by Dimitris Papaioannou (Greece – Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens) at Carriageworks Bay 17, January 27-29, 2017.
Visual Concept, Direction, Costume and Lighting Design – Dimitris Papaioannou
Sculpture Design and Set Painting – Nectarios Dionysatos
; Sound Composition – Giwrgos Poulios Performers:
Kalliopi Simou; Pavlina Andriopoulou; Prokopis Agathokleous; Drossos
Skotis; Michalis Theophanous; Costas Chrysafidis; Dimitris Papaioannou.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
|Still Life: figure of Sisyphus|
to the theatre, at least at Carriageworks, can be an emotional risk.
As I sat down in the 30+ degrees of the huge ex-railway workshop to
think about Still Life
, my mood was not helped when I overheard a
terribly enthusiastic conversation involving a woman toting a laptop
and headset, who may have been (or not) a party to this production –
like Stage Manager, perhaps. She wore a large transparent plastic
earring inscribed with the words (at least on the side I could see) in
pretty cursive script: Fuck off
Is this Life, still? What sort of Life is this, anyway?
shocked out of my almost anger at what seemed another imported
pretentious European bit of ‘high art’, about which I didn't dare
interview this woman, I began to think a bit more rationally about this
very Still Life
, with it’s long, highly-interminably long, sequences. Should I describe a bit, then analyse; or just let my feelings go?
was like watching an early silent movie in slow motion. You remain
watching as an outsider because there's little to see which engages you,
especially at this speed – just an occasional visual joke for a bit of a
giggle. So you keep watching, just in case. But the several scenes
have no reason to be connected together, at least as far as I could work
Well, after the end, on the long weekend train ride from
Redfern to North Ryde, I imagined some possible meanings….but here’s
We weren’t allowed in until starting time, so
didn’t realise that the man seated on the stage in a low spotlight,
watching us, was performing. I thought maybe he would remind us to
switch off our mobiles. Then, just as we were all settled (the large
Bay 17 was about two thirds full), someone marched across the stage and
performed an old circus clown’s trick. He snatched the chair from under
the seated man – who, of course, remained seated exactly as before, but
without the chair. This event had no connection to anything else that
happened for the next hour and a half.
I had read the program,
which seemed to say that the work was based on the Sisyphus myth – about
the man condemned to pushing shit uphill forever. So I thought I knew
what the next scene was about, as a man dragged what turned out to be a
wall, coated with bits of plaster which kept falling off, all the way
from upstage centre to downstage centre. He rested, holding up the
leaning wall against his back – until it fell onto him and he began to
bodily break through, by which time we realised that there was another
man (or two) behind the wall.
|Still Life: the women breaking through the plaster wall|
of the other man came through to the front, intertwined with bits of
our original man, until it was hard to know which bit was which. This
sequence developed when a woman came through from behind, as bits of her
undressed bits of the front man and re-dressed his in women’s gear.
This inter-twining looked as though it might go somewhere story-wise,
especially when the two women broke through, but was so deliberately
slowly done that it stopped being funny – but never became anything
I did start to think about women breaking through the glass
ceiling, even though this was a plaster wall, but in the end the last
man (or it may have been a woman) standing dragged the wall away, and
that was that.
|Still Life: Woman in the Wind|
next scene was a woman behind a transparent flexible pane, downstage
centre. (Aha, I began to think – a glass wall, if not a ceiling). But
no. Men came down, stood behind her and shook the flexible pane to make
her long flowing dress shake about as if in a wind. Each man moved her
a little way upstage, and after a very long time when she reach fully
upstage, she picked up the pane as the spotlight went off, and she went
off. And that was that.
After this were several more scenes: a
man carrying and dropping rocks (which really did seem heavy, or was it
just a sound track that made them loud when they hit the floor?). Aha, I
thought, here's good old Sisyphus. But he just came and went, leaving
bits of rock all over the place. And that was that.
Up to now
all the men had been dressed in suits, but next was a workman with a
long-handled spade – which got used in other scenes from here on. This
man shovelled his own feet in a deft manoeuvre to keep walking towards
downstage, and behind him was a woman carrying rocks (a bit smaller than
in the previous scene), which she dropped one by one until suddenly
dropping them all at once, so he had to shovel them aside. Apparently he
was very sexy, so she dropped his daks and underpants so we saw his
bare backside. He leaned forward (facing upstage) while she climbed up
(in bare feet) and balanced (she actually fell off first time – in the
act, or not?) and so he carried her on his bare bum, oh so slowly, back
upstage until they disappeared. And that was that.
like the end of anything obviously to do with Sisyphus. For the next
very long time people (back in suits, I think) found the ends of very
long strips of gaff tape stuck to the wooden stage floor, which made
fingers-down-the-blackboard type noises with deeper echoes because the
floor was made of hollow rostra boxes, as they spent a very long time
ripping all these strips from straight and circular lines, knocking away
bits of plaster and rocks as they went. When that was finished, then
that was that.
Then a man in a suit, with some help from another
one, managed to balance on things like rather large bricks. He was
good, but when that was done, that was that.
|Still Life: Sunrise with Shovel|
then the shovel got used to push up as far as it could reach into the
lower surface of the translucent huge balloon-like structure which had
been hanging all the time from the stage roof, with dry ice mist making
it look like a cloud. When the bottom was pushed up, and a large
circular Fresnel lamp lit up from upstage pointing just about
horizontally at me in Row N, the whole filmy material floated, giving an
impression very much like a sunset over water with a more orange light,
and while the shovel man (in a suit, not a workman) and another sat
down to watch on the stage (with their backs to us), the light changed
and became a sunrise.
Visually, the effect was wonderful, but
when it finished, that was that. Until out of upstage gloom came a
fully set-for-a-sumptuous-lunch table, moving very slowly downstage
especially because the bottom of each leg was placed on the top of a
man’s head – no hands (except that some changed, like soccer players
coming on from the bench, and hands were used to make the transition).
table was carried off the stage onto the auditorium floor, at which
point chairs appeared and all the cast sat down to eat. The audience
was not invited – in fact we were completely ignored. So a number of
people decided this was the end and started leaving the theatre. There
was a little more action, but nothing significant, and so the audience
decided it was time to clap. So the performers got up and left via the
stage wings, lights went down, we clapped more and the cast came out for
a conventional ‘curtain’.
And that was that.
In my later
wondering, I went back to the program. It quotes Albert Camus referring
to the Sisyphus myth, saying “The struggle itself towards the heights
is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
I thought, remembering the broken paving in the streets of a very
poor-looking Athens when I was last there, perhaps all those broken
rocks and plaster walls are meant to represent the Greek economy. But
then is the sumptuous lunch supposed to mean, like Camus’ Sisyphus, just
be happy. Or was the lunch entirely cynical, saying it’s OK for those
who can afford lunch, and don’t pay their income tax, but be damned to
the rest of the Sysiphuses, men and women, struggling forever with their
rocks, walls and gaff tape.
The program also refers to Dimitris
Papaioannou as “Rooted firmly in the fine arts” and becoming “more
widely known as the creator of the Athens 2004 Olympic Ceremonies”. So
that’s that, then. I wonder.