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Eva Palmer-Sikelianos / The Pyrrhic dance at the First Dephic Festival




Eva Palmer-Sikelianos
The Pyrrhic dance at the First Dephic Festival


       With the help of friends the athletic program was finally set in motion, with only one exception: the Pyrrhic Dance. I had had thirty suits of armour hammered out by hand: breast-plates, helmets, short swords and spears, copied from ancient models in the National Museum. They were gorgeous, and I was looking forward to seeing men dance with heavy armour which would force them into movements; there could be no graceful leaps, or pirouettes. But the Greek director of athletics was adamant. He did not even make a promise about the Pyrrhic Dance. He simply refused to countenance it.

       Then a friend came to my rescue, a gifted architect named George Kontoleon. He undertook to get thirty men and to teach the dance. But he encountered other difficulties. The men got together but were not dependable. They found the work too hard, so that he had to keep replacing them, and he was constantly starting afresh. The Festival was drawing near and he was hopeless, and thought we would have to give it up. Finally someone suggested the army; to get boys whose military duty would force them to come to the lessons. I also felt hopeless, but I went to see the Commander of the First Army Corps which was then stationed in Athens. I did not know this General, and I felt rather frightened. I did not see why he should grant what I had gone to ask.

       He was charming and immediate in his response. No explanations, no persuasions. He told me to send Mr. Kontoleon to choose the men, and that I could have as many as I liked. This same general came to the Festival and saw the Pyrrhic Dance. He sent word to me afterwards that if we ever gave another Festival I could have his whole Army Corps.

       This request for men for the Pyrrhic dance occasioned my first meeting with officers of the Greek Army. Not long after this my second occurred. A number of small matters had accumulated which depended on the Minister of War. I needed many tents, several trucks to carry all the paraphernalia of the Festival from the harbour of Itea up to Delphi, more men for the Stadium, old cannon balls to produce thunder at the end of the play, and probably other things which I have now forgotten. The Minister, Mr. Mazarakis, whom I had never seen before, sat in the centre of the room near a large desk which had a semicircle of electric bells just beyond his blotter. I was again discouraged and rather frightened. In other Ministries I had met what often seemed like evasion, never whole-hearted cooperation. This was natural enough, because I was trying to do a thing which they rightly considered, first from one point of view, and then from another, as very risky. They were merely doing their duty, and being careful. Nobody was to blame. But anyway I was tired.

       I told Mr. Mazarakis the things I needed. His answer was to ring all his electric bells one after another. Immediately a line of officers came into the room. They saluted him and then stood at attention. He then turned to me and said:
"Madam, these gentlemen are in command of the departments from which you require assistance. Will you please give your orders?"

       This moment of extraordinary courtesy was to me one of the high spots of the first Festival. And it had its sequel in the second.




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