The Lure of Butterflies

By Vaidas Jauniškis 2022 04 06
"Transverse Orientation", directed by Dimitris Papaioannou (2021). Photo by Julian Mommert

After the performance, Greek stage artist Dimitris Papaioannou told the audience in an open talk that the starting point for “Transverse Orientation” was a mental visual image of a bull and men, which the artist created together with his team through improvisation, following a whole series of other scenes. The laconic scenography - a wall with a door on one side and a fluorescent lamp on the other, thoughts of trying to control chaos and achieve harmony, - this journey was supposed to meander, be long and hardly clear at first sight.

Because individual episodes, "numbers" (a typical example of postdramatic theater) are not necessarily logically stacked, more often the opposite of that, only the confidence of both self and the audience allows the artist to travel further - as far as the time and budget will end, he has admitted. The term proposed for the public was 1 hour 45 minutes.

“Transverse Orientation” is a kind of compass for butterflies as they fly toward the Moon or other distant celestial bodies seen at a certain angle. However, if a close source of light appears, butterflies hold the same viewing angle and therefore get closer and closer to a candle or a lamp. Papaioannou translates this phenomenon into a universal metaphor for the search of beauty and light - and stupid, regular attempts of humanity to achieve this, burning as they approach or at the beginning of the road. Because the source of light may be different for everyone and this species is not well organized, we have been struggling in our desires since the time of the Tower of Babel.

Therefore, the first scene - a flashing lamp and large body figures with small heads lead us directly into the territory of absurdity. The theme will expand with various add-ons - ladders, desperate and funny attempts to agree or hit the wall near the door as well as surprises behind them. Human bodies with bulls' heads or giant bricks that constantly turn inward, and then one can build their own walls from them or support that about-to-fall babel. It is probably the most compelling and clear line in the play, an attempt to control the comic chaos while evoking it. Yet, absurdly frightening, it turns into Boschian chimeras, Papaioannou's favored creations of medieval monsters from several people's bodies (read Umberto Eco's "Baudolino"). Or to the circus Cyr wheel accommodating a couple of bodies to replicate and distort the proportions of the Vitruvian man in immediate absurdity.

The creator should not be called a choreographer, he, coming from the art world, is simply an artist, embodying visions in interesting forms. In the interview with Aušra Kaminskaitė, Papaioannou said his collaborators are rather puppeteers manipulating objects and their own bodies - but also surrendering to them. Therefore, from the very first scene, the game is offered to the viewer in an analogy to a puppet theater - we can see the people who control the model of bull, but we can give in to the game, changing the viewpoint and seeing how the bull is tamed by those men (here I remembered a creation of camel in a theater piece “Ilga kaip šimtmečiai diena“ by Eimuntas Nekrošius). Papaioannou works as a Japanese bunraku in a puppet theater or in the spaces of a medieval European city, where one puppet is controlled by several people and viewers can indulge in an illusion, or turn into theatrologists trying to figure out how everything is made.

Conversely with metaphors: the performance is simply woven from them, and they are wide enough for everyone to encrypt according to their receptivity and desire to perceive. Still, you can leave them alone and just admire the images, the precision of the dancers, the ease of performance. Dramaturgy is not the main one here, the performance is rather translated faster on the composition of the stage, the axis of visuals. Therefore, several finals are not important to it, because they are all beautiful, as is the sound background - from the not-so-loud Vivaldi to the crackling sound of the lamp. Until the budget runs out.

Judging from the video excerpts seen in several other performances, there are Papaioannou's favored elements that travel throughout the performances: bodies and their relationship to boards, planes, body transformations, beauty of the naked body, changeable and even mobile light sources, a story told only by images and pantomime movement. Just as a man can have a woman's torso, so can things have juxtaposing attributes, for instance, a cube that can roll. Huge blocks made of sea foam can still invite people to jump over them like over sea waves, as if they have retained their nature. There might be a scene in which, to the artist's perception, a shadow falling at an angle of 45 degrees and a person standing next to it is the perfect composition. Papaioannou's transverse orientation.

It is difficult for the painter to refrain from iconography, so the bull will, understandably, be tamed not by men, but by Europe (so it would not look too pathetic, a diver with fins will follow it to Crete). Venus will be born from the foam of the sea, later Christian iconography will take over as she becomes Mary with a baby. And if one fun fountain attracts some just for fun and probably champagne instead of water, the other will turn into the Holy Water of Lourdes. As for Madonna, sinking very slowly into the sea, she will return to pantheism and entice viewers to watch this nature's theater from the shore.

Another light source that attracts the participants of the every evening's ritual: although there was no Sun, I saw a real sunset on the stage for the very first time. Eventually all this is denied, the theater floor is torn down, yet the cleaner with a cloth still induces small waves to create a sentimental allusion to the sea.

Broad and non-binding metaphors, the beauty of compositions, dancers' bodies, execution's precision and lightness - these are probably the main reasons behind the phenomenon of Papaioannou, making him one of today's most notable choreographers. And forcing Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre's audience of a thousand spectators not to breathe for at least an hour and a half. Maybe solve charades, but undoubtedly restore one's aesthetic look.

As one scientist finished the butterfly monologue, "there are many ways to die, but it's better to burn seeking beauty." Or hitting the wall next to it.

Translated by Milda Keršulytė