Is there anywhere else you’d find slapstick and Botticelli’s Venus sharing the same stage, a brooding Minotaur and a woman sandwiched in a camp bed like it’s a mouse trap? Let alone a (fake) baby torn from the oozing gