For three decades, award-winning artist Dimitris Papaioannou has been entertaining audiences around the world.
Painter, performer, comic book creator and choreographer, Dimitris is best known for directing the 2004 Athens Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.
Now, for the first time, he is coming to Australia to present his work ‘Still Life’ at Sydney Festival in 2017. Inspired by Surrealism, ‘Still Life’ is based on the Greek myth of Sisyphus – a sinner condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill before watching it roll back down again.
“There are a lot of human issues that have been captured by the ancient Greek mentality to create mythology like narcissism and the Oedipus complex. Humanity can see those myths as initial attempts to encapsulate in a story basic human issues. The Sisyphus myth is one of the fundamental ones. What is it to involve in behaviour that is repetitive and with no task? This is something that humans can identify with... So it is loosely inspired from that.”
Image © Dimitris Theodoropoulos
‘Still Life’ is exquisitely powerful in its perceived simplicity. In the second major scene, a woman in a white dress stands behind a pane of Plexiglas that is being vibrated by a man standing behind her.
The wind from the vibrations creates a storm in her dress and hair, and the scene is lit in such a way that it appears that lightning strikes are passing through her image.
“I have tried so hard over the years to understand simplicity, to discover combinations of elements and to create a theatre that can be highly effective with very simple means. This simple way to create a storm in a human figure is one of my favourite transformations of materials on stage.”
From the thunder sound created by the vibrating Plexiglas, to the crunching sound of cracking plaster, the soundtrack of ‘Still Life’ is created solely by the actions of its seven performers.
“Any show that uses the human body and the human psyche to communicate without the human voice has to be physically challenging, and of course there is a lot of physical energy involved in the show in order to create this kaleidoscope of images of human situations that tell the story. We amplify our actions and this is what you hear. Like an opera is challenging for the vocal cords, it is our labour, it is our Sisyphean task. This creates the energy and tells the story.”
Discussing the mood of ‘Still Life’, Dimitris cites weirdness, darkness and ridiculous humour as the driving forces.
Image © Dimitris Theodoropoulos
“Those three tones are what we are trying to achieve. Being able to laugh but at the same time feeling a little bit threatened, whilst being a part of something that is weird, like a dream. I want it to be charming, because if it was not charming you would not be drawn in, but I am aiming for a slow and gradual digestion of the whole thing.
“I consider the show to be like a meal with different plates, with each adding something to the previous one, creating an environment in your tongue to receive the next one. I feel that the show is successful if, in the days after you’ve watched it, the puzzle starts to connect in your emotions.”
Since debuting at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens, Greece in 2014, ‘Still Life’ has travelled extensively throughout Europe, South America and Singapore.
Image © Miltos Athanasiou
Australia is the third stop on the 2017 tour, and Dimitris is eager to see how audiences Down Under digest his first offering.
“This kind of language that I am struggling to create is dealing with identity and with storytelling without words, and for me it is very, very important to test it in parts of the world. I am extremely excited and curious to see how this weird, Mediterranean psyche will communicate with the atmosphere for art over there [Australia].”