• Ayia-Napa
  • Larnaca
  • Limassol
  • Nicosia
  • Paphos
  • Polis
Erica Charalambous: Paradise Island in my Heart
Erica Charalambous
Paradise Island in my Heart
Evgeniya Theodorou
Author: Evgeniya Theodorou
Translation: Jordan Worsley
Photo: Daria Saulskaia

We once met in the Archaeological Park of Paphos. She had an incredible knowledge of history, culture and artistry, accompanied with a whole tonne of personal events and experiences — and so, we agreed to speak again.
Meet Erika Charalambous, our guest for today. In addition to being a choreographer, pedagogue and researcher at the Universities of Coventry and Melbourne, she’s also an active participant in two large projects “Out of the Skin” and “Spatial Counterpoint” — part of the “Pafos-2017, the European City of Culture” programme.
Country: Great Britain

My mother is native to the city of Newcastle, while my father is Kathikas, in the region of Laona (close to Paphos). I was born in Paphos city itself, the smallest of the large cities in Cyprus. Being a child on the island is like growing up in a genuine fairytale: with an endless summer, sandcastles, archaeological artefacts and adventures; the thick smells of the sea and sun. These landscapes, natural aromas, flavours and memories of my childhood protect me in moments of difficulty. Thanks to them, this small island has gifted me with a sense of freedom and fantasy, one which still lives on within me, as though not bound by time. I was a curious and timid child. I liked discovering things, exploring the outdoors, counting stars, looking at the moon and watching its light follow me; I would ask myself what happened to me when I was asleep. I’d play teacher with my toys… and dance everywhere when I wanted to. I later understood it was vital that I danced, or simply moved — this was (and still is) the best way to concentrate and organise my thoughts. I wanted to be a dancer, a teacher, a nun-detective who travelled everywhere; a chef and a waitress! You know, I think that I’ve more or less followed my dreams! Yes, I’m a ballerina, but at the same time I create movements and unite them in the form of dance; I travel a lot and do yoga as a spiritual exercise, discovering and learning something new every day. I enjoy speaking to my friends and taking a break with them.

People of Cyprus — Erica Charalambous

But my “actual” profession? Well, that’s a completely different story. Intrigued? In fact, I’m an artist, a qualified choreograph and a professional dancer with a Bachelor of Arts. I’ve won grants from cultural organisations and received various stipends to prestigious academic institutions. It's worth mentioning the following: CND — Paris, BIDE — Barcelona, BOOM Festival — Portugal, Luxembourg ECoC — Luxembourg 2007, Frankfurt Lab, PACT Zollverein Essen, Ruhr 2010 ECoC, Tanzplan Deutschland, Motion Bank — Forsythe company, Mousonturm Frankfurt, IDFrankfurt, E-Motional Bodies & Cities Bucharest — Romania, Dance House Lemessos — Cyprus, ECoC Pafos2017, Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation and others.

In this context, I perform, teach and consult; I coordinate art projects and conduct research in the sphere of arts; I also read lectures on dancing and choreography in educational contexts, as well as others. My passion is merging science (and knowledge as a whole) with art, drama and cognitive aesthetics!

I think that although I was brought back to Cyprus by my mother’s wish to travel and see the world, it was, first and foremost, because the island is my father’s birthplace. I eventually ended up here on the 6th June 1980, later leaving in 1999 to learn dance and returning in 2001 to work as a flight attendant and dancer in Larnaca, Limassol and Nicosia. In 2003, I moved to Trier in Germany, where I worked as a ballet teacher, then once again as a dancer and choreographer (in Luxembourg). Afterwards, having travelled about a little, I arrived in Frankfurt-en-Maine in 2009, where I obtained a Masters in modern dance. I was further beckoned by travel in the form of artistic and scientific research projects in Europe. Then in 2011, I came back to Cyprus. What a stunning place it is — at that point in my life and career, I felt that the circle was complete, and returned!

As for what I demand from my personal life… that’s a difficult question. After returning, I really struggled to continue with my former line of work. By that time, there were few art projects and job vacancies available for dance teachers with my qualifications. Therefore, I had to be creative and open to new employment options, which led to fantastic adventures and development. In those years, I needed to fundamentally change my life: on a professional and social level. There are many old ways of thinking which are still alive and well on this island — one with a unique culture, which has long been enriched by merging with the traditions of foreign lands. Indeed, the island, with a population today of 1,184,266 residents, will never possess the infrastructure of a large European country, and the same goes for its art life. There are many different communities in Cyprus, supporting the economic and social sectors of the island — where 30% of the population are immigrants and where foreigners work in large numbers.

