Dio Kangelari – specially commissioned text for the "2" DVD booklet
"Now that I have found you I can stop looking for myself"
Sarah Kane – Crave
With 2, Dimitris Papaioannou sheds light on the other, dark side of the moon. Male figures transform empty space into an inhabited landscape: the stage is bathed in a boyish-blue light and a lone man gradually makes his way into a male universe. Luggage and then men pass by on a conveyor belt and disappear from view. Moving in opposite directions, two strangers fleetingly cross paths in their attempts to light a cigarette. Male bodies, little islands of humanity, tumble down the inclined stage floor. Two empty jackets, hung at opposite ends of the stage, signify the different rules that govern intimate relations and collective loneliness – the first is worn by a stream of lovers, while the second overwhelms the scrupulously selected “other.”
A series of unexpected events unfold in a narrative form reminiscent of comic books. The kinetic vocabulary of daily life intermingles with choreography, while the electronica of K.BHTA, interspersed with well-known themes, takes its lead from the beats of a heart. The absurd sporadically ruptures the rational. A gentleman paces about without a head, a man shoots the woman’s high-heeled shoe he wears, and an Adam complete with fig leaf savours the apple and forbidden knowledge. An oneiric atmosphere playfully conspires with circus tricks, fetishistic objects, and images drawn from mass culture. Shifting levels and video projections maximise the possibilities of the set. Real live faces appear in television sets, a lamé-wrapped second-rate pop singer performs his coarse latest hit with zeal, and an enormous Barbie doll is the stuff of male fantasy.
We are shown men in the company of men, tender and profane, in their public and private guises, in sportswear and smart suits, carrying rucksacks and mobile phones, indulging in the forbidden and the transgressive, in homes and in cubicled office spaces, in the army and on the street, in public toilets and gyms and saunas. Boys and young men, straight and gay, dropouts and yuppies, the empowered and the powerless are all brought to the stage by 22 dancers and actors.
With the Olympic Ceremonies of 2004, Papaioannou executed a commission of national proportions and import; with 2, he picks up the thread of his personal artistic expression once more. And he has taken a bold approach to his first date with the general public (who learned of him through his Olympic triumph), refusing to pander to their deep-seated expectations and instead tenderly undermining accepted wisdom. The serenity of the Ceremonies has given way to darker elements, to male figures playing football, fighting, masturbating and testing the limits of pleasure and the “wicked” as they come of age to the mechanised rhythms of the post-modern condition.
But why does this cool blue world elicit such red-hot emotions? I think it is mainly because these men come to constitute an “abstraction” – once detached from the pack, they denote humanity as a whole. Bisected beings search among the swarming masses for their other halves, seeking the severed segments of their very selves – to “make one of two” in the words of Plato’s Symposium. They strive for the time when two people were joined in a single body with one head, two faces, four legs and as many arms, and when there were three sexes – the male (of the sun), the female (of the earth), and the “androgynous” sex (of the moon); creatures like those monstrous forms created by the bodies of two dancers (first seen in the work of conceptualist choreographers), or the duo who suddenly come together and try to fit into the same set of clothes. Erratic entities, with time hot on their heels, lasciviously thrust against an empty camp bed, seeking in love an assurance that life goes on: “to hang on in our flight.”* In the conceptual terms of Jacques Lacan, you search among myriad bodies for the one who will mirror “the image of your desire.”
Fragmentary references to Edafos Dance Theatre productions are resonantly woven into 2: archetypal images drawn from The Songs, A Moment’s Silence, and Human Thirst are coupled here with the more caustic elements of For Ever (the company’s last work), which reconciled the suggestion of Robert Wilsonesque magic with a mordancy of Almodóvaran proportions. One cycle closes, another opens – and in this regard, the number of the title could also signify the start of a second period. And when one realises that this precious combination of towering technique, hands-on work and an interest in a human scale can be traced throughout the journey from the fine arts squat that was the Artists’ Building (on the very edge of the system) to major stages, and from the Olympic Stadium to the huge Pallas Theatre, one is also doubly moved.
With 2, Dimitris Papaionnou hand-paints a poetic pop ballad that tells of the bitter Arcadian paradigms of our cities and times.
