"since she"/pina died: "seit sie" by papaioannou

(photo: julien mommert)

once again i'm in wuppertal, in the barmen opera. i'm tremendously excited; for me pina bausch is on the same level as divinities not just in the field of performing arts but that of art in general, and in a little while i'll watch a piece performed by her company tanztheater wuppertal directed by dimitris papaioannou who follows pina in my ranking of divinities. 

the piece has already been named: "seit sie". it can be translated into english as "since she". it is likely that "she" refers to pina; so the title could easily be formulated as "since the absence of pina / since pina passed away".

(photo: mehmet kerem özel, 19th may 2017)
during the first evening my seat is in the middle of the first row on the balcony. as soon as the doors of the auditorium are opened I go to my seat. 
the colour of the stage is anthracite. at the back are a pile of plates stacked on top of each other, in time i'll realize that they are made of sponge, with a large white table in between them. for the first time papaioannou has not done the stage design himself but trusted tina tzoka with it, the stage designer who helped him in his previous work "the great tamer".

the audience becomes silent along with the warning that visual and sound recordings are not allowed during the show. not long after, while the lights of the auditorium are still on, from the left wing of the stage a man appears standing on a chair, he is michael strecker of the pina-era dancers, whom i see bearded for the first time during the 20 years i've been watching him. led by him all dancers of the company move towards the right wing door of the stage by lining up and stepping on the chairs.

hah, that's it, i tell myself; first scene, first image: pina's chairs! chairs that pina extensively used mainly in "café müller" but also in a lot of her pieces from "bandaneon" to "wiesenland". women in evening dresses and high heels, men in suits. this image is also very familiar to me from pina's pieces; the only difference is that women’s costumes designed by marion cito were much more colourful and flowered while papaioannou's costume designer thanos papastergiou's uses darker colours in his choices such as the anthracite dominating the stage design.

chairs, like road-stones on which the group of men and women step on to move forward, are carried from back to front being passed from hand to hand and are placed on the floor at random, therefore at times the backrests of the chairs make it difficult to pass from one to the other so the group tries to move forward asymmetrically on the chairs; sometimes while three people are together on one chair some chairs remain empty.
right after this first scene the same bearded man works at a large table; he cuts, shapes, creates and places what he has worked on in front of the proscenium: first a black chair, then a young man dressed like himself, in a dark suit with a white shirt and a thin black tie. he backs away and looks at his creations from a distance, examines them, occasionally seats himself in his seat and pauses.

the first thing that comes to my mind is pina; in all of her documentaries and rehearsal photos we see her sitting behind a big table, taking notes; she used to note down the movements of her dancers in notebooks and use these notes months later to create her works. 
first i thought that the bearded man behind the table implied pina. however after i watched the piece for the second time next evening and contemplated a little more about it i came to the conclusion that the bearded man represents papaioannou himself, not pina. chair is the obvious sign of pina, so as the table of papaioannou; for it is an prop which he uses frequently in his pieces from "medea" to the more recent one "primal matter" that i attended two years ago in teatro olimpico in vicenza. i think then that it makes sense why strecker let his beard grow, and also why franko schmidt, another dancer from pina period, has grown a thin mustache that makes him reminds the audience of papaioannou. so, i come to the conclusion that the senior male dancers of pina are turned into alter-egos of papaioannou. 

but perhaps I have now gone too far, let me continue from where i left: 
the young man created by the bearded man at the table, scott jennings who has the grace of a giacometti's figure and who is my beloved dancer from the post-pina era of the company, comes to the front of the stage, places the chair upside down on the edge of the backrest and steps on it. like being on a razor's edge, with the possibility of falling at any moment, he adjusts his weight and balances himself on it by opening his arms. the young man's being-on-razor's-edge-tension on the chair is like birth pangs, like an artist's tension during the process of creation, when s/he is making something out of nothing.

if michael strecker is papaioannou's alter-ego, then who is scott jennings looking exactly like him with the same suit. then it may be that there is an alter-ego who creates another alter-ego on stage. in his last three works ("primal matter", "still life" and "the great tamer") papaioannou has already filled the stage with male figures who resembled him. "primal matter" in which papaioannou himself performed was also a duo piece wholly based on the tension between creator-created, choreographer-dancer, sculptor-sculpture. as the god/creator creates/reveals man/created in his own image, papaioannou creates figures in his pieces as copies of himself. besides, he doesn't create just a single figure, he reproduces the same figure. as i remember this, my initial confusion goes away. furthermore, as the piece proceeds i realize that i am not mistaken in my observation.

