Anastasia Lyra was born in 1953 in Kastoria, Greece. The byzantine countenance and beauty of her hometown, as well as her father's Pontic roots (Southern Black Sea), defined the character of her dancing.
After completing her secondary education, she arrived in Athens to study at the Greek National School of Dance (1973-77), formerly owned by Koula Pratsika.
During her four-year studies, Anastasia Lyra was lucky enough to learn at the side of very important teachers, among whom very important for her development were Koula Pratsika in improvisation and composition, Olympia Gelodari in classical dance, Kaiti Romanou in musical history and Marina Lambraki-Plaka in art history.
In 1978, she moved to London to continue her studies. She stayed until 1980, taking classical dance lessons with Cleo Nordi and modern dance lessons at The Place.
She next studied History of Dance at the University of New York (N.Y.U.), and received a Master of Arts from the institution in 1982. At the same time, she took modern dance lessons at the Erick Hawkins school and participated in Ideokinesis seminars with André Bernard while actively following the dance scene in a city that was then a worldwide center for dance.
Her apprenticeship in improvisation, choreography and Laban Movement Analysis with Robert Ellis Dunn at Columbia University and elsewhere was decisive for her development as a dancer. He was the teacher who advised her: "Finish your Master's degree and shelf it. Your involvement with dancing should be creative, not theoretical!"
Returning to Athens in 1982, she taught modern dance at professional dance schools and, in 1984 began her professional career as a dancer and choreographer with the choreography "Motion I" for 14 dancers and a solo performance "Tabla", both presented at the Mary Toutsi dance studio. In 1985 she presented "Tabla" and a second solo performance entitled "Landscapes", at the Chisendale Dance Space in London.
In 1986 she presented her first full-length solo performance Motion II - Landscapes, in the State School of Orchestral Art in which her artistic reflections were summed up. Through this performance, which soon evolved from choreography into an improvisational performance and which she presented for five years from 1986 to 1991, she formed a personal movement language and reinforced the stability of her relationship with improvisation.
In 1987 she composed her second solo performance, Motion III - Room. The field of reference is in this case –as is suggested by the title– the closed, internal, personal space, in contradistinction to the references to nature in her first work.
These two performances followed a parallel course and for five years formed the core of her personal work in conjunction with her several partnerships in live performances with musicians with a solid background in improvisation.
In 1989 she commenced her partnership with Russian-Israeli pianist Vyacheslav Ganelin at the Cava Theater in Athens, a partnership which continued in 1990 and in 1991 with a Greek tour of the Opus a Duo performance and in 1996 with performances in Moscow, St Petersburg, and Vilnius.
In July 1991 she participated as a dancer in the Cecil Taylor Dance Project in Berlin headed by Free Jazz pianist Cecil Taylor with whom she presented the improvisational duet Improvisation for dance and music the following year at the Rematia Theater in Chalandri.
She gave duet performances with Pontic lyra-player Ilias Papadopoulos (1988 and 1995) and the Cretan lyra-player Psarantonis (1996).
In April 1994, she choreographed the Dance of Points for Vasso Barboussi's dance team “Okyrhoe”. In the same year, she presented two more choreographies/performances where she danced with Natasha Avra: Sonatine and ...Silence is the blood whose flesh is singing. These two pieces, where she appeared on stage for the first time with another dancer, cleared the way for her move to team choreography.
Sxedia Dance Company
In 1994, she began workshops on dance research on the island of Hydra, where she retained a workshop space until 2003, and in Athens, at the “Chorokinesis” dance school. Out of these workshops emerged the Sxedia Dance Company, which was active from spring 1996 until 2004, always centered on dance research, solo and team improvisation and the sustained training of its members.
Immediately after the creation of the Sxedia Dance Company, Steve Paxton showed particular interest in the venture, and afterwards actively contributed in the drafting of its educational program, as well as joining as teacher and consultant to the team.
US teachers Lisa Nelson (composition) and Scott Smith (technique), Simone Forti (improvisation and speech), and Yianna Philippopoulou (technique) also taught in the team's workshops and seminars.
Renowned improvisational pianist Cecil Taylor played daily in the team's workshops for three weeks in the beginning of 2000.
Canadian Peter Ryan taught contact improvisation and speech to the team for several sessions.
