'Zorba's Dance', Greece's trademark theme music

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Members of Melbourne's Greek community join in during a giant traditional Greek Zorba dance. (AFP/William West)
Members of Melbourne's Greek community join in during a giant traditional Greek Zorba dance. (AFP/William West)
  • Mikis Theodorakis penned the theme tune for the 1964 film Zorba the Greek. 
  • Credited for over 1000 works, Theodorakis recently died, aged 96, in his central Athens home. 
  • The theme was a phenomenal success and contributed to the popularity of the bouzouki around the world. 


Probably the best-known piece of Greek music in the world, the theme tune for the 1964 film "Zorba the Greek" was penned by celebrated composer Mikis Theodorakis, who has died aged 96.

An instrumental, it is played and danced to around the world even today, coming to symbolise Greece almost to the point of cliche and contributing to the popularity of Greek culture.

Commonly referred to as "Zorba's Dance", it is the signature tune of the film in which an uptight English writer travelling in Crete finds his life changed forever when he meets the gregarious Alexis Zorba.

In the famous final scene, Anthony Quinn, as Zorba, dances on the beach the "sirtaki", also referred to as "Zorba's Dance", to the strains of the traditional guitar-like bouzouki.

The dance was choreographed specially for the film and is a combination of slow and fast rhythms and of two styles of Greek folk dance, the hasapiko and the zeibekiko.

It is usually done in a line, dancers placing their hands on the shoulders of the person alongside them.

The composer said filmmaker Michael Cacoyannis had asked for an increasingly fast pace in the music ending the film, which is based on the 1946 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis.

"Cacoyannis came one day to say to me: tomorrow we will shoot the final scene. For it I need a slow dance, a hasapiko, which will become faster and faster," Theodorakis recounted on a website about himself and his work.

The theme was a phenomenal success and contributed to the popularity of the bouzouki around the world and to a growing interest in Greek music and its slow and sad "rebetiko" style.

Like another emblematic title -- Manos Hadjidakis's 1960 "The Children of Piraeus" which later became known as "Never on Sunday" -- it accompanied the surge in tourism to Greece as it opened up after the 1967-1974 military dictatorship, called the Regime of the Colonels.

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