Review: Dimitris Papaioannou – Primal Matter - Old Truman Brewery - part of Dance Umbrella

Performance: 12 - 14 October 2016
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Friday 14 October 2016

Dimitris Papaioannou's 'Primal Matter'.  Photo: Nikos Nikolopoulos

Performance reviewed: 12 October

Watching this 80-minute piece by the Greek choreographer and performance artist Dimitris Papaioannou is a bit like spying on Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory and finding it has been taken over by Jacques Tati. Primal Matter is often playful, sometimes poignant, occasionally disturbing; it tackles big questions with a light touch, mixing images of dismemberment, death and crucifixion with pratfalls, visual jokes and stage trickery. It also involves one performer being completely naked for the entire show – and on a cold, rainy night, in a draughty warehouse space in east London, that’s quite a commitment to artistic endeavour.

Papaioannou (fully clothed, in head-to-toe black) and Michalis Theophanous (nude) perform this 2012 piece alone and with minimal staging. They control the lighting, which is mostly glaring strip lights, exposing everything remorselessly. A rough and ready stage of joined tables is arrayed along a back wall; sometimes the pair go underneath it, or venture on to the concrete expanse between the stage and us. As they initially tussle over, in front of and around a piece of bare board, it seems as if this is a confrontation between two aspects of humanity (or maybe between the 1 per cent and the 99 per cent). Papaioannou, best known internationally for choreographing the Athens Olympics opening ceremony, has emphasised how Greece’s social and economic woes have bled into his work. However, as Primal Matter progresses that relationship looks increasingly deep and complex.

Papaioannou is a creator, moulding Theophanous’s body into classical Greek statuary, sanding it, posing it and “removing” limbs. He is a carer/father-figure, giving him treats when he “poops” (an unexpected use of beanbags), washing and drying him. But then he can be Theophanous’s tormentor, or his “shadow”, sprawled on the ground, with Theophanous standing on his feet, or pinioned under the board as Theophanous stands on top. Finally, they merge, as Theophanous’s lower legs are “replaced” by Papaioannou’s in a sequence that is both touchingly tender and alarmingly reminiscent of film director Alejandro Jodorowsky and body horror movies.

These shifting dynamics are intriguing, and the fact the pair work together with the tightness of the best comedy duos means even when there are occasional longueurs, you’re soon pulled back in to what they are up to. Papaioannou also turns the tables on us: he opens the roller door at one end of the space to reveal all of us to the people outside… who see what they must presume are a bunch of weirdos sitting staring at a naked man on stage. The exposure turns out to be universal in Primal Matter.

Continues at the Old Truman Brewery until Friday 14 October

Siobhan Murphy is a freelance writer and editor, who also contributes to Dancetabs and Time Out. Find her on Twitter @blacktigerlily

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