Vivid compositions, bursting with energy
After the great success of The Great Tamer (2017) and Since She (2018), Dimitris Papaioannou is back at the Holland Festival with his new work Transverse Orientation (2021). As with all his work, the focus is on the human body, which is not just strong and beautiful but also curious and always looking for something. Referring to major themes from art history and Greek mythology, the director addresses questions about life in a light-hearted manner. In Transverse Orientation, the new generation turns against an enormous bull that symbolises a violent, antiquated power. The bull is killed, just like the mythical hero Theseus killed the Minotaur (half man, half bull) on Crete: in hopes of a better future. Still, Papaioannou admires and has compassion for the archetypes he symbolically reckons with: ‘They set the course of history and gave humans a direction’. With a great feel for composition, timing and sense of humour, Transverse Orientation is both an ode and a farewell to his ancestors.
The focus is on the human body, which is never taken for granted in Dimitris Papaioannou’s work. Different dancers’ limbs find each other and together form a new body. The naked lower part of one dancer’s body forms a single figure together with another’s torso. A hand mimics a tongue. Dancers move like animals, like insects or like divine mythical creatures. They resemble statues and echo compositions of well-known paintings.
Papaioannou’s pieces reflect his early career as a painter. He does not refer to his work as choreographies but rather as compositions. His work in recent years includes the trilogy Primal Matter (2012), Still Life (2014), The Great Tamer (2017), and also Since She (2018), the latter two of which featured at the Holland Festival previously, as well as the video installation of Inside (2011). With vividly spot-lit figures against a dark background, the scenography resembles the chiaroscuro style of painting of Goya, Rembrandt and Caravaggio. In The Great Tamer, Rembrandt’s painting The Anatomy Lesson was easy to recognise.
For Transverse Orientation, Papaioannou chose to work with a white background for the first time since Primal Matter (2012). This offers different possibilities, like the use of colour and the composition of shadows. The new scenography refers to the work of an important example for Papaioannou, the American theatre director Robert Wilson.
For Transverse Orientation, Papaioannou put together an international cast for the first time. More than five hundred dancers from around the world auditioned. The eight dancers who made the final selection worked closely with Papaioannou and played an active part in the playful, intuitive creative process, which the director himself jokingly describes as ‘a nuthouse’ – always on the edge of ridiculousness and meaning. The New York Times aptly described the dancers in Papaioannou’s work as ‘expert puppeteers of themselves’.
While it might seem like the director painstakingly prepares everything in advance, he stresses that this is not the case: ‘My works evolve during rehearsal, they are not composed beforehand. I prepare material only in order to kick-start the process – and most of the time, I throw it out. I’ve resolved to not know what the outcome will be ahead of time, to trust in the process. In the end, if I’m lucky, the work reveals itself, and I try to understand it, to perfect it. I reserve the right to change it all at the last moment’.
Though his work always touches on serious existential questions of life, Papaioannou – who once made comics as well as paintings – above all aims at lightness within those themes. The title Transverse Orientation refers to the natural behaviour of moths, which use a distant light source to orient themselves, while also referring to a poetic quote from the Persian philosopher Rumi: ‘Judge a moth by the beauty of its candle’. According to a Sufi parable, the moth only truly gets to know the light by being consumed by it. Similarly, humans also only find enlightenment by disappearing in it. On stage, the search for a meaningful life is expressed through dancers who use ladders to climb towards a source of light. Or through a man supported by other men, moving like an insect up a wall towards the light. This results in a great many vivid scenes, which are at the same time beautiful, funny, or disturbing. Beauty is never heavy in Papaioannou’s work. He says: ‘I look at traditional beauty with irony to find its true beauty inside’. It turns out to be light and humorous.
Dimitris Papaioannou was born in Athens in 1964. He gained early recognition as a painter and comics artist, before his focus shifted to the performing arts as a director, choreographer, performer, and designer. He was a student of the iconic Greek painter Yannis Tsarouchis before studying at the Athens School of Fine Arts. He formed the Edafos Dance Theatre in 1986 as an initial vehicle for his early stage productions, which were hybrids of physical theatre, experimental dance and performance art. Medea (1993) marked the company’s transition to big theatres. The Edafos company was active for 17 years, until 2002. In 2004, Papaioannou directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2004 Athens Olympics. In 2006, he created the production 2, the first in a series of avant-garde works to tour the major theatres of Athens. In 2009, he started with a series of large-scale theatrical experiments: Nowhere (2009) for the inauguration of the renovated Greek National Theatre and Inside (2011) for the Pallas Theatre.
