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Visiting choreographer caps successful semester

Visting European choregrapher
European choreographer Nikos Lagousakos oversees a rehearsal of the spring dance show Urban Tales. (Photo/Stacey Wang)

An accomplished choreographer who has created pieces for thousands of dancers around the world, Nikos Lagousakos admitted that he’s actually rather shy when it comes to performing on stage.

“When I’m on stage, I feel nude and that people can look into me. It’s a weird feeling,” said the USC School of Theatre visiting instructor who gets what he feels is his “15 minutes of fame” behind the scenes by working with his dancers.

“I feel safer [doing choreography],” he said. “Since I was very young, when I started making my own work, I found out that by watching my choreography on other bodies, I ended up knowing myself better.”

Founder of the Plithos Dance Company, Lagousakos has wrapped his first semester at USC with classes on choreography and dance theory, the latter focusing on different types of dance and how each genre signifies events and television from a specific time period.

“It’s great that I can put my experience and knowledge into an academic context,” said the European choreographer who has taught master classes for actors, dancers, singers and non-professionals overseas.

The guest artist also directed Urban Tales, the school’s spring dance show which showcased the USC Repertory Dance Company in a collection of stories about urban life.

“My last five months at USC has been maybe the most fulfilling experience I’ve had in many years now. Watching the students grow and transform into artists week after week has been an experience that not only has moved me incredibly but also motivated me to continue this kind of work,” Lagousakos said.

The choreographer was invited to teach this semester by Margo Apostolos, the school’s director of dance, who was informed about Lagousakos through colleagues. After hearing about his excellent choreography and researching his work, Apostolos met with him in Athens and extended an invitation to teach two classes during the spring semester.

“I think he’s magical. He’s bold and brilliant. He’s brought something new and exciting to the dance program,” she said. “I would certainly love to have him back.”

Prior to working on campus, Lagousakos was an assistant choreographer for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens. He also worked in that capacity for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin and served as a choreographer for the Paralympics Games that year.

“When you enter a stadium with a thousand volunteers who are there just because they are excited to offer their time, energy and enthusiasm for their country, it’s an amazing energy that you feel,” he said.

Lagousakos recalled the moment he decided to get involved with the Olympics when he, a college student at the time, heard the radio announcement that Greece would be hosting the games. It was the first big goal he set for himself.

“As soon as I graduated, I just picked up the phone and called the head choreographer of the ceremonies and told her: ‘I’d love to come and work for you. I could drop everything and make coffee for you every day, if that’s what you need,’ ” he said.

Because of that enthusiasm, he received a call five minutes after the initial conversation, leading to an invitation to participate in the 2004 Olympics.

“Working in these events has totally formed me as a choreographer because you deal with volunteers mostly and just a little bit with professional performers,” Lagousakos said. “When you choreograph a simple gesture, seeing it on a thousand people, it’s just magical.”

Lagousakos, a 2008 resident artist for the Gallmann Memorial Foundation, has led dance workshops for local youth in Kenya. During the last two years, he worked on several operatic productions at festivals and theatres througout Europe. In August, he will collaborate with director Damiano Michieletto on a production of La Bohème for the Salzburg Festival.

A believer in the creative process rather than the idea of merely putting on a show, Lagousakos likes to get his dancers to think outside of their norm and to express themselves in an innovative way.

“If you focus on only what you want to put on stage – if it’s going to be catchy, if it’s going to sell, if it’s going to be nice, if the public is going to like it – then you lose the poetry, the magic of this art,” he said. “I like getting lost in the process, alone and also with my dancers.”

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