So, while my experience and skills are necessary for many spheres, they aren’t in high demand… Unfortunately, when people hear the word “artist” in Cyprus, many presume you’ll be working for free. Job positions in creative industries or in the field of cultural management are underpaid, and this creates difficulties if, of course, you’re not working in any other position.
I reckon this is the norm for practising the arts as a whole. Still, it’s all the more evident in Cyprus because job positions are few in number, while artists and painters — high. However, thanks to the European Capital of Culture scheme implemented in Paphos, I can say that I will remain sought after… at least until the end of 2017 for sure.

As a performer, I value the opportunity to play with the forces of nature in my work, to lose track of time and be sensitive to the body working harmoniously, like a playing orchestra. As a choreographer, I’m always charmed by chances to look for a different path in each new project: something like solving a puzzle or riddle. As a pedagogue and director, I really like to share information and attract individual specialists from different walks of life for collaborative work. I also want to collectively create a project by undertaking the best course of action to achieve my specific goal.

By the way, I have so many funny stories in my repertoire! I’ll tell you my favourite one: I once taught ballet in Germany and was leading a class of 7-8-year-old kids. We were discussing the carnival and the costumes which every little ballerina was going to wear. One of the girls said that she couldn’t get dressed “in somebody” because her family believes in a different God. All her little school friends looked at me in shock, and one of them asked: “Erica — is there another God?”. I was laughing inside and felt that I was involved in a significant moment of their lives. I responded that there are possibly several deities, and people in different countries follow different religions and hold varying beliefs. As an example, I told them about the ancient Greek gods, about Christianity, Hinduism, the faith of the Mayans, the Incas… and my young charges were content with my answer.

People of Cyprus — Erica Charalambous

I have several passions. In connection with various phases in my life, I love devoting my time to volunteer movements and working to create NGOs, as well as events supporting dance culture, gender research and intercultural relations. For example, fundraising and charity events, public walks, festivals, educational programmes and projects — I’m passionate about all of this! But my main drive is to be an active citizen of the world!

I also like taking walks in the great outdoors, exploring the history of places and archaeology, weaving into their canvases the events of past eras and the fates of their deceased. I also like to bake, to cook different dishes and do the gardening — all of which I prefer to do alone, as with meditating.

My inspiration displays itself most vividly when I’m in the “here and now”, following my instinct for curiosity. Especially when my mind and body feel that they’re “on holiday”! I’m inspired by nature: landscapes and the effects of light — particularly here on the island — the scents of Akamas, a tickling (to goosebumps) sensation at the seaside, where I can swim very far out. Unsolved stories and historical secrets — they also inspire me… of course, the daily affairs and relationships which we experience are what form our sense of identity. A specific space or place can be a fantastic source of inspiration: as a place of memories, energies and/or interactions.

An essential factor is the large-scale tourism business on the island, as well as the many creative opportunities in the hospitality and wellness industries, which attract around 3 million tourists a year! It is worth remembering that throughout history, be it for geographical, ecological or politically strategic reasons, Cyprus has been a place of interest for many… while sometimes also an area for love and romance. On the whole, it has always belonged to some sort of kingdom, country, church, army or empire, etc.… yet never to its people — who are proud to be Cypriots. I perceive Cypriots — be they Greeks, Turks, or representatives of other nationalities living in the island — as all those who are connected to the island through love. This is what ties me to Cyprus — my love for it, its stunning nature and terrain: a magical place, where you feel you’re in heaven on Earth. It reminds me that we are merely guests on this planet and our lives are one big journey — so let’s just go with the flow!

Since I was born here, being a Cypriot for me is easy. Besides, wherever I might live, I always feel that I carry the island in my heart. It’s wonderful when something reminds you that everything in life exists at this moment, right NOW — and as soon as that dawns on you, becoming a Cypriot will be a piece of cake!

I'm forever amazed by island facts and archaeology, as well as its people, who seem to thrive, albeit doing almost everything at the last minute!
I especially like the spirit of antiquity which lives on in hundreds of small villages: each of them has its own character, taste and smell. To this day, I’m still pleasantly stunned by the sincerity and warmth of Cypriot hospitality.

