Friday, April 20, 2007


Minoan seminar
27April 2007, 19.00

Dr Stella Mandalaki
23 rd Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities


The Seminar will be in Greek with English captions to slides
Archaeological Society, Panepistemiou 22


Dancing and music have been indispensable elements of human existence from ancient to modern times. In every civilization, from primitive to contemporary, dance movements accompany daily life and ritual actions, expressing in the most immediate manner a variety of sentiments. The semiotic content of dance is particularly broad and includes every kind of rhythmic movement, quite different from everyday, human kinetic activities, is accompanied by music or song and is deliberately executed by the dancer. The multifaceted function of dance in society compels the researcher of this subject to examine dance phenomena together with socio-political structures in order to interpret them in their entirety. At the same time, the study of dance has the potential to give a better understanding of the society in which it takes place. In this particular approach, different dances are distinguished based on Minoan iconography, taking into consideration the conventional methods of depicting Minoan movement, the provenance and chronology of the finds, as well as comparable dance scenes from Mainland Greece and the Aegean.

The most important Minoan dance performed throughout the Minoan era was the womens open circular dance which was performed with the same brilliant gusto in both the palatial and rustic setting in the context of ritual activities for the epiphany of the female divinity of nature. Typical elements of this particular dance are the exclusive participation of women, the free, circular motion of the dancers and the gestures of invocation notably in the raising of the arms above the head which is accompanied by a light backward inclination of the body. During the post-palatial period, the dance is accompanied with offerings of first-fruits, while the lead danseuse does not perform the characteristic gestures appropriate to her role, but rather accompanies the dance with an instrument. In the same period, dance took place in cemeteries, thereby acquiring a funerary character. In this instance, the object was cause the epiphany of the divinity in order that he deceased might have a safe journey to Hades.

During the performance of the open, circular dance in the West Courts of Minoan palaces, the measured entrance of dancers in two parallel lines led up to the main dance position. The movement was accompanied by the raising of one hand above the head.

The form of the open circle and the sacred character of the dance differentiate the womens circular dance from that of the men which was of the closed kind with hands on shoulders and took place in paved areas or inside the circular enclosures of cemeteries during funeral rites.
In the dance around sacred trees and rocks, the dancing of the leader is accompanied by two parallel or alternating dance-mime actions of symbolic content, shaking the sacred tree and clasping the natural rock, features that lend a theatrical and dramatic character to the performance. Both sexes took part in the dance in open-air sanctuaries or in the palatial environment, within the context of performances connected with the epiphany of different divinities, male, female or pairs. The firm shaking of the tree-trunk not a wild tree but rather one planted inside the wooden enclosure - is probably intended to make the fruit fall. Clasping the rock has greater semiotic impact, since in most instances it is related to the immediate appearance of the divinity. This particular Minoan dance was also danced in mainland Greece with many variations on the original.

A dance for women, where the dancers are arranged in a triangle, seems to have been a particular favourite of the Minoans and Mycenaeans. Apart from the form, other characteristic features of the dance are the gesture of arms resting on the hips, the costume and the neckerchief.

Apart from these dances which are quite well defined, isolated representations or particular iconographic types are examined where the performance of the dance is unverified.

Next typical processional formations are mentioned and the development of the processional formation is examined over time. Important differences can be discerned by analysing the magnificent palatial processions with offerings of vases and robes to the divinity. In the Neopalatial period, the two sexes move in separate processions, maintaining a normal distance between them. However, in the Postpalatial period, men and women take part in the same procession, with differentiated sub-groups of different crowd density. Similar ceremonial processions also took place in the open-air to the accompaniment of music and singing, within the context of rites for the fertility of the earth.

Most of the dances mentioned had a close connection to epiphany, as well as being organized by a central authority and defined by convention. Spontaneous folk dances of a recreational character were not identified in this particular study, perhaps because they were not usually depicted in ancient civilizations. Although it is very difficult for evidence of Minoan dance to have survived into historic times, the magic exerted by the Minoan dance movements is preserved as a recollection in ancient authors who frequently refer to the dancing skills of the ancient Cretans.

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