(photos: julian mommert)

during this incredibly tense moment, figures slowly pass behind the young man from one side of the stage to the other; a woman pulling a tree with roots (that tree is probably from pina's last piece "como el mosguito en la piedra, moon si si si si ..." premiered nine days before her death. those who have not watched the piece can recall the tree from the film "pina"), a naked man pushing a table (i think this image is from papaioannou's 2012 dated "primal matter"), a man dragging a stack of chairs, a dignified woman gracefully holding a glass of wine in one hand and taking a chair with her other hand (she is one of pina's unique dancers, julie ann-stanzak) and others...
greek music from the very depths infiltrates the stage, a simple melody played only with the traditional greek instrument bouzouki, as if vaguely heard from afar in a silent and mild summer night.

i don't know why but i start crying; this sequence touches me a lot. maybe it is because of seeing both pina and papaioannou, greece and wuppertal in the same sequence. later i realize that this sequence was actually a parade; papaioannou let the images/figures that we the audience would see throughout the piece pass in front of us in this first sequence as if we were watching things that passed by in papaioannou's life -or maybe also in our lives’- "since she (was gone)". 

now I skip from this point directly to the end of the piece:
in the third sequence before the end, the only person who pushes the reverted table full of dancers over the rolls on the floor is the bearded man.
in the second sequence before the end; the same bearded man steps on the chairs (they are maybe 15 of them) dispersed on the stage, tries to pick them up one by one stacking them on top of each other on his back, when he nearly succeeds in putting all on his back and there is a single chair left behind he stumbles and rolls unto the floor with the chairs.

right behind him a woman, a dancer again from the pina period, one of the most senior dancers of the company and at the same time one of my most beloved ones, ruth amarante; the deep and sadly-looking dancer who once said "the relationship between pina and her dancers is a kind of love and hate relationship" in the pina bausch documentary of anne linsel, moves slowly and calmly backwards and forwards on the ground covered with thick and long rolls her eyes closed, her long hair let loose, barefoot and in a white nightgown.
for me she is the image that symbolizes pina; she resembles so much the sleeping woman in "café müller"; in addition to being the only work in which pina danced herself until her death - not taking into consideration her 10 minutes apperance in "danzon" - "café müller" is also her most famous and iconic work. the imagery of a sleepwalker or a lady being asleep in a thin nightgown, eyes closed, barefoot and hair open is pina's most known image that she uses on the stage. afterwards when i thought about the piece i realized that papaioannou uses this iconic imagery of pina in other scenes with other dancers as well; for example ditta miranda jasjfi, another dancer who worked with pina, also embodies this image. more importantly, in a few of the scenes there is a thick coat on the shoulders of these two female dancers, just like the coat on pina's shoulder in the last scene of "café müller". 

in the last sequence of "seit sie", while the bearded man who implies papaioannou stands on top of the mass at the back of the stage like a shadow the barefoot woman who implies pina disappears gradually from a slit between the slopes of the mass.

these sequences that i have described in detail not only tell us a lot about mankind, being human, creating, possessing and designing in general but also imply papaioannou's own struggle and how difficult it must have been for someone like him to find and trace one's own path, to proceed, even at times to stumble, and actually the whole process of working with the company of a deceased artist whom he was a fan of. i think that in "seit sie" papaioannou talks about his admiration for pina, his inspirations from her, his own feelings while preparing a piece for her company; he attempts to translate all these into emotions and i believe he is extraordinarily successful.

