Photo: Julian Mommert.

Dimitris Papaioannou
Transverse Orientation

Memorial Auditorium, Stanford University

Written by:
David e. Moreno
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“Transverse Orientation: Keeping a fixed angle on a distant source of light for orientation.”
–Like moths to a flame

            Transverse Orientation is an evening-length work on the construction and deconstruction of myth–the unpredictable meanderings of the psyche, fleeting moments of stellar archetypal beauty with its chaotic, annoying repetitiveness and absurd futility. It rambles like the process of painting and reimagines classic Greek myths while recreating their idealized forms of beauty through its handsome performers. It pays homage to the farcical theater of the ‘60s and ‘70s and covers the arc and flow of life—death and birth and death and birth and that momentary expression in between the two—art and edifice. It is an interdisciplinary masterpiece with a thousand endings—a study in meaning and meaninglessness, full of a great emptiness… Transverse Orientation originates in the phantasmagoric, unbridled mind and genius vision of Dimitris Papaioannou.

            It is a combination of “Waiting for Godot,” meets Tim Burton, Pilobolus meets Mummenschanz meets Pina Bausch, and is full of bull… A big puppet bull, larger than the attractive, often naked, men that move, mount, ride, feed, control and manipulate the untamable beast into submission. The bull is both mythical in scale and Greek legend; a powerful, hefty creature the Greeks called Cretan, who impregnates the lustful Queen Pasiphae after she creatively lures him by hiding inside a wooden cow; necessity is the queen of invention… Nine months later, Pasiphae gave birth to Minotaur; a man with the head of the bull, who, in the performance, dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and tie, his head covered as a bull’s, appearing in and out of various sections.

            Another appearance by the who’s who in Greek mythology is Aphrodite, a primordial creature said to have been born out of an endless black night before the beginning of the world. She is performed by the eloquent Breanna O’Mara, the only woman in the male-dominated eight member cast. As Aphrodite, who is classically depicted naked, O’Mara is also nude, born in the belly of the beast, then giving birth, lounging on the bull, or working her way out of a collapsible, metal fold-away cot that traps her like a cockroach. In contrast to her virgin beauty and sleek body is creative executive producer and assistant director Tina Papanikolaou, a worldly, more mature woman who walks naked on an empty stage supported only by walking canes. Her ample breasts are full of age, her realistic belly round, and her canes seem like an omen from the future. She is not a myth but the naked truth of time–unabashedly taking all her time as she leisurely steps across a soundless stage to a hushed, awestruck audience.

            Transverse Orientation is timeless–existing out of time–where the entire messy process of creating and dismantling images, vignettes, and myths is presented. Neither is it concerned with our ordinary sense of time—when we get annoyed by the lengthy segment of a performance- nor our impatience or intolerance for repetitive or senseless actions that take place within it. As when a performer bangs his head or body against a wall, a fluorescent light continues to malfunction, or when the complete construction and deconstruction of a Styrofoam wall–that looks like the temple stones of ancient architecture–takes seemingly forever to get built before tumbling down like the walls of Jericho or the tower of Babylon. 

            But once in that timeless realm, Papaioannou’s theater-sized painting creates a magical and unforgettable world full of psychic resonance, where we are transported by the imagery and cosmic tales of our collective unconscious; a story our psyche generates, and that he has alchemically manifested.

David e. Moreno

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