Because hope defeats death!..
Because hope defeats death!..
photos by Julian Mommert
Whenever I write an article about a play or a film (“classic of a genre” is in need of indication, for pinpointing facts and for history too), I note that at a particular time, or in the particular place, the premiere of this particular new play /film will be held. But now, due to an independent from me reason, an objective one (but also to "reveal" the fact and for history), I have to say that: at the end of November 2019, at the concert hall “Megaron” in Athens, an Athenian/Greek director Dimitris Papaioannou had the last performance of his play “The Great Tamer.” The life of a celebrated and already unforgettable "tamer" (who has had full house tour around the world for two and a half years) has come to an end in the hometown of the author of the idea and conception, of the scenographer and of the play itself (Day of the Premiere - May 24, 2017, Main Stage, Onassis Cultural Centre - Athens).
No one is surprised by the existence of gods in Greece. They and their footprints can be found at every step and everywhere: in museums, stadiums, theaters, Agora gardens, sculptures, facades and interiors, archaeological excavations, clay pots - in the subways, as well as in the streets. Tourists often arrive to see them there.
Moreover, the Greeks themselves are not surprised by anything at all. Real Kouroses and Korais walk everywhere in the city, looking much alike their distant ancestors, and that's an ordinary thing. And what is surprising, when Athenians look at the Acropolis every day or reside next to the temples constructed in different orders (even half-ruined ones). It is their life, an integral part and their daily life, and a continuous organic stream of inspiration.
There exist modern and incarnated God(s). I heard about one of them in 2004. I found the author of the fabulous ceremony of the opening of the Athens Olympic Games, and since then, this not-so-easy surname to pronounce, has become one of the benchmarks of 21st century culture. Since then, Dimitris Papaioannou has gained worldwide fame and glory and has entered the list of the greatest directors of modern times.
The gods exist and it seems possible to meet them. There merely must be people out there who will support to do the miracle. Such turned out to be Julian Mommert, Dimitris Papaioannou's tour manager and his right-hand, who invited us to a farewell performance of "The Great Tamer”.
Dramatic-choreographic-plastic-acrobatic (this list or definition is conditional) is heard and seen in "The Great Tamer"- a call-out of eras and clashes or connections of cultures, with the reflection of stages of human life and with human history in art, created not, say, by a universally accepted "course" but according to the director's individual memory, original choice and selection. The dialogues show and sound a peculiar and unique reflection of events and processes, led by Dimitris Papaioannou with 10 actors: Paulina Andriopoulou, Kostas Chrysafidis, Ektoras Liatsos, Ioannis Michos, Evangelia Randou, Ioanna Paraskevopoulou, Drossos Skotis, Christos Strinopoulos, Yorgos Tsiantoulas, Alex Vangelis, two of which - two protagonists – lead the main line, the axis of the play or life on which the world revolves.
In the performance of Dimitris Papaioannou everything is emptied of the burden of flesh and complete freedom reigns. Reality and fiction are messed up, more precisely are without boundaries. Accepted are the "ordinariness" of miracles, dreams, visions. There is revived and created an orderly system - a history of society, fragments of the epochs depicted in culture, samples of human discoveries and spiritual or material heritage, quotations and non-banal quotations of classical figures. Used are- the context of steps, motions, intensely saturated action, and multifaceted, multi-layered gestures as well as boundless, utterly frameless imagination, measured in milliseconds and millimeters. The light-hearted irony and humor go over the dramatic nature of the events from time to time, one theatrical means is replaced by another, the visual expression and plastic frame is identical to the interior and the heavily coded subtext. The synthesis of these categories represent the basis of the narrative style and the directing/choreographic means.
The world of "The Great Tamer" is placed among three elements. The earth – is made up of shaky, uneven, chaotically thrown thin boards; heaven, lunar surface, or chasm (Hell? Paradise?) in which humans periodically fall and from where they emerge - is united and is inseparable like the cosmos.
A state of weightlessness and its illusion, an experience of ephemerality of life, a cling to the ground, with bodies deeply rooted in its bosom, bodies all plaster-covered, a birth of a human being-life, the secret of birth (of Adam, Christ or some particular character) for whom complicated and controversial life is waiting ahead, appears in the distance from the open / broken space of the earth /centuries.
The birth is followed by the process of the first touch with the world and the first timid steps, the process of becoming involved in the ritual of life. The walk of people who are rooted or uprooted from the ground (planks), even somersaulted, on their hands or with their hands and feet on each other, or walking on the globe like a rope walker - from birth to death and again back to birth.
A luminous sun disc on top of a naked goddess, or transparent water / fluid balloons on a men's bare chest, transparent and viscous spheres that can roll like tears - like glittering sun-dripping tears on the cheeks.
The sun here is faintly shining on the environment if it shines at all. It won't be otherwise. Strange sources of light move events from dark to bright, and vice versa. The whole black-and-white world is rarely purple, or golden, or merges with blue of the globe. The moving shadows of the moving figures and the abysses that people plunge as time wins, until everything begins again.
“The Great Tamer" is complemented by the “cuts” of the masterpieces of world culture and the beauty and harmony of Greek classical sculptures, such as Titans’ fight and the gigantomachy; il Andrea Mantegna’s “Cristo morto”, Rembrandt's "Anatomical Theater" and Lucas Cranach 's "Venus" or Eve from "Adam and Eve," a young prince from the palace of Knossos or a goddess from the composition of the sacred procession of the same palace; antique gods, semi-gods, goddesses and myth heroes, Gods’ orgy; a ball of the bodies of a woman and man as a sign of the cycle of unity of life; an all-encompassing course of the fertility deity or Harpies; arrows thrown to stab humans, turn into ears of corn which grow as arable land on the hillside, and is then harvested; the skull of Adam or poor Yorick- as a metaphor for the temporary nature of human existence, the last illuminated endpoint on stage within the human’s gaze.
Many things have changed, unlike the original, some icons only vaguely or associatively resemble the original. Familiar faces and archetypes lose their original forms or relevance. They are gaining new meaning. They are being engaged in a new game. They are creating a new system. The new expression and re-acquired function of the old and the familiar put everything into an unexpected and unconventional context. Everyone is being reincarnated.
Actors in free, dynamic or dotted movements, with acrobatic skills and refined stylistic ballet manners are rearranged in rapid, then they merge, are spread, “smash,” roll up into a ball and rise in heaven. These magical rituals cannot be fulfilled in any other way than a high class of body mastering and complete inner freedom.
Their seemingly swaying figures, with light and weightless steps, are sometimes accompanied by waltz airy melody on the ground or in the air, and release them (us) from captivity of memory, body-manacling case or presence or absence.
White clothes are fluttering, covering and stripping naked bodies like a defense armor or a shroud, like a newborn's purity, an edge of death and life and an attachment to one’s own prison.
The beauty of perfect, athletic bodies, like the classic Greek sculptures (just alive or revived, but not curved in marble or bronze), whose plasticity and grace are dominant and free from eroticism, sex, concrete and earthy, real, traditional dimensions.
Fragile and brittle objects or plaster-bound bodies are smashed as well as armors embracing tightly the bodies. The bodies collapse, part by part, and then each part moves independently. These fragmented parts - limbs, torsos, intimate places, and different or whole figures (real or composite) form “collages” and entire compositions. They disperse, merge, one body moves to another, a part of one becomes a limb of another. One - the basis, the foundation of another, one whole body, one being, one monument.
The sounds of smashing and acting are heard from all sides. Only these sounds. Sometimes alive and sometimes exaggerated, sound-tracked and enhanced. They break the silence from time to time. The deathly silence where the voice of man is never heard and from nowhere is heard. It is this silence that creates, first of all, the effect of the infinite dimension of space, and then - the fear-inspiring feeling of eternal serenity. It is these sounds that break the silence, and also frequently repeated Strauss's "Blue Danube," albeit just several and the same chords (adaptation by Stephanos Droussiotis), which is heard strangely in this expanded and secluded space. The music is indeed something you haven't heard. Neither have you seen people moving in this way. Only those have seen, who had a chance to watch Dimitri Papaioanoou's other performances. Here is abstract and mystical nature that offer "prodigal sons" not spring and flowers but rain, cold weather, river, sea waves and wind blowing. Here are the gods and deities who speak the language of water, fire, rain, river and sea, land and wind, bringing their scent, not that of sun and flowers, not light and warmth.
The great innovator, Dimitris Papaioannou, is in charge of everybody and everything. He creates as once Adam was created or Christ was born from the entrails of the earth, the cosmos, or the kingdom of the gods in the cosmos, he manages and empowers people on stage or in the hall and perhaps elsewhere; he manages the past, present, events, facts, objects, and subordinates time that passes by as quickly as the period bounded by the performance frame. And it is as eternal as civilization on earth. Time is such today, the time of metamorphoses of myths, conversion and expectation that marks the beginning of a new cycle of eternal life.
“The Great Tamer" ends and you don't want it to end, because the ending in this case, means a double separation. The melancholy of separation destroys the magic with which the heroes must conquer gods. Here God is the winner, and heroes who are born or become heroes, then gleefully, without force or persistence, assert you that neither life nor death means anything like a sheet of paper infused with the blowing of the air. It is nothing, because hope defeats death.
If today, after so many hundred years and so many centuries, we can talk about the revival of ancient Greek art (and why not to talk), then Dimitri Papaioannou’s theater is a theater of revival of new era whose scale is wider and larger in scope than that of conventional directing and troupe, since the basis is genetic supplies and memory, which is filled and enriched by the experience of the world culture and history.
In spite of the impossibility of stopping course of time and procession, later, when the circle is (for a number of times) closed and seemingly everything is really over, you suddenly feel happy along with being heartbroken because you have been beyond the boundaries where and in which you have rarely appeared in life and in art space since the feeling of happiness and freedom and hope is the greatest gift that human beings can present you, I beg your pardon, not humans but god(s).