INK, Play for Two by Dimitris Papaioannou

Sadler’s Wells, London
February 28, 2024

“Few dance makers have the imaginative daring and visual flair of Dimitris Papaioannou,” say Sir Alistair Spalding and Britannia Morton in the opening words in the programme for INK, Play for Two created by Dimitris Papaioannou. So where is the dance?

Papaioannou is a Greek painter, who started his own dance company in 1986, and who has since built a reputation for creating hyper-visual dance theatre. INK is a reworking of a piece he created in 2020, and features Šuka Horn, who also performed in the original. The performance was sold out. The rousing ovation at the end, signalled clearly and loudly that Papaioannou is feted and appreciated. Sadly, this missed me, and I was left with two overriding emotions: what on earth have I just watched and, that is 70 minutes of my life I will not get back.

Before being shouted down by Papaioannou aficionados, let me explain what I saw. Papaioannou himself, a middle-aged man dressed in black, walks around carrying a hose, looking for all the world like he was pressure cleaning the stage. He does little else. Walk, sit, stand on a table, and wrestle with a rubber octopus. No dancing there then.

INK by Dimitris Papaioannou
Photo Julian Mommert

Šukas Horn from Germany, is a trained dancer who moved to Athens to join Papaioannou’s production of Transverse Orientation in 2020, and stayed on to work on INK. It was difficult to say whether he’s a good dancer or not as he writhed, wriggled, jigged and slithered. But dance as most people understand it? Not one step.

Once I stopped watching for dancing, I began to wonder what INK was. Perhaps ‘live installation’ is the closest description. Live installation with a touch of circus and magic, and a lot of water.

Certainly, Papaioannou has an eye for creative effects. The water combines with amazing lighting designs (Lucien Laborderie and Stephanos Droussiotis) to afford a fascinating and ever-changing backdrop that I found myself watching more often than the performers.

So, how to interpret the work? The programme was not much help either. In it, Papaioannou explains that he is reluctant to give meanings as he wants “…to avoid dictating the viewer’s reception of the piece.” It left me totally mystified, but perhaps that was part of his intention. This worked for those in the audience who could climb inside his imagination and make their own story from what he was showing us. But try as I might, I could not.

INK, says Papaioannou, will be the last time he performs on stage, so if you are a fan, or simply curious to experience this unusual piece of performance art, grab a ticket, if indeed there are any left to grab.

INK is at Sadler’s Wells to March 2, 2024.