Dimitris Papaioannou on the nightmare of a mechanical glitch

Dimitris Papaioannou has been going to China a lot lately. There’s a production of «Medea» he will stage in the spring for the Cultural Year of Greece in China, and another two projects, one in Bejing, the other in Shanghai. The Greek artist who won plaudits from local and international press four years ago for his daring and imagination, told Kathimerini about his recent meeting with Zhang Yimou in Beijing. What was your impression of your meeting with Zhang Yimou? I first met him when he came to Athens with the Chinese committee for the eight-minute piece they did for the opening ceremony. He was gloomy, never took off his dark glasses, didn’t say a word, and only at the end gave me a collection of DVDs of his latest films. When he heard I was in Beijing, he asked to meet with me and I found a completely different person, smiling, charming and open. He confessed he was under tremendous pressure. I can understand that, because everything he does has to go through big government committees. I had Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki as an opponent and colleague. He has a cumbersome state mechanism. I can imagine that the way they want to present the new face of China must suffocate him. He introduced me to a team of very likable people, choreographers, art directors, stage designers and costume designers. At that second meeting, he was very tired but also very genial. Do you get the feeling that their opening ceremony will be larger, very different from the one in Athens? I know a few secrets because I visited the stadium. I understand that there will be an architectural element like our design and I smiled when I saw that. I’m sure that it will be very impressive in size. I don’t want to say any more because I know how important it was for us not to have leaks. Zhang was very careful during our conversation. We talked mostly about methodology. What do you mean by that? How to film, which stages to follow. I recommended our model – I had persisted in the fight to get a 3D image, which I didn’t entirely succeed in. Zhang is, of course, a very good cinematographer. The most flattering thing for me was when he started out by saying he hated me and that I was responsible for the nightmare he was going through, because if the ceremony hadn’t been so good, things would have been simpler for him. He and Spielberg, who watched all the ceremonies on DVD, had agreed that the Greek one was the best in both content and style. Four years later, what is the greatest nightmare for the director of the opening and closing ceremonies? A mechanical glitch. For us it was when Bjork didn’t rise 6 meters because the hydraulic system didn’t function and so you couldn’t see the wonderful dress Sophia Kokosalaki had made for her. It was probably the least problematic thing that could have happened to us. Now I imagine it’s a bigger nightmare for Zhang. China must have invested a great deal in making a show of strength through the opening ceremony, which is the biggest advertising spot for a country. China is a giant that is ready to conquer the world.