A Conversation with Apostolia Papadamaki: artist, healer, founder of The Happiness Retreat

The Healing Powers of Art, Movement, and Nature: A conversation with Apostolia Papadamaki, creatress of The Happiness Retreat

Dance, embodiment practices, the healing powers of the Greek land: these are a few of my favorite things. As someone who also explores these modalities in their non-digital work, I couldn’t help but gravitate towards Apostolia Papadamaki. The acclaimed choreographer, artist, healer, and all around creatrix is a force (of love) to be reckoned with. In person, she oozes love and deep presence, her gaze at once playfully youthful and that of an old soul. I was able to meet Apostolia this summer in Athens, and we immediately connected.

Her stacked portfolio includes an intentionally whimsical piece choreographed for the Greek National Opera and underwater movement performances. As an artist, she creates visionary, experiential pieces that often incorporate the viewer and environment, blurring the lines between the artist and the perceived voyeur. Think sleep-overs (yes, you read this correctly) at ancient Greek temples.

She also runs a retreat series called The Happiness Retreat, which takes place several times a year throughout Greece and Europe. The retreats combine movement, healing practices such as breath work, community and all that nature has to offer.

Read on for our interview with Apostolia Papadamaki. It’s certain to leave you inspired, entranced, and perhaps ready to sign up for The Happiness Retreat, ASAP!

You spent time studying outside of Greece, what ultimately drew you back to your homeland?

After my Contemporary Dance and various healing methods studies in NYC, I was offered many amazing career opportunities as a choreographer and transformational teacher. But there was something that was calling me back to my home country, Greece.

I spend 6 months trying to identify what I should do as I knew that back home art funds were very limited and holistic practices almost unknown. During these months I had a diverse variety of dreams. From nightmares that I was seeing my self with all my hair fallen or all my teeth pulled out to dreams full of flights towards the sun or happy floats under crystal clear waters.

At the end of this period (where I was also meditating and keeping dream journals), I had an epiphany. I realized that I was called back to Greece due to the Energy, the Light, the HIstory and the Ancestral connection. I was called back to Greece to make things better, to create communities, to encourage other people, to be inspired by the abundant timeless beauty of the ancient Greek Ethos, Pathos, Eros.

I knew deep in my heart and my guts that I had to leave NYC no matter the amazing life I had there and go back to Greece to be in service of this very special Soul Path. I did and I never regret it!

Tell me a bit about creating in Greece post/during the economic crisis. How has the performing arts community been affected? While I don’t believe in the good/bad binary, do you think it’s been a catalyst or hindrance for creative expression?

Well, the economic crisis brought a lot of fear and insecurity at the beginning which led to artists gatherings trying to find solutions. Many artistic coalitions and initiatives were born and artists found new ways of creating, bringing their art in the community and for the community which I find very significant. Many artists, including my self, used their imagination, talent, and skills to produce innovative artistic works and turned to different funding opportunities to subside their productions.

As the proverb says, necessity is the mother of invention! ( πενία τέχνας κατεργάζεται!)

How was The Happiness Retreat developed? What can people expect if they attend?

Many people I knew urged me to lead retreats that they could attend to dive deeper into their soul, to reveal their life’s purpose, to learn how to find their own happiness path. I felt deep in my heart the inspiration and the call to create The Happiness Retreat and share my own practices with empathy and love for every individual that joins me into this powerful transformative journey.

What I offer is open-hearted and truthful guidance through my own practices Yoga, Dance, Mindfulness, Rituals, and connection with Nature, in breathtaking locations that support us with their sacred energy. One of the core teachings is Creativity and how we regain our soul, reunite with the spirit of the divine and trust ourselves as Creative beings without criticism or judgments. One can expect that will playfully open up the space for bliss, expand the conscious self, integrate spirituality as well as maintain healthy habits for the rest of his life.