After a ten-year absence as a performer, he created and performed Primal Matter for the Athens Festival in 2012. It was an attempt to create theatre with minimal means and only two human bodies. This simplicity is also reflected in Still Life (2014), the second piece of a trilogy together with The Great Tamer in 2017. Since She, his first piece created for a company that was not his own, premiered with theTanztheater Wuppertal in 2018. The latter two both featured at the Holland Festival. Since She also marked the first time the company presented an entirely new creation at the Holland Festival without choreographer Pina Bausch. During the 2020 lockdown, he created Ink.
Papaioannou’s many productions range from mass spectacles with thousands of performers to more intimate pieces. They were staged at a great variety of venues, from the famous squatted theatre in Athens to the ancient theatre in Epidaurus and from Olympic stadiums to Théâtre de la Ville – Paris and Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza.
- conceived, visualised, directed by
- Dimitris Papaioannou
- Damiano Ottavio Bigi, Šuka Horn, Jan Möllmer, Breanna O’Mara, Tina Papanikolaou, Łukasz Przytarski, Christos Strinopoulos, Michalis Theophanous
- Antonio Vivaldi
- set design
- Tina Tzoka & Loukas Bakas
- sound composition, design
- Coti K.
- Aggelos Mendis
- collaborative lighting designer
- Stephanos Droussiotis
- music supervisor
- Stephanos Droussiotis
- sculptures, special constructions, props
- Nectarios Dionysatos
- mechanical inventions
- Dimitris Korres
- creative - executive producer, assistant director
- Tina Papanikolaou
- assistant direction, rehearsal direction
- Pavlina Andriopoulou, Drossos Skotis
- assistant to the set designers
- Tzela Christopoulou
- assistant to the sound composer
- Martha Kapazoglou
- assistant to the costume designer
- Aella Tsilikopoulou
- special constructions and props assistant
- Eva Tsambasi
- photography, cinematography
- Julian Mommert
- technical director
- Manolis Vitsaxakis
- assistant to the technical director
- Marios Karaolis
- stage manager, sound engineer, props constructions
- David Blouin
- props master
- Tzela Christopoulou
- lighting programmer
- Stephanos Droussiotis
- costumes construction
- Litsa Moumouri, Efi Karantasiou, Islam Kazi
- stage technicians
- Kostas Kakoulidis, Evgenios Anastopoulos, Panos Koutsoumanis
- lighting constructions
- Miltos Athanasiou
- silicone baby made by
- Joanna Bobrzynska-Gomes
- props team
- Natalia Fragkathoula, Marilena Kalaitzantonaki, Timothy Laskaratos, Anastasis Meletis, Antonis Vassilakis
- executive production
- 2WORKS in samenwerking met POLYPLANITY Productions
- executive production associate
- Vicky Strataki
- executive production assistant
- Kali Kavvatha
- props production manager
- Pavlina Andriopoulou
- international relations, communications manager
- Julian Mommert
- ONASSIS STEGI
- Festival d'Avignon, Biennale de la danse de Lyon 2021, Dance Umbrella / Sadler's Wells Theatre, Fondazione Campania dei Festival - Napoli Teatro Festival Italia, Grec Festival de Barcelona, Holland Festival – Amsterdam, Luminato (Toronto) / TO Live, New Vision Arts Festival - Hong Kong, Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen, Saitama Arts Theatre / ROHM Theatre Kyoto, Stanford Live / Stanford University, Teatro Municipal do Porto, Théâtre de la Ville - Paris / Théatre du Châtelet, UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance
- with the support of
- Festival Aperto (Reggio Emilia), Festival de Otoño de la Comunidad de Madrid, HELLERAU – European Centre for the Arts, National Arts Centre - Ottawa, New Baltic Dance Festival, ONE DANCE WEEK Festival, P.P. Culture Enterprises Ltd, TANEC PRAHA International Dance Festival, Teatro della Pergola – Firenze, Torinodanza Festival / Teatro Stabile di Torino – Teatro Nazionale
- funded by the
- Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports
Het werk van Dimitris Papaioannou wordt gesteund door MEGARON – THE ATHENS CONCERT HALL