Apart from Anastasia Lyra, the other permanent tutors were Dimitris Kaminaris who taught classical ballet and Yiorgos Pavlidis who taught tai chi.
The first performance presented by the team before an audience, in 1996, is entitled Sxedia, which refers to the dancers' shared flow and movement ("Schedía" meaning "Raft" in Greek). Realising that the word for "raft" is contained in the Greek word for improvisation (“autoschediasmos”), Lyra chose it as the name of her team.
In the first performances given by the team, the participants were the people who most consistently participated in the workshops, regardless of their technical level. This fact was crucial for the formation of the team's style and its ideology as a democratic group, a "group of people who dance" by improvising and not as a group strictly focused on the technical aspect of dance, where the dancers are, for the most part, the choreographer's tools. The course set at that time continued to characterise the team when, afterwards, its technical level and professional character were strengthened.
Shortly after the end of the first performances given by Sxedia, the organizers of the New York Whitney Museum's touring exhibition “Art at the end of the 20th century”, which was housed in the Greek National Gallery, asked Anastasia Lyra to organize a dance show/event in the gallery with the exhibition's works of art as the environment (Flocks islets constellations). It was her first performance with visual arts features. The performance's needs increased the team's members to 19, which set yet another of its foundational aspects: its multiform character.
Part of the performance Flocks islets constellations was presented in the exterior space of the Greek National Gallery. This would critically effect Anastasia Lyra's work approach. The public space of the city excited her artistically; with the dance show acting as a catalyst, the city itself becomes the theatre/show. This was the function of the next project Sxedia Polis, which was presented in Athens, London and St Petersburg.
With the transition from solo to team work, she moved from dancing in silence and dancing with improvising musicians to a new phase vis-à-vis the use of music. The larger part of Sxedia's work was based on classical music: Purcell, Ravel, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Dowland in the team's works involving many dancers, and Mozart, Schubert and Franck in the smaller ensembles.
The city as a stage and as theatre, other than its great artistic importance in her work as a choreographer, solved a basic and distressing problem that had preoccupied her since 1994: how to approach the audience in the age of commercialized celebrity. Through the team's public space performances, she discovered that going to meet people where they are, instead of trying to bring them in with advertising, secures one a new audience, wider, spontaneous, honest, complex, often unpractised. This audience responded with enthusiasm and immediacy to the presentations of the team, which has since given many free performances in public spaces.
In conclusion, the characteristics of the Sxedia Dance Company were: team improvisation and a democratic structure arising therefrom, many-peopled dancing ensembles, its activity involving free performances in the public space of the city, and classical music.
Five of Sxedia's big productions with the above-mentioned characteristics were conceived to be performed in-the-round with the audience seated around the dancers, and were presented exclusively in parks and public squares: Five dances of Maurice Ravel (1997), Daphnis et Chloé (1998), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999), Ideal Dance (2000), and Berlioz and Bach (2003).
Concurrently with the strongly outwards-looking activity described above, the Sxedia Dance Company presented many smaller dance ensembles in smaller-scale interior theatrical spaces under the umbrella name Sxediastirio.
In 2004, the Sxedia Dance Company presented the performance Romeo and Juliet, inaugurating the outdoor space that would later become the Microscopiko Theatre.
More on the performances of the Sxedia Dance Company.
In 2008, the solo performance-installation Tu Amor Revolucionario inaugurated the Microscopiko Theatre, a space she designed and curated herself. The peculiarities of that space, its small size and antiquity, determined the character of the works to be presented within.
The location is an essentially ancient space uncovered during excavation work carried out in the foundations of an old house. The masonry defining the theatrical space is 2000 years old. The theatre is named after the location's small size as well as the analytical spirit stimulated by the unusually small distance between the audience and the dancer/performer’s body, "like placing the experience of movement under a microscope".
In the Microscopiko Theatre, Anastasia Lyra processes and investigates together with her associates the potentials arising between Space, Time and the Body under the catalytic influence of the ancient masonry that demarcates the scene.
As a means of differentiating the space and occasioned by the limited size of the premises, emphasis is given on the horizontal level and on movement executed very close to floor level. This makes the stage and the action performed on it a type of "floor plan" of the work presented, exactly matching the viewpoint of looking into a microscope.
The venue's uniqueness also inspires use of the element of revolution, as a means of densificating-contracting the space as well as time.
More information on performances at the Microscopiko Theatre.