You recently choreographed an opera. Tell us about that and the experience! It looked extremely psychedelic from your posts on Instagram! (Editor’s note: I didn’t see this in person, but watch the video above for a preview!) 
Part of my soul’s purpose is to create art with a loving free spirit without compromising. The Princess and the Pea was a milestone in my artistic career – to direct and choreograph contemporary opera for children, presented at the big stage of The Greek National Opera house for 1.500 people in each performance! An opera is a sublime form of staged arts that combines what the ancient Greeks invented: Melos ( music ) Logos ( text) and kinesis( movement ). As a stage director and a spiritual artist, I needed to transmit to my singers and dancers the art of transformation, to teach them how to embody the character which many times is a deep process of diving deeper into the human soul.
And yes, I delivered to the audience an “extremely psychedelic” experience as the costumes, scenery, direction, and choreography was a voyage to a childlike imaginative universe, full of Forms, Shapes, Light, Symbols. These are the elements that speak to us when we are in a young age perceiving spirit not through our minds but through our senses. It was an invitation to the adults to remember to trust their imagination and an affirmation for kids that they have the right to live an imaginative life.

 

Finally, let’s talk about some of the sleep-in art experiences you’ve created at Greek temples. Tell us about the inspiration for those and how you managed to pull off such a feat!

 
I believe in the collective consciousness, I believe in energy places, I believe that art heals, I believe in Dreams. One could say I am a visionary or a missionary artist! (hahaha)

The Dream and Sleep performance is an  hybrid form of performance art where the audience not only witnesses a spectacle in a sacred monument but is also invited to perform, co-create and  open up to the special energy of this place, of this gathering uniting with the artists, with the elements of nature with history and energy. What people say after this 14 hours performance that the audience spend the night in the archeological space and I read their anonymous dreams overnight is that they experience a deep soul connection and they are overwhelmed and healed by being part of something bigger than themselves.

The inspiration came (again) from a repetitive dream where I was an eagle flying above Greece, seeing only ancient Temples guiding me on how to bring people to visit with new attention.  During my artistic research, I discovered the ancient Greek ritual of Incubation -the religious practice of sleeping in a sacred area with the intention to receive a divinely send dream or cure. So I envisioned this innovative performance that has ritualistic elements and enters the time, mysterious, unspoken plane of the subconscious, addressing many people at the same in a timeless scenery such as an archeological site.


We’ve discussed before (and, for readers to know, share a similar belief) that what comes through is really coming from spirit – not some external god, but that life force flowing through all of us and everything. Can you speak a bit to how you connect with spirit?

Well, I could write a book about it but here are some of the ways!

I pay attention to whatever inspires me, a flock of birds, a beautiful tree on the sidewalk, the sky,  how people walk to go to their work, the shapes, the forms, the light. I believe that the spirit has a million ways to communicate with us if we just can listen and see the signs and symbols.

Breath is the greatest ally in my spiritual practice. I sit and observe my breath calming my mind, soothing my heart finding many opportunities during the day even when I wash dishes!

Dancing and Singing for me is an offer to the Spirit, another way to unite with the divine. I don’t wait only for special occasions but I dance and sing when I do my house holding or when I walk to the metro station.

Overthinking is the biggest cause of feeling disconnected and unhappy. When I have a dilemma or an important decision to make I practice meditation combined with breathwork ask the spirit before I sleep to give me the answer or a sign in my dreams.  I ask very specifically and in details, I believe that the spirit appreciates it when we ask clear questions!

I am always connected with Nature in any way I can even if its a small plant on my balcony.  Nature is reminding us that the life force is constantly there and it is abundant. It is the presence of the Spirit in all its beauty and it resides in each one of us.

What current Greek artists (can be dancers/musicians/etc) are you into these days if any?

I love the work of Theodoros Terzopoulos / Theater Director he has this special talent to combine ritualistic theater with performance art.

Young choreographer Christos Papadopoulos always inspires me with his minimal hypnotic and meditative dance creations.

What Greek artists, living or dead, are you most inspired by and why?

Jannis Kounellis /Visual Artist because he was attacking the established norms of culture and he incorporated real life into spaces of art.

Jani Christou /Composer because he infused avant-garde musical forms with the elemental power of ritual and myth, aiming to shape, even dramatize, the personal experience of music into a mystical experience.

All the ancient Greek sculptors knew and unknown for capturing the human form in movement with a great sense of spirituality

Click here for more on Apostolia and The Happiness Retreat!