The Great Tamer @ Heath Ledger Theatre
Friday, February 8, 2019
Dimitris Papaioannou and his decahedron of performers were utterly awe-inspiring in their precision and execution of The Great Tamer’s Perth Festival debut. A clever, interactive set, with minimalist but effective lighting and sound, and sound effects created on-stage during the performance complemented the extraordinary use of each performer’s body to construct a narrative without words.
Powerfully allusive, the task to imbue the scenes with meaning was seemingly left up to the audience individually, aided only by subtle references in the western world’s shared history. The cornucopia of visually stunning scenes created one after another an unpredictable progression. Words are, after all, missing from the piece per Papaioannou’s preference to communicate through other means in his work. This allowed for an impact that was more visceral, subjectively experienced through the inner self, maybe even a suggestion to have a conversation with one’s self. Each new and always evocative scene extended an invitation to wonder, to ponder, to clear the mind and allow the thought-provoking scenes to uncover meaning through individual analysis slowly, each participant potentially, hopefully, moved in their own personal way.
The set, appearing to be individual sheets latticed together, stretched upwards in a wave towards the back of the stage at the beginning of the performance. It was bare but for one performer dressed in a simple, black suit. Eyes closed, lying on his back, gloved hands clasped peacefully in his lap.
What followed was a banquet of action: undressing and dressing, obsessive, precise routines in tandem with other performers, elements carefully and deliberately placed in exact locations, different spaces of the set flipped over or opened to reveal something new. Archaeological explorations digging through the set, revealed soil underneath through which props were excavated, and an innumerable amount of other minute details, amplified cleverly on stage so that each grain of soil or slide of a foot across the sheets echoed in the silent theatre with great impact, seeming to bestow them with immense significance. All of which are presented by the masterful use of each performer’s body through contortion, acrobatics, nudity, controlled movement and a little bit of dance.
Attempting to describe the scenes as they unfolded seems a futile endeavour. Rather than a linear narrative, or even a memory of the scenes in their chronological order in the piece, some individual scenes stand out much brighter than others, demanding attention and contemplation. I suspect the particular scenes will be different for everyone, depending on what has moved or provoked them personally. After some time analysing the finer details of the scene in mind, another one will be triggered, probably due to an irresistible urge to draw them together, to create themes for the scenes to be neatly organised so that meaning can be gleaned with some level of certainty.
I now feel that with this piece there can be no certainty, as each imagination guides its owner subjectively through the lens of their own life and experience. Everyone has their own thoughts and theories around exactly what is being explored, and everyone is triggered or moved by something different, for different reasons.
Walking through the atrium afterwards, there were clumps of people everywhere discussing their thoughts about the piece, incessantly chattering, the meditative quality of the wordlessness ending with the performance. No one seemed unaffected by it or unwilling to further reflect on it. My friend and I spent the rest of the evening late into the night in the same way, exploring this piece that moved us both so immensely and, as it turns out, a conversation topic seemingly inexhaustible as each new revelation or reliving of a scene prompted something else to be considered.
In reading an interview with Papaioannou, I have come to believe that The Great Tamer relies on every person to construct their own narrative from the piece, to use the scenes as tools to get into whichever aspects of humanity their imaginations turn to when prompted by the spectacularly strange, sometimes confusing and yet always magnificent visual art created by these extraordinary performers. Minimalist, yet precise; a work of art. Stunningly effective in its simplicity, giving every single element potential for deeper contemplation. With the minute detail, every scene choreographed to perfection, every performer in effortless time with one another and the extraordinary set itself as guides, one need only to feast their eyes and see where their imaginations take them.
This is a powerful performance piece that will stay with me, and likely provide much of the content for my daydreams as I analyse and reanalyse greedily. A must-see for anyone who enjoys a visually beautiful spectacle and likes to have a good old philosophical reflection.