In October 2016, Next Choreography attended ‘Primal Matter’, a dance piece performed by Dimitris Papaioannou and Michalis Theophanous as part of London’s ‘Dance Umbrella.’ What unfolded over the next eighty minutes on a starkly furnished stage in the (freezing cold) Old Truman Brewery could be compared to a book of optical illusions.
Through a sequence of surreal images Papaioannou and Theophanous morphed into a series of identities. As these individual identities changed, so did the relationships between the two performers: they became pet and owner, creator and creation, performer and ringmaster. Each illusion created in the piece produced associations for the audience. Through simple props and the tool of the human body, we were reminded of Frankenstein, Jesus, ancient Greek statues, conjuring acts, embalming. I later read that Papaioannou’s intention had been to choreograph in response to political issues in today’s Europe. This hadn’t even occurred to me while watching ‘Primal Matter’, but I don’t see this as a failing of the piece. Each image sparked a domino-run of associations in the audience’s mind, leading to any number of different readings. This made for interesting conversations on the Tube home.
The power dynamics between the performers shifted constantly and compellingly, the way they related to each other was at times tender and caring, at others disturbing and even violent. Usually, one of the two was clearly in control but sometimes they seemed to be the same being, exploring themes of duality. In one of my favourite sections, Papaioannou rolled up his trouser leg halfway, rotated his knee joint and placed his lower leg on a clinical-looking table, before hopping on one foot with his other leg in his hand as though it was no longer attached to his body. Meanwhile Theophanous (creating the illusion of a statue) appeared to be missing a leg. Papaioannou’s leg then appeared to be attached to him, becoming part of his body through a sort of weirdly sophisticated party trick.
This raised questions in me around themes of disassociation from the body. I think these themes are particularly relevant in our era, when our relationships to our bodies are being viewed in a new light, as well as relevant to the dance art form- the body becoming a tool of performance is bound to lead to a level of disassociation.
The use of nudity emphasised the idea of the body as a tool, and as something vulnerable, linking with concepts of power and control. Some might criticise the nudity as crude humour, and it could be argued that the piece used shock-tactics (at one point the naked performer was doused with cold water, inducing a shudder from the audience wrapped up in scarves and coats.) However I saw this as purposeful, none of the shock or crudeness in the piece seemed to be just for the sake of it.
We left full of questions, and ideas about how to integrate illusion, duality, power dynamics and unusual props into our own dance-making.