Dimitris Papaioannou's “Ink.” Photograph by Julian Mommert

Spilled Ink

A new creation by Dimitris Papaioannou

Dimitris Papaioannou's “Ink”
TorinoDanza, Turin, Italy
Valentina Bonelli

There is a global and personal story behind “Ink,” the new creation by Dimitris Papaioannou that premiered in September in Turin, Italy. Just before the European lockdown, the Greek artist was working on his new creation (still untitled): a piece for seven performers which was supposed to debut on the 6th of May at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens, an international co-production involving thirteen main institutions, among them the Avignon festival, Lyon Dance Biennial, London Sadler’s Wells, Paris’s Théâtre de la Ville, Napoli Teatro Festival.

With every date cancelled and postponed (until who knows when?), two Italian partners, the festivals TorinoDanza in Turin and Aperto in Reggio Emilia, forced to re-scheduled their fall programs, asked Papaioannou if he wished to present a new, even short performance. It has to be said that the link between Italy and the Greek artist is strong: Papaioannou, with his (diminishing) fame of “Greek Bob Wilson” is a regular guest in our country’s avant-garde festivals and theatres. Maybe because of our common, ancient roots, we can well understand and appreciate his mythology.

Anyway, after thinking about the proposal all summer long, Papaioannou accepted, arriving last minute in Italy with a piece titled only three days before the debut.

Dimitris Papaioannou’s “Ink.” Photograph by Julian Mommert

The title, “Ink”, tells us a lot about the piece, from an aesthetic point of view first of all. With its dark black backcloth and the water constantly bathing everything, the references to Pina Bausch’s “Vollmond” (Full Moon) are so precise that they must be a homage. It’s well known: Papaioannou created the first new commission for Tanztheater Wupperthal, “Since She” (a piece seen also in Italy), in 2018.

This new set hosts a 45-minute hand-to-hand struggle of two opposite men: Dimitris Papaioannou, a mature, dark figure who like a Sisyphus is all the time working with effort, and Šuka Horn, a young performer fair and Apollonian, naked like a statue. The relationship between the two men, is to guess: they could be a father and son, a Pygmalion and his creature, most probably two lovers as seems to confirm the creature they give birth at the end: half baby, half octopus. An aborted birth, with a flood of ink flowing from the guts.

Dimitris Papaioannou’s “Ink.” Photograph by Julian Mommert

Since “Ink” is a post-lockdown staging, assembled with materials from the confinement period spent by Papaioannou in Greece, finding elements of his biography in the work is unavoidable, supported by social networks revealing all of our lives. It is interesting to know that during recent months the director-choreographer was very close to Šuka Horn, having arrived from Germany to perform in the new Papaioannou’s work and stranded in Athens by the pandemic. Posted on Papaioannou’s Instagram profile we can see his beautiful sketches and watercolors portraying the young performer in a David Hockney style, wearing a sailor t-shirt like Rainer Fassbinder’s Querelle de Brest.

Artistic clues reveal how Horn has become a male muse for the artist, transformed on stage by references from art, cinema, Greek mythology. Lying on the wet floor, the performer reproduces Andrea Mantegna’s painting The Lamentation of Christ, a Renaissance masterpiece kept in Milan at Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera’s Picture Gallery), showing a man of the people, not more a god, in a then revolutionary perspective. Again, a photo posted on his Instagram, fixing Papaioannou in that iconic pose, seems to suggest that Horn is a kind of his younger and purest alter ego. Holding a glass boule for fishes or a psychedelic ball of disco, the performer also becomes Atlas, the titan with the world on his shoulders, quoting the Hellenistic sculpture Atlante Farnese kept in Naples, at Museo Archeologico Nazionale. (National Archaeological Museum) A typical Papaioannou’s source, confirming how Greek myths are still vital to him and how they continue to inform his classical, plastic aesthetic.  

Clearly, and according to Papaioannou, “Ink” is still a sketched performance, a core for a new work still to create, but it was important to show it, and only in Italy, to give a sign, to be present.