youth at various festivities, which in turn assists Vasili in creating a mental picture of traditions involving Greek folk dance so that he may present the most authentic perspective of this rich culture. The goals of each presentation are ultimately to preserve the Greek heritage, but also to document specific stylistic nuances that are revealed from island to island and dancer to dancer. He is known among his peers to showcase the most traditional angle of a region—from the music, to the costumes, to the dancing. When he brings a piece of Greek culture to the omogenia in the United States, it has all the workings of an anthropological study, as dance is a critical component in Greek culture.
His expertise has been most beneficial to the Greek folk dance community since island dances are not a standard part of most dance groups’ repertoires. For many years, the richness of island dancing was neglected in preference to the more popular and accessible mainland regions and Crete. The disparity in research on the dances and music of the islands of Greece became the motivation for Vasili to work on the islands of the Kyklades, the Dodekanesa, and the Northern Aegean. Here, he resurrected forgotten traditions and customs and brought them to the stage. Specifically, he discovered multiple misinterpretations in research, often the result of second hand research attempts, preconceived notions, and/or unauthentic choreography perpetuated by stereotypes in a given region. This is why Vasili is a firm believer in going to the source.
Vasili has been the director of the Olympian Dancers under the Assumption Church in Long Beach, California, since 1997. Under his directorship, the Olympian Dancers have demonstrated long-standing achievement and have received many honors at the Annual Greek Orthodox Folk Dance Festival, including the highest honor, the Sweepstakes Award (13 honors).