Ioanna Avraam: The Dancer Within
Ioanna Avraam, one of the most notable ballerinas from Cyprus, was recently given the title of first soloist at the Vienna state Opera. This story is about the natural evolution of a woman born to dance.
Interview: Pieris Panagi
How did you come to choose dance to express yourself?
I’ve always danced. Of course, I didn’t know then that I would get where I am today. I always performed at home, whether alone or for our guests. I wanted a formal introduction; I would descend the stairs gracefully and begin. Wherever I went, my ballet clothes were with me so I could dance at any moment. Today, it seems so odd because I’m shy, but I don’t think I chose to dance to express myself. It was simply natural. I was manifesting my childhood dream.
Do you find it at odds with your current, timid self-image?
A great deal, I think. It has to do with the way I grew up in the environment I had as a child. I had to keep a low profile and do my job to the best of my ability. I believed that the more humble you were, the more you served the art. Today, that’s why I feel a bit uncomfortable in the spotlight.
But your job requires you to be front and centre on stage, correct?
I try to do my job the best I can, as quietly as I can. I don’t feel the need to be visible. Believe it or not, this is my first interview! On stage, I feel a sense of familiarity – I feel at home. The audience wants to see a spectacular performance, and I try to give them that.
Can you describe how you prepare for each performance so I can better understand the process?
I imagine myself in the role. I read accurate translations of the script, find books and do research for myself to become one with my character. My purpose is to conquer my role. It’s an ongoing process of preparation that never stops. Simultaneously, I must be fit, eat right, rehearse in the studio, and watch recordings of myself to study my movements and expressions and make corrections. Together with my coaches, we perfect the choreography step by step.
Why do great dancers stand out? What is it that distinguishes Nureyev or Pina Bausch?
They had great personalities. They had emotion and expression and were innovative and original in their movements and choreography. They raised classical and contemporary [especially] dance to another level and established the belief that there is always room for innovation. As in science, progress and discovery is fluid. These people paved the way.
How did Nadina Loizidou, your teacher, influence you?
She has affected and will continue to affect me forever. She was my teacher and mentor. With her, I took my first significant steps. She gave me a foundation to work from and pushed me to pursue my dreams. She recognised my talent and my need to follow this path. She still watches my shows. We speak often, and she continues to give me advice.
Who have been your mentors since?
Growing up, I took my first steps in the Diastasis Cultural Association. There, I became close with leading Greek musicians such as Hadjidakis, Theodorakis, Xarchakos and others who made history in this field. Their music and work, as well as their stories, influenced me dance-wise in some shape or form. Of course, I find inspiration every day. I’m inspired by the books I read, by the choreographers I work with, such as Paul Lightfoot, Sol Leon, Boris Eifman, Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe, Alexei Ratmansky and others, but also by what is happening around me.
Do you believe in talent?
If there is no talent, no one can stand out in their field. You may be born with talent, but whatever is innate needs development because talent is not enough by itself. It takes discipline, hard work, dedication, and continuous education to become innovative and creatively productive.
Can talent be lost?
It can fade and eventually be lost if one doesn’t invest countless hours of study and practice. It takes dedication and persistence.
How does everything happening around us affect artists?
Artists aren’t cut off from the rest of the world. In other words, it is impossible not to care about the destruction of nature, the consequences of war, social inequalities, poverty, exploitation and racism. Let’s not forget that art promotes values such as freedom, equality, respect for diversity, and love. Artists do this, whether they are great writers like Aeschylus or musicians like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. Therefore, artists must care about changing the world for the better.
What does homeland mean to you?
It is where one is born and raised. It is language, culture, customs, struggles and values. Your homeland exists inside; you carry it with you even though it can sometimes be painful. For me, home is dance. It is constantly in my thoughts, a catalyst for my being.
In what area did you grow up?
I was born in Nicosia. Until the age of 3 I lived with my grandparents because my parents were still studying. When they finished their studies, we moved to a settlement in Limassol because my father was a refugee from Famagusta.
What do you miss the most about Cyprus?
I come to Cyprus in the summer for about two months when I don’t have shows. I enjoy my family and the warmth of my home – and good food! It is when we are all together. When I am in Cyprus, my sister Louisa, a performer in contemporary dance in Germany, and I organise classical and modern dance seminars for those who want to prepare to study abroad. We bring in distinguished dance instructors from around the world. We try to transfer our knowledge and experience with classical and modern dance to children.
What does the recent announcement that you are a First Soloist in the Vienna State Opera mean to you?
It’s a dream come true. I wanted this moment to come – I was waiting for it. When it finally happened, I was honestly surprised. I am extremely touched and happy.
What does this title mean to an artist?
There is no greater recognition in our field. But on a personal level, nothing changes. I will continue to work hard to show other aspects of myself through new roles.
Dancing is hard work. Do you ever feel as though you’ve missed out on something?
I was deprived of nothing important. Dance gave me everything. I never felt like doing anything else. What affects me the most is that I find it hard to make room for people in my life. My career takes up so much space that there is nothing left, though I do try. It’s something I’m working on.