The human body, along with its ever-changing cultural, symbolic, experiential historical, phenomenological, social and political context, takes center stage in his work

Alexandros Michail

The body as carrier of meanings

Text: Yorgos Papadimitriou || Photographs: Alexandros Michail's Archive
Alexandros Michail

Alexandros Michail is a director, as well as a performance and installation artist. In the core of his work we encounter a transmedia practice that ranges from the production of immersive (usually live) installations, with the participation of social groups, all the way to the staging of theater plays and performances of a small or larger scale. The human body, along with its ever-changing cultural, symbolic, experiential historical, phenomenological, social and political context, takes center stage in his work. His practice explores the power of the artist, as an instigator and a mediator, to craft a living social sculpture, which can destabilize and reprioritize dominant meanings and predefined identities. 

The question that immediately pops up revolves around the stimuli and the triggering events that led him to walk down this complex road as an artist. “In reality, I had no other choice; or at least, this is how I feel. I was a lonely child, and my world was built around books, music, theater and cinema, even though it took me quite some time to come to terms with the path I had chosen in life. When I moved to London, I first got acquainted with the art of performance, and later on with the art of body theater, which came out as a need to discover a structured body technique. However, dance had always been my secret passion, a getaway for everything that could not be expressed through words. The school I attended left me with “scars” and it took years for me to pave my own course as an artist. Looking back at these times, though, I realize that I gained far more than a simple knowledge of the technique. What I was really taught were the infinite possibilities – as well as difficulties – and the responsibility that accompany artistic freedom”, he points out.

Alexandros Michail studied Modern Performance (Live Art), majoring on mise-en-scène, at London’s Brunel University, as well as Body Theater, based on the teaching method of Jacques Lecoq, at London International School of Performing Arts (LISPA). Upon the completion of his studies, he settled in London, where he worked as a performer, teaming up with artists and institutions, such Mark Storor, Station House Opera, Bock & Vincenzi, Penny Woolcock etc. In addition, he worked as a solo aerial artist at the English National Opera. Since 2013, he has been based in Thessaloniki, working both in Greece and abroad. 

How did his stint in London, as well as his collaboration with prestigious artists and institutions, affect him as an artist? “In London, I had the chance to work under especially favorable conditions, alongside acclaimed artists. I single out my collaboration with Mark Storor, an artist who shaped my own course and liberated me as an artist. To tell you the truth, there’s no point in making comparisons with the conditions in Greece, as England, as many other European countries, systematically and strategically invested in producing and exporting culture. I am using the past tense as, culture funds have been suffering cutbacks lately in England as well. In Greece, was there ever a time that art and culture were part of a serious and long-term agenda? There’s no point in kidding ourselves: Greece, for reasons of size, stature, geopolitical-cultural isolation and power correlation, has no place in the global culture map; for the time being, at least, Greece is not in the limelight of the international art scene. To put it in other words, art and culture cannot find their way to the country’s priority list. It goes without saying of course that this situation defines the way we create art, the kind of art produced in the country, as well as the audience’s perception of art,” he stresses out.

Alexandros Michail has directed the plays Piece for 2 (2015, PANPHYS Award at the 8th International Festival of Mime and Physical Theatre) and Splinters by Nina Rapi (2018, Nominated for Best Director at the Queen Theatre Awards). He also worked as assistant director and head of movement at the staging of the play Who Discovered America by Chrysa Spiliotis, directed by Sofia Paschou and showcased by the National Theater of Northern Greece. In addition, he worked as a head of movement at the staging of the play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, directed by Glykeria Kalaitzi and showcased at Theater T.

A fellow of the Robert Bosch Stiftung Foundation, Michail has also received the artists’ support program grant administered by Stavros Niarchos Foundation for the entirety of his work as a visual artist, as well as by the public-benefit foundation John S. Latsis for his HIV-themed public intervention-visual art installation, To Whom It May Concern (2018), showcased at the Contemporary Art Center of Thessaloniki. In 2016, he took part with a solo performance at the collective exhibition AS ONE, hosted by the NEON+MAI institutions (Marina Abramović Institute), at the Benaki Museum. Moreover, he has served as artistic director at the Bazaar of Ideas of the START – Create Cultural Change scholarship program (2019 and 2020), as a jury member at the 4th Select Respect Film Festival (2020), as well as a member of the evaluation jury of the Thessaloniki drama schools’ graduates, appointed by the Ministry of Culture (2021), whereas since 2017 he is the educational program head and a teacher at Theater T.

Through this multifaceted and rich journey, Alexandros Michail has delved into a form of art that is often narrowed down to the suffocating label of “body theater” that overlooks an impressively complex cluster of practices and techniques. Therefore, no surprise that we’re very interested in finding out his own definition of the art he has systematically and wholeheartedly served. “My approach on corporality as a form of art is influenced by my performance studies, and mostly by the notion of live art – performance art (let us keep in mind that the term “performance” has consistently been the victim of misinterpretations and misunderstandings) and Lecoq’s teaching method – through mimodynamics and acrobatics, mask animation, commedia, melodrama, storytelling, the tragedy chorus, the grotesque and the buffoonish, the figure of the clown – pertaining to the poetic of the body. According to my perception on body theater, the body, as an expressive means, holds an equal if not preponderant position over speech, functioning as an autonomous source and carrier of meanings. Energy, alertness, flux, imagination, rhythm, contemporality, team work, the absence of complacency and foregone solutions, are all pivotal notions in my work. It is a process moving from the outside to the inside, from the form to the content, stemming away from the traditional theater that prioritizes the internal world of a character or a play. In any case, though, the body is always a dominant feature in everything I do: performance, visual installation, research and teaching, animation,” he concludes.