When I enter the auditorium to find my seat, I see a man sitting on the edge of the apron of an empty stage. The man, whom I know to be the creator of the work that is about to start, is holding a small piece of stone in his hand; fiddling it and also eyeing the audience. Then a technician appears on the stage and pulls the chair under the man. However he doesn't fall down. On the contrary, he is frozen as if there is still a chair under him; or maybe there wasn’t even a chair at the very beginning.
A little while later, he comes to his feet with a gesture as if standing up from the nonexistent chair and leaves the small stone in front of him to the ground. We hear the bang of the stone thanks to the microphones on the ground. He tidies himself up, softly brushing his shoulders off as if to sweep dust; gives us a last look and turns his back. There are two patches of white on the upper side of his shoulders looking like angel’s wings.
He disappears in the darkness of the stage… This is how Dimitris Papaioannou’s “Still Life” begins.
“Still Life” is made up of parts; of loosely connected episodes. The young man carrying a huge square stone on his back, who gets lost in the stone and emerges as a different man or sometimes as a woman from the hole he got lost, is the longest part of the work. It includes also: the woman who attracts the wind and the lightning; the stone man; the man with a shovel and the woman with stones in her skirt; the man who builds stairs with impossible degree of balance to rise up and who uses the stair as a base; the figures who untie the strings of the ground; the man who ventilates the air with a shovel and finally the figures who take the table they carry on their head from the stage to the audience and feed themselves with the food on it.
The figures are striving, again and again, without losing heart; changing and transforming each time… As if they have fallen on somewhere and are trying to get off; they want to break up or unfasten that place by untying the strings of the ground… Their goal is always the other side, which they couldn’t see or hear. Mostly the heights; they want to rise but only to rise at any rate, or to reach out to something up high, to poke, activate those things and to bring about an effect…
I call them figures because it’s not clear whether the ones on the stage are humans, angels or in a universe between human and angel due to their tiny wings…Perhaps the white marks on their backs aren’t wings, but only stains…
MILTOS ATHANASIOU, NYSOS VASILOPOULOS, JULIAN MOMMERT,
NIKOS DRAGONAS, DIMITRIS THEODOROPOULOS
In fact, the first episode has a name which gives a sufficient hint to the audience: “Sisyphus”. Thus, the figures are likely to be humans. They wouldn’t strive this much if they were angels…
The reference to Sisyphus constructs the atmosphere and main idea of not only the first episode but also the general of the work. In the booklet there is a quote from Albert Camus who imagines Sisyphus as a happy human being because of the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. Indeed, the main figure who tries hard and strives during the whole work, who transforms into all other figures on the stage, but who turns back as himself each time, gets purified and cleansed at the end of the work as a peaceful and happy man and heartily joins the feast by coming to the table where others waited for him to start.
Inspirations from the facts that King Sisyphus represents the disk of the sun and is associated with the rising and falling waves of the sea according to solar theory are also included in Papaioannou’s work.
Just like he watched us sitting on our seats at the very beginning, somehow mirroring us, Papaioannou watches the man on the stage- which is Sisyphus most of the time, the main figure- occasionally coming in front of the stage from the back door of the auditorium; both of which mirror each other by buttoning up their jackets or tidying up their jackets.
Transferring the association he made with us in the prologue, Papaioannou thus reminds us that each of us is also a Sisyphus.
“Still Life” isn’t a dance, play, dance theater, circus or magic; it is none of them. It has movements, gestures, mimic and skill; states, situations, and figures in situations…
“Still Life” mostly looks like theater, but it has no talk or words; it has sounds but they aren’t sounds of humans but of “inanimate objects”…
As relatives of it, i could call Chaplin and Keaton from cinema; Kafka and Beckett from literature, and finally Philippe Genty and Josef Nadj from theater.
Above all, “Still Life” is closely connected to material and sound, and in that sense it doesn’t look like any other stage work I have ever watched. It is astounding and shocking!
Materials are heavy, light, volatile, pending, swinging, pouring, scattering, exploding, soft, hard…
There no music; there are sounds; rough, shrill, lightening, jarring, fondling, soft, sudden, high-pitched, deep, close…
Remarking "The alchemy of art is knowing how to transform matter into something else, something which is open to poetry", Dimitris Papaioannou almost entirely designed “Still Life” on his own just like a Renaissance artist. Visual concept; mise en scene, lights and costumes were all designed by him. Only sound composition was designed by Giwrgos Poulios.
"Still Life" which is dated 2014 has been all around the world especially in 2015-2016 season, from Paris to Sao Paolo, from Stockholm to Santiago-Chile and is still on the tour. I had the chance to watch it two nights in a row, on 19-20 March, in the gigantic De Singel international arts center of Antwerp. The next step of its tour is Montpellier in early July.
And; as Istanbul audience, don’t we think it’s time to host Papaioannou in our city one more time, who was presented to us by IKSV (Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts) with his “Medea” in Theater Festival in 2000, long before his worldwide recognition with the opening ceremonies of 2004 Athens Olympics?