Infatuation, Excitement, Intrigue: The tradition of Tanztheater Wuppertal in a new work by Dimitris Papaioannou

Words by Jordan McHenry | images by Julian Mommert

The moment was magic when the tissue paper ball gown dissolved against the dancer’s skin, leaving her naked. Or was it when the fully grown tree, with roots attached, suddenly appeared on stage?

Oh wait, I remember: human limbs emerged from the set, a mountain-shaped assemblage of what can only be described as an alien rock formation from a science fiction tale.  

Of one thing I am certain: choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou is a sorcerer of the living image. And Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch was the perfect medium to deliver his spellbinding aesthetic.

Since She, premiered at Sadlers Wells in London on Valentine’s Day, February 14th. Love was in the air. Not only is Since She the first full-length creation made for Tanztheater Wuppertal since the death of the company’s iconic founder, Pina Bausch in 2009, it’s also the first work Greek choreographer Papaioannou has created outside of his own company. The match was divine. The work extended the legacy of Bausch’s historical contribution to dance theater. In much the same way a new romance can be magnetic, Since She was an infatuating union of excitement and intrigue.

Papaioannou’s great skill is his ability to direct the gaze of the audience through the creation of bizarre and absurd tableaux that appear seamlessly. The dancers floated across the stage on upside down tables or casually emerged from plaster body casts, naked, to then don tuxedos and ball gowns in full view. These images became layered in time and intensity. Sometimes occurring in rapid succession and other times, distilled with pregnant moments of glacial tempo. Quite often, they occurred simultaneously, creating a fragmentation of perception. Exploring themes of body-dismemberment and nudity in new contexts and situations, each picture emerged from the last without any recognition of its origin.

The incredible set aided tremendously in shape-shifting the space, reconfiguring it from a ‘tv baking show’ to a dystopian dance party. The dancers of Tanztheater Wuppertal, with myriad of props, assembled these images with the finesse of magicians’ assistants. With masterful sleight of hand and impressive levels of presence, they manipulated the audience’s attention and the space around them was born again and again to new images of atmospheric estrangement. Their powerful performance delivered me to a fantasy world. Reminiscent of a surrealist, Dali-inspired landscape, the evening was playful, whisking me to a realm of surprise and artful aporia.

When choreography transcends the lens of the body, and moves into the realm of architecture and duration — where space is designed poetically and time is crafted not by the steps but by the intentions and tasks of the performer — new perspectives on what is dance can emerge. In the case of Since She, I felt as if I was viewing all that choreography could be, all at once.  Papaioannou and Bausch’s love affair onstage put me under a spell and ushered me into an unforgettable world that was erotically progressive, futuristic, and satiating to my soul.

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