Reflections on Transverse Orientation by Dimitris Papaioannou
I have woken from a fever dream. I have sat for an hour and 45 minutes watching men run naked in joy and agony. I have been entranced by a bull and its minotaur son. I have watched birth. I have watched rebirth. I am left with three words: what the fuck?
I must admit I am completely out of my element here. This is, I think, the most avant-garde production I have ever seen. I came in knowing nothing except that many of my friends had decided to come see this show, and also that there was a naked man with a puppet bull in the trailer.
Somewhere in the midst of the hour and 45 minutes of the show, I needed to let go of the question that sat in the forefront of my mind: “What’s going on?”. There was nothing and everything going on, and there was absolutely no explanation. Transverse Orientation was a series of connected and ongoing scenes, showcasing and exploring movement, themes of rebirth, and a few characters including a bull and a man-woman pair. 6? 7? men, and 1 woman. With no intermission, the piece never lets you rest, whisking you from one absurdity to another, from one feat to another, from one bewilderment to another. All of this is done on a minimalistic stage, with a white wall and door at the back that reminded my of the end of the Truman show.
Papaioannou is masterful in control of lighting and attention; you are never confused where you are supposed to look, or what’s important. He is also an incredible movement designer, using the bodies of all of his dancers as a wave, or as chaos, or as synchronous clockwork. It seems that he takes ideas and explores them; a pattern of giving his dancers a job, and a way of doing it (move these blocks, frantically. Fold this ladder, precariously). it is imaginative, and laughs in the face of rationality or logic.
Words I am left with: frustration, inevitability, return, chaos, absurdity, incredulity, impossibility, human and inhuman, altering, minimal, rebirth, shadow.
Note: Don’t read this next section if you plan on watching the show, and want to go in without spoilers. DON’T SPOIL YOURSELF, it’s worth it.
Moments that stick out to me:
- A woman, standing in a circle of water, draped in white fabric. She holds a tube spraying multiple streams of water; she is a fountain, and the men around her gather to frolic and hold champagne flutes in her drippings.
- A bull, wrangled by 6 men. The bull is a puppet; as the men wrestle it, they also bring it to life, passing its head, its tail, its legs off amongst each other, each making one wave or the other stomp or the other shake and snort.
- A woman pouring water onto the ground. The ground lights where she pours, reflecting onto the white background behind her.
- The same woman, sinking slowly into the pool she has created, so slowly that I do not notice until she is up to her knees beneath the floor. The whole pour and mat she is standing on disappear into the ground; she sinks further, up to her neck in water, before she plunges and disappears.
- The stage, that we have looked upon for over an hour, coming apart. Beneath it, water, and a rocky floor.
- Men climbing over a wall that has been unbreachable for the greater part of an hour, climbing down with ropes that they then use to entangle a bull.
- The bull, lapping at a pail of water. Licking a microphone stand, the sound echoing through the theater. The tongue is the hand of its puppeteer.
- Naked bodies, jumping, leaping over large blocks, turning the blocks underneath them, leaping to the next side with each turn. Whoops of joy.
- A large yellow-orange light on stage, carted around by one of the dancers. The light spins, briefly blinding the crowd, before turning to reveal a man having just appeared in a doorway.
- An older woman, large and sagging, walking slowly to a door. At the doorway, she pauses, and enters, shutting the door behind her. Immediately, it swings open the other way; she has transformed been replaced by a young, fit woman.
- Men, standing side by side, each with a large thin rectangle (like a floorboard) in front of them, resting on their foreheads. They walk forward, pushing the board with only their heads, sliding them along the floor. At some point, they reach the cord of the lamp, which lays in front of them. One by one they step forward, and the plank falls, revealing the human figure.
- A door opening into an unexpected wall of blocks. Laughter.
- Dancers frantically attempting to stop blocks from coming through a door, failing. Frantically trying to move them aside.