June marked the opening of the Athens & Epidaurus Festival, a yearly cultural event spread over three months, presenting a diverse programme of theatre, music, dance and visual arts events. With performances in various locations, within the Capital and in the ancient theatre of Evidaurus, the Festival aims to become a bridge between Greek culture and the international artistic scene. Considering the dire social and economic straights Greece is currently going through, its success – or even its continuous existence – are all the more important.
This year, the programme included Primal Matter, a piece for two male performers, conceived and directed by Dimitris Papaioannou. It was returning to Athens, back to where it had started exactly one year ago. On the way, it was performed in New York and Edinburgh, was re-studied and evolved from an intimate dialogue between two bodies to the personification of a crippled nation, struggling through a long and painful healing process.
An Athenian born an bred, Dimitris Papaioannou has always been focused on fine arts. His early influences include his teachers, Yannis Tsarouchis (1910 – 1989) and Dimitris Mytaras (1934), both renowned painters and prominent figures in the visual arts scene. Sure enough, Papaioannou started his career as a visual artist, illustrator and comic book creator before going on to become the single most important director-choreographer in contemporary Greece. He became known to the wider public when he was appointed artistic director for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and went on to deliver the most elegant opening ceremony in modern Olympics. I was also there; our paths crossed a few times in the corridors but, as always in my encounters with those rare people that matter, quite embarrassingly I was at a loss for words.
I had been following his work long before the Olympics extravaganza, albeit from a distance having left Greece almost at the same time as he formed ”Edafos Dance Theatre” (1986-2002) with Angeliki Stellatou. Together they produced some wonderful atmospheric pieces, among which Medea, created in 1993 but performed in intervals until 2000. It was a breathtaking performance and, for an amateur dancer like me (those where the days!), an eye-opener; simply an unforgettable experience even though I had to watch it on TV!
In his post-Olympics life, Papaioannou went on to work on smaller scale projects leading to his latest creation, ‘Primal Matter’, his most minimalistic in material but intensive in essence, work so far. More importantly, he returned en plaine forme, on the front scene as a performer, after a 10-year long break dedicated to choreography.
The artist wrote in his note: ”In the course of my research, the arts I love and their history emerged. Among the association of ideas for Primal Matter, apart from the metopes and classical reliefs, my eye caught Bacon, Tsarouchis, Malevich, Dalí, Mantegna, Jacques Tati, Xavier Le Roy and Tex Avery among the many guests. I was very glad to see them”.
I thought I also saw Robert Wilson somewhere; this piece was an ode to minimalism with maximal effect, a value that characterizes Wilson’s entire body of work. At is happened, it became also an ode to perseverance and endurance, the two dancers performing under ‘greenhouse’ conditions, in the burning fiery furnace that was Athens in June… At least one of them didn’t have to bathe in sweat, in a black suit and ankle boots throughout the performance!
Athens, 21 June 2013
Dimitris Papaioannou & Michael Theophanous
Peiraios 260, Hall (A)