(photos: julian mommert)

as in all papaioannou works, no words are used on the stage in "seit sie" either; intense black humor and irony dominate the piece; bodies separate into pieces/limbs and pieces/limbs get complemented by other bodies’ pieces; objects are used as imagery so that they are transformed into symbols of things other than themselves.
the best example is: one of papaioannou's alter egos franko schmidt places the cymbal behind the head of pina's alter-ego julie ann-stanzak so that the visual imagery of the cymbal transforms into the golden circle around the heads of saints, the halo in the religious iconography of the christianity. after ann-stanzak exits the stage, schmidt smiles mischievously at the audience by putting the cymbal behind his own head as if indicating that this time he will turn himself to a saint of performing arts.

in a long sequence that i would not want to miss out, thin sticks are used. firstly they are stuck in bodies and hairs of the dancers like arrows. when those that are stuck in the hairs are pushed forward from the back by four or five pairs of hands, this creates an imagery of figures with light rays coming out of the head reminiscent of traditional christian saint depictions. so, sticks turn into light beams. following this scene, all these thin sticks become determinants of the distance between man and woman, two young fabulous dancers of the company: scott jennings and brennan o’hara, the “adam and eve” of “seit sie”, since they are placed between the bodies of these two dancers. the sticks get transformed into tense bows. as the man and the woman approach each other sticks can not intrinsically stand the tension and break one by one.
interrelation between sexes could not be described better than this scene, and in such a subtle magnificent abstraction.

papaioannou is originally a painter. therefore, as it is with his every piece, "seit sie" is also deeply cultivated by the art of painting. furthermore, i think that the dominant source of his aesthetics is the orthodox iconography tradition and for the content of his pieces he is inspired generally by greek mythology and christian narrative. it is possible to regard each of his pieces as a whole consisting in itself of tableaux and, also to capture several references to art history in this one whole. so "seit sie" is also full of visual references like papaioannou's other pieces. the ones which i could recognize are: madonna with her head covered in light rays, the golden post, adam and eve, saint sebastian covered with arrows, orpheus torn to shreds by bacchants, the fall of ikarus, beheaded john the baptist, khairon the boatman of styx. 

(photo: julian mommert)

and i do not know how true this might be, and it is probably just my personal interpretation: but in "seit sie" i see many references to and inspirations from "nefes", pina's istanbul piece. 
in "nefes" there is a culinary scene where nazareth panadero kneads a cushion like dough, and in "seit sie" there is a cooking scene. towards the end of "nefes" all dancers come together as if a group photo would be taken at a party, and there is a similar scene in "seit sie". in "nefes" there is a scene where men are ventilating women by holding and shaking their hems, and in "seit sie" men this time shake small cardboard plates to ventilate the skirt of a female dancer. last but not least, both pieces end with a tom waits song: "nefes" with "all the world is green" sung by tom waits, "seit sie" with "green grass" sung by cibelle. 
after noticing these matchups it comes to my mind what papaioannou said last year in amsterdam when my friends and i went to thank him after "the great tamer": istanbul occupies a special place in his heart because he has met pina personally in istanbul. in 2000 the international istanbul theater festival had its opening by papaionanou's masterpiece "medea", and a week later pina's "masurca fogo" was performed. also; it is rumoured that papaioannou danced (sirtaki) for pina. so, it seemed to me that papaioannou greets in “seit sie” the city where he first met pina. 
and so, an evening that started by making me cry, saluted me again with tears.

for the introduction of "seit sie" papaioannou writes: "this one is a love letter to pina. a thank you note for her passage through existence, and for the indelible mark she left in human history." "seit sie" is a typical papaioannou piece with bauschian features at the same time. papaioannou approaches pina without sacrificing his own gaze and pays her an hommage.

for years i wondered why pina did not create a piece for athens although she often went to athens on tour, although she had a greek dancer, the magnificent daphnis kokkinos, in her company for many years and although he was mostly her assistant in the production process of her late pieces. 
it is as if, by means of "seit sie", papaioannou creates "the missing athens piece" among the complete works of pina bausch with its bauschian qualities, subtle use of greek music, abstract sirtaki movements danced in unison by the company members, and with the acropolis at the back of the stage.

(photo: mehmet kerem özel, 20th may 2017)


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