Dimitris Papaioannou’s INK: A Story that Drowned in an Inch of Water Sadler’s Wells’ Stage

I don’t know what the hell it is’ … Dimitris Papaioannou and Šuka Horn in Ink. Photograph: Julian Mommert
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Category Culture, Lifestyle, People, Town
Date March 6 2024
Reading Time 2 min.

Dimitris Papaioannou’s INK: A Story that Drowned in an Inch of Water Sadler’s Wells’ Stage

Dimitris Papaioannou, the famous Greek maverick of choreography, has returned to Sadler’s Wells for his third show — INK. It would be fair to say that this performance is a striking difference from his previous works! With this performance, the choreographer strives away from the lightness of movement incorporated with the striking visual novelty of the setting that once led him to become the youngest artist in history to direct the Summer Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in 2004.

Photograph of Dimitris Papaioannou taken in April 2019 / Wikipedia

Twenty years later, he still embraces this distinctive relationship between the setting and  movement, amplifying the effect of the dark and silent scenes in INK with water. Though, there is too much of it! The performance feels rather diluted with motionless and often confusing silent rituals in the background of water running against a plastic curtain. It is hard to look away from the performance, that is so oversaturated with watered-down symbolism, in an attempt to find a sign of the promised hyper-visual dance theatre.

A german dancer Šuka Horn assists Papaioannou on stage in this uneasy task to strike with the depth of this sinking performance, as both artists engage in a nightmarish manhunttesting the limits of reality. In reality, the depth of this performance is limited to the few inches of water on Sadlers Wells stage, and as the two engage in a dance, it is soon over and replaced by a variety of props and paraphernalia for the artists to play with in the water. Finally, at the end of it, they conceive a half-human, half-octopus baby creature, which they later consume together.

However, it is undoubtedly possible to recognise that, even with the extremely unimpressive choreographic component of the show, the water scenery is mesmerising. The choreographer, who worked independently almost on every detail of the performance, was able to create a truly interesting visual picture, which clearly shows his extraordinary vision of theatre. The play of light and water, as well as the contrast of black and white, expressed through the stage appearance of the actorsthe black clothes of Papaioannou against the phosphoric glow of Horns naked bodycreate a truly sensual atmosphere of mysticism and the otherworldly.

At the same time, it should also be noted that the plot is set in a swamp, reflecting the inner world of a lonely and ageing man. Papaioannou succeeded in creating such an image with remarkable precision; both the beauty and the tragedy of human life and human relationships, which the choreographer sought to express through dance, are most powerfully traced in the moving scenery of the stage. On the other hand, the water, which invariably shimmers in small waves across the stage with every step the dancers take, seems to live its own separate life and, thus becoming an independent character in this show, simultaneously overshadows both Papaioanna and Horn.

It is often hard to immediately take away something from a performance that strives so hard to be an epitome of contemporary theatre. It takes time to take in and comprehend most modern art, for it is modern for a reason it is new and might not be understood completely yet. However, INK pushes the limits not of reality but of acceptability to be able to perform a show, the depth of which is lost in a shallow attempt of replacing movement with silence, nudity and a sole expectation of emotion from the viewer.

Despite the truly amazing job done by PR and press, INK is underwhelming and boring as after the initial amazement from seeing the stage of Sadlers Wells filled with water fades, the viewer is left to ponder for an hour on the moving blinks of light reflected in the water while Papaioannou and Horn play with a hose and a disco ball.

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