It’s brilliant that you can always choose between the sea and mountains when on the island, or even combine these two elements. What do I mean? I love sitting on the sea coast, gazing into the horizon, perhaps practising yoga or walking. I love how great it is to drive into the mountains and go on a long hike in the company of friends, or on a picnic — all accompanied by endless laughs and zivania!

Cyprus has always been a popular spot which people come back to. Many guests to the island, whom I’ve met, say that they love being here and find out something new every time because our country is one of the few places in the world where they can completely relax and rest.

People of Cyprus — Erica Charalambous

I recommend you visit Paphos, not only because it was chosen as Europe’s cultural capital in 2017 — and will be filled with cultural and artistic events for the whole year… but because this city remains the cosiest of spots and as they say, a place out of time. The Baths of Aphrodite and the Blue Lagoon, lying in the Akamas peninsula, are natural treasures and an ideal spot for a safari, as well as going for a dive or sail. It’s worth looking at the villages of Paphos, for instance, Laona plateau in the Panagia region — with its multicultural and ethnographic backgrounds, as well as observing the forests of Paphos, its grottos, waterfalls and wine factories. You also need to try the delicious dishes served in the region’s cosy taverns. Paphos itself is still undergoing restoration, which is helping the city’s sights and landscapes obtain a fresh image. We can see this, for instance, in the region of Fabrica hill and pedestrianised zones. It's also evident in small cultural centres and the incredible archaeological park, which begins at Fabrica hill and ends by the scenic harbour for fishing boats. So, my friends, keep your eyes and ears peeled for the Pafos 2017 cultural programme!

There are many archaeological sites situated across the whole island: in Limassol, on the road to Paphos, along the coast, and the list doesn’t stop there… In the ruins of Kouklia, you can see the ruins of the Temple of Aphrodite; nearby lies a medieval manor — once the residence of Nikocles, the last king of Paphos. Afterwards, it wouldn’t go amiss to visit the Sanctuary of Apollo, close to the Stone of Aphrodite, where according to myth, the goddess of love first came into being. It’s worth noting the antique amphitheatre of Kourion and the ancient town of Amathus, also located on the coast beyond Limassol. Then we have Larnaca, famous for its palm-tree promenade, the church of Saint Lazarus, the mosque of Hala Sultan Tekke and its sparkling Salt lake; as well as the Kamares aqueduct and medieval fort. But did you know that Larnaca was built on the ruins of ancient Kition, where the famous Stoic philosopher Zenon of Citium was born?

Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, is the most modern out of the island’s cities, combining within itself the old and the new in a very contemporary manner. The old town is surrounded by a star-formation of fortress walls erected in the 16th century. After entering, the feeling emerges of travelling forward and back in time, between the East and the West. From the times of the Venetians and through the Ottoman era, right to the memories of the colonial years, under British reign. You’re reminded of the ensemble of old buildings in the buffer zones, which look like art-installations “stuck” in time. I like to visit sites such as Hadjigeorgakis Mansion, the mosque of Ömeriye, Famagusta gate and the Leventis Municipal Museum. The developing student culture gives the city and its cultural life a refreshing air. Noisy bistros, cafes and galleries appear here and there, offering a multitude of small, narrow side streets and atriums for exploration.

The Troodos Mountains, the villages of Platres and Prodromos — these are absolute must-visits! The forests of Cyprus; an abandoned, once luxury hotel, shrouded by eerie tales; the adventure park; numerous wine factories which also manufacture the dessert wine “Kommandaria”; one of the oldest wines in the world, and the natural tropes — all these places are ideal for a family holiday, a walk with friends or a romantic meeting. Visit the tallest peak, at the height of 1952 metres, where the mountain-ski resort, featuring four slopes, opens every winter. And on the same day, you can drive along the coast and go for a swim! Yes, this is already a cliche — but it’s true! I’d advise you to speak with the locals and ask for their thoughts on where to go and what to see while you’re here; to experience the true meaning of Cypriot hospitality!

Dear readers, whether you’re dreaming of visiting this sunny island or you’re a local to Cyprus, I wish that you all embark on a fantastic adventure while you’re here — one filled with flavours, colours and smells brought to the island from all over the world. Marvellous and unforgettable moments await your whole family, as well as the opportunity to become and remain “a Cypriot”, even if you’ve already left the island.

People of Cyprus — Erica Charalambous