* From the poem Flight by George Seferis
Dio Kangelari is a theatre critic, theatre studies specialist and lecturer at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
Kostas Georgoussopoulos – "Ta Nea" newspaper, 23 March 2007
Ace Deuce: A Piercing Parody
...I needed this long introduction to help me express my inexpressible enthusiasm for the ingenious work by Dimitris Papaioannou entitled 2. I was in no rush to see the production. I wanted to enjoy the embarrassment of everyone, without exception; to watch people compromise themselves, to be caught unawares, to exorcise this “evil.” And there was indeed much to amuse me, but my sport was mingled with a despair brought on by both sides of the critical reception: both by those who reviewed this exquisite construction of good taste as a gay spectacle, and by those who defended it as such. The discussions reminded me of those inane theories that consider whether da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a man or a woman, or what her smile could mean. It makes you want to scream: this is painting, old chum! This is art, my dear fellow! And, unless you are the imbecilic gendarme of Charles Lalo who shoots an actor playing the part of a burglar, you have an obligation above all else to consider a work of art as a construction, because this is the meaning of art: it is the correspondence, connection and combination of often contradictory, perhaps even unrelated elements in a new inflection. Stéphane Mallarmé once wrote, “It is not with ideas that one makes poems, it is with words.” In this vein, the spectacle assembled by Papaioannou has no ideology other than movement, rhythm and the image. It is not so much what he says, but how he says it...
Papaioannou...has created a comic-book landscape using the cinematic technique fondu enchaîné or cross-fading (where one image springs from another only to be subsumed by the next), linking male loneliness, the lack of intimacy, unconsummated or thwarted encounters in the unending flow, the hubbub of the market-place, sports grounds, the workplaces of multinational companies, gyms, days out, celebrations, war, Sunday blues, sleepless amour-less nights, and the eternal rest in a chain that is infinite, or approaches the infinite. Papaioannou and his technically formidable dance group of great verve exposed the masculine aspects of femininity, and the feminine facets of masculinity...deciphering feelings of guilt, inhibitions, failures, fears, risks, desperate acts, subterfuges, transformations, transvestism, hideaways, plunges through the void, lapses of the ego, and dives into dreamscapes. And his work is Greek!
...These puppets that run, leap, tumble, grow restless, feel awkward, brawl, masturbate, and copulate with their mattresses, that crave a glance, a handshake, a caress but are left so unsatisfied by fate, by love, even by pity, are people next door as seen through the television screen: lottery players, bathhouse staff, tourists, flunkies and fervent intellectuals. In the impressive Pallas Theatre, Papaioannou unfurled a contemporary flesh-and-blood frieze, an animated art gallery in which Greeks of today called forth pity and fear, and passed through pity and fear to arrive, pitifully and fearfully, at some dry cleaner’s, only to find that catharsis has been forever locked away in the eternal glory of ancient Greek tragedy.
Papaioannou’s piercing parody, or rather his parody of tragedy, is a most candid mirror held up to our phallocentric society that yearns for tenderness but, lacking the necessary courage, instead blows hot air into tawdry balloons.
Kostas Georgoussopoulos is a theatre critic, translator of theatrical texts, poet, essayist, and professor emeritus of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.
Nikos Legakis – "Athens Voice" free press, 23 November 2006
What Boys Do When Alone
...Like some secret ceremony, the unrelenting succession of re-enactments repeatedly conquers the gaze, which cannot resist the aesthetic power of the show. Yes, the images are beautiful. The unrestrained action is nevertheless solidly founded upon the music of K.BHTA; its presence is felt even during its absence, and it helps create an atmosphere that borders on the cinematic...
The hotly-anticipated 2 ventures into the fringes of the self, where most men have found themselves on occasion, or for longer periods of time; it lends support to our efforts and behaviour, and elaborates our merits and weaknesses from the perspective of its image-loving creator. As regards the quality of the final product, the production as a whole is characterised by the strong cohesion of its ensemble, be they members of the production team or the performers themselves, which is to be expected when one considers its long period of development. Dimitris Papaioannou uses ingredients he clearly knows well to orchestrate emotions and artistry in a rather representational fashion, drawing upon a broad selection of visual art forms and periods, and presenting a narrative that is open to various interpretations according to the scenes one engages with, or the emotional baggage one bears. The path to being moved is clearly laid out before you. The question is simply who allows themselves to be moved, and how.
What do boys do when alone? They likely dream.
Sophia Phoca – "Contemporary" magazine, July 2007
The physical theatre performance 2 by Dimitris Papaioannou is a solipsistic vision of male sexuality, desire and a hopeless search for “the other.” An airport conveyor belt dominates the scene where a lonely figure, who appears to have walked off a DV8 set in the 1980s, is confronted by an all-male world of airports, offices, gyms, saunas and screen spaces. Women are reduced to signs with no referents – a giant Barbie or hybrid, cross-dressed boys.
2 is staged in cinematic time and space. The set is that of screen space – video games, sport, TV or spectacles of mass destruction, be it war or terrorism. And the 90-minute duration of the performance adheres to the canons of a mainstream film, as if on tape. Accompanied by an unrelenting soundtrack composed by K.BHTA, who draws on a pastiche of electronic lounge music, the Love Story theme tune and the popular Greek music of Skyladika, the dancers move erratically, but with a compelling elegance, either gliding in slow motion or accelerated by a conveyor belt. These simulated screen spaces are populated by androids with TV monitors for heads, or cyborgs with electronic voices speaking in multiple languages. We are in Marc Augé’s dysfunctional world of “non-places” – super-modern global cities where organic interaction has been replaced by the consumer worlds of shopping malls and TV/Internet monitors.
Coupling dominates the choreography as most of the action is performed in duets: a pair of dancers attempt to morph into one, struggle to fit into a single set of clothes, become organically conjoined, or mirror one another. Yet the effort of two to become one is ultimately futile. Sex is a solo affair in toilets. Occasionally, melodrama breaks through as the yearning for unity sees two boys fleetingly meet in an attempt to light the other’s cigarette before they separate again on the conveyor belt. This scene is reminiscent of Jean Genet’s iconic film Un Chant d’amour (1950), where prisoners escape the confines of their captivity by blowing smoke into each other’s mouth through a hole in the wall. But, unlike the hopeless romance of Genet, in Papaioannou’s world there is just sex under a naked light bulb and the tristesse of a post-coital cigarette. After, a voice, reminiscent of satellite navigation technology, is revealed to be that of a lover on a mobile phone, attempting to direct “the other” to his house, which of course does not happen.
The effect of this alienated vision is inspiring, and captures the zeitgeist of today. It is uncannily resonant of Zygmunt Bauman’s deeply pessimistic thesis, Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds (2003). Bauman describes the conflicting desires of contemporary relationships, where, on the one hand, we attempt to tighten our bonds, while on the other keeping them loose. He sees this as a consequence of consumer culture, where we desire love but must remain open to more seduction. Papaioannou’s dysfunctional world is not the clichéd view of the narcissistic homosexual, alienated from mainstream society. As Liquid Love suggests, it is the ubiquitous condition of contemporary love, the desire for, but impossibility of achieving, closeness.
Widely acclaimed for having directed and choreographed the Olympic Ceremonies in Athens, Papaioannou now inhabits an unusual place, where “queer” seems to have effortlessly shifted into the mainstream. Performances at the recently renovated art deco Pallas cinema have been sold out ever since the opening in November, where edgy Athenians rub shoulders with the bourgeois blue-rinse brigade.
During the show I recalled the first performance (The Songs, 1991) I saw by the Edafos Dance Theatre troupe, co-founded by Papaioannou in 1986. I went with a mutual friend, the filmmaker Alexis Bistikas, whose last short film, “The Clearing” (1993), is of a blind Derek Jarman crossing Hampstead Heath. I thought of Papaioannou’s enduring image of the melancholic, Magritte-like figures sliding down the Byzantine-blue backdrop (after Jarman’s Blue, 1993), and wondered if, ultimately, this elegiac performance of loss stands as a final tribute to Jarman, to Bistikas, who died so young, and all those who lost their lives to love through AIDS.
Sophia Phoca is a writer, critic, and lecturer at University College for the Creative Arts, England.