Artist of the Week Elpiniki Tsapatsaris ’24 Finds Freedom Fun

Last semester, I interviewed my first dancer and dear friend, Gabrielle Nash ’26. Despite being captivated by her incredible moves and even better attitude, I noticed a name kept on appearing in our audio transcript: Elpiniki Tsapatsaris ’24. 

Ellie is an integral part of Rhythm N’ Motion, a Tri-Co dance company surrounding all forms of African diasporic dance, including jazz, hip hop, salsa, and African. So, I expected our interview to mainly surround her experience in RnM. But to my surprise, Ellie revealed her background was primarily in ballet… and film?

Needless to say, my interest was more than piqued. After watching her short film, “Call Time,” which depicts the hustle and bustle of a 1920s dance troupe preparing for a performance, I was curious when Ellie’s interest in dance and film combined. 

“When I was growing up, I had no time to do anything but dance. Until I was in high school, I never did any kind of theater, but I always really loved it. I always was very interested in it because I thought it was goofy and freeing in a way that ballet isn’t. I want my actors to be silly and have fun with acting. You don’t need to look perfect. I want the characters to shine through more than the technique,” she shared. 

In “Call Time,” Ellie explained that she zoomed in on dancers’ faces to emphasize the audience’s feelings for dancing alongside the troupe. Since dance is not often presented from a viewer’s perspective nor are there many chances for audience participation, Ellie wanted to use film to blur the lines of what performance implies. 

“At Swarthmore, dance provides a space to do what feels good to you and to choose a path that you are passionate about. The ballet classes are about community and expression. People are coming from all these different types of training, but it doesn’t matter here. We all do our own thing. As long as we’re being expressive, they don’t really care. For my film, I wanted to highlight my dancer’s individuality,” Ellie said.

Ellie added that throughout the process, she would consult her dancers, asking them where they want their next moves to be: “I build on the direction that their body wants to go or the level that it wants to go at. So then it feels more natural

Listening to Ellie describe her approach to choreography and filmmaking fascinated me. My grandma, like many grandmas, wanted me to learn ballet as a kid. I remember being horribly uncoordinated, being uncomfortable in the light pink tutu, and feeling so out of place compared to my classmates with gelled buns. 

Ellie identified with my experience, emphasizing how much more collaborative the dance atmosphere at Swarthmore is. 

“I’m sure you’ve heard of [Senior Lecturer Chandra Moss-Thorne]. She’s great. She lets you be an individual in a way that feels good to you. In particular, hip hop is so different because it’s very much about your core and less about your body type than ballet. So RnM definitely helped me not care as much about technique, in a good way, coming from a dance space that was often rigid. Hip hop kind of helped me bring that attitude into ballet. I’m 22, and my body’s not getting any more flexible than it is right now. I’m not trying to be better than anyone else. I’m doing this for fun.”

Interestingly, as Ellie described her film experience, I noticed a similar appreciation for the creative flexibility the form allows. She often creates movies based on dreams, or from imagined chords, that gives her actors improvisational freedom. 

“A lot of my ideas come to me in dreams. For [my film] ‘Transference’ I was literally just napping and then I woke up with the image of found footage. I got a lot of inspiration from music, whether that’s in dance or in film, or just sound in general. I heard the chords in my head. For  example, maybe I want something that sounds discordant and from there I’ll pair a visual with the soundscape.”

I was curious about “Transference” and why Ellie wanted to give her actors so much freedom. She revealed that she focused on character building, answering personal questions about how the characters would behave in specific situations. The experience was tailored to the actor’s needs, minus a written monologue that Ellie intended to sound stilted. The film is about an unreliable narrator, so she wanted the dialogue to be fluid, and the monologue to be as artificial as possible. 

“Call Time” feels like a combination of “Transference” and Ellie’s passion for dance. By letting her dancers move in the directions they crave, she gives a necessary amount of improvisation to let the audience also participate in the rehearsal. The film will premiere on May 3 and 4 at the dance concert. 

Talking to Ellie, I was again reminded why I love writing the Artist of the Week. As an artist at Swarthmore myself, what inspires me is the ability to change paths continuously and still feel I have the agency to do so. At the end of the day, we’re artists because we love what we do. So, if I can leave my readers on one final note: dance outside the lines and allow yourself the freedom to have fun. 

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