Dimitris Papaioannou says ‘Relax’

The time for Dimitris Papaioannou’s first show since the Athens 2004 Olympic Games is almost upon us, as the artistic director of the successful opening and closing ceremonies presents «2» at the newly renovated Palace Theater in central Athens on Friday. The performance is riveting and unrivaled by anything – Greek or foreign – we have seen recently. The choreographer opened his rehearsals to the press last week and though he said that the production was not completely ready – in terms of lighting, coordination of certain parts and pace – the essence was very much there. The signs all prove that Greek dance theater has nothing to be ashamed of on an international level. The new work is evidently Papaioannou’s best and most mature so far and it has absolutely nothing in common with the Olympic ceremonies, if anyone is wondering, other than the fact that the production has brought together the same collaborators: Angelos Mendis as artistic director and costume designer along with Maria Ilia; Lilly Pezanou as set designer, Constantinos Vita composed the music, Athina Tsangari on the videos and Alekos Yiannaros behind the lights. Papaioannou also has 22 wonderful young actors working wonders on his stage. Do you also feel that this is your best effort yet? I certainly hope it is. It is definitely the most straightforward. In what sense? Straight generally; it is cleaner. Less gay too. It’s not flouncy or soft, which normally comes naturally to me. But here, I don’t know what happened… What happened with the Games, the distance I had to take from my own work, made me look at everything I had done until then with a much more critical eye. This has helped me dispense with all superfluous emotion. I am not against evoking feeling from the audience, but a piece of work should not be sentimental. What does the title, «2,» allude to? The yearning for unity. For one to become two. It is also about reconciling our two different natures: the hard with the soft, the masculine with the feminine, the material with the spiritual, and so forth. At the same time, it is also about a game played with the dancers’ bodies, since all the action is in pairs. If it is about unity, why did you exclude the female from the performance? She has not been at all excluded from the existential angst conveyed. It’s just that when addressing the adventure of life – the main theme of «2» – we decided to do it from a male perspective. You say that men are oppressed while being dynasts at the same time. Who oppresses them? They oppress themselves. Their environment does too. A boy is oppressed into «becoming a man.» In every boy’s education, there is a moment of rupture, according to experts, with his human nature – a moment when the environment begins reminding him constantly that everything that cannot be defined as male, is female. This means that a part of his nature, what people call «sensitivity,» has to be severed so that he cannot be accused of being too female. That doesn’t happen with women. The environment may cut them off from certain social possibilities, but nothing interferes with their nature. Boys are terribly oppressed in comparison. One of the most striking scenes in the performance is that with people seated at desks who either don’t have a head at all or have a screen for a head. What is it trying to convey? It is a Kafkaesque look at the world of bureaucracy. It’s everything I experienced in the runup to the Olympic ceremonies. It’s also about the sense of panic that grabs me every time I have to deal with a public service. The public service is also a male-dominated system, of course. There is also the amusing scene in the men’s room, where the men seem to be having sex with their urinals… It’s a sex school. Men pee the same way they f***. As much as things have changed, girls don’t pay to learn about sex. They don’t go to brothels. Boys do. Boys are taught from a very young age to differentiate between making love and having sex. And therein lies the great divide between the sexes. There is another telling scene, toward the end, where it ends in war. Don’t forget that men are the fodder of war. This scene is also a conclusion on the acceptance of defeat. They can run, but they’ll keep going backward. They can climb, but they’ll keep slipping down. They will be consumed. They can’t find «the other,» can’t overcome their natures. What about the other, more light-hearted scene, with the theme of «Love Story»? The music works on the most banal emotional level. In another scene, it comes across in a constrained manner, just like love stories themselves are constrained, like in the scene where two people try get into the same outfit of clothes and fail. It’s like marriage. It’s about the difficulty of unity in general and this is apparent in many scenes, as well as in the last one. One is in the air and other on the ground, trying to find him. And when he reaches him, the door doesn’t open… But he says, «You don’t need strength, just push it.» That’s the answer to many scenes of the performance: «Stop, guys, no pushing. Take it easy.» That’s the only way to open the door. Nothing can be achieved with too much strength, too much pressure. Don’t compromise your relationship, don’t compromise your career, don’t go after profit that way. Chill out. Try and be a calm force in the midst of different moments, because moments are fleeting. I am also at a place where I’m saying: «Hold on a minute. Let’s look at it a bit differently.» I don’t know. I haven’t got an answer.

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