Eleni Edipidi

The artistic director of Levantes on physical theatre and duets

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In 2005, I established Levantes Dance Theatre with Bethanie Harrison. We met at Manchester Met University, five years previous to this, where we were studying dance and visual art. After graduating I moved to London, where Bethanie joined me to dance in my final MA show. We became very close friends and that was one of the main reasons we wanted to create work together.

We decided to move in together in London – very quickly our living room and bedrooms were filled with colourful costumes, headpieces and props from markets from our neighbourhood: plastic ducks, sponges, flowers.

There was a period where we were trying to identify where our work could go. Does it sit more in the visual art world? Is it dance? Is it comedy? Is it cabaret? But Levantes’ quirky visual style became quickly recognisable.

Bethanie and I were fascinated by how different we both physically look and how different our cultural backgrounds were – I’m originally from Greece – yet how close we had become. We fixed on the idea of couples, twins, people who have a strong connection, so we started making identical costumes and dressing exactly the same, becoming physically as one.

What the company is really interested in is people – the perverse, odd peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of human behaviour. Our work is movement based so it tends to start from a point of what two bodies moving together can do – what they look like, what their relationship is.

Female duets have been the signature of Levantes’ performances, until The Band. Our new touring show sees me collaborating away from Bethanie for the first time, to devise and perform with choreographer and dancer Nathan Johnston. Nathan was a rugby player at school before he trained as a dancer – he’s very big and very strong. It means we’re breaking away from this core idea of being identical to looking at the possibilities that come from playing with two very different physicalities.

The Band grew from myself and Nathan’s ideas about the dynamics of a couple – and through the story of former seventies one-hit wonders Bruno and Sandy it explores the idea of balance in a relationship: how it can tip and change, and how people support each other in different ways.

Nathan and I are a couple in real life and we’ve wanted to create something that explores our differences as performers, but making work with someone other than my long-term collaborator has been a great journey. We had to find ways to connect on stage and that’s taken time. Practice and performing in front of a live audience are the key as they give us a sense of timing and a real connection in the present.

It’s been a creatively fertile time. The performance incorporates aerial hoop work and, as a dancer, Nathan is usually the base – he makes people fly – so learning the art of counterbalance in a relatively short space of time has been a challenge.

Aerial work is a new area for Levantes as we expand our practice into circus, but the company brings experience from a multitude of artistic areas: ballet, live art, dance theatre, contemporary performance, design and fashion as well as circus. The core of creativity comes straight from our collaborative base – an extended company of creatives. We are the designers, choreographers, performers and directors.

There is an overwhelming sense of a provocative design and we use vivid costume, props, video and sound to create spectacles that our audiences can take away with them.

Levantes may be ever-reaching and broadening creatively but what’s the same – and fundamental – is our enthusiasm for an alternative dialogue.

More than a decade on from when we founded the company, we can still ask the question: does our work sit more in the visual art world? Is it dance? Is it comedy? Is it cabaret? Is it circus?

It’s all of this, and more.

The Band is at the Invisible Wind Factory, Liverpool, as part of Physical Fest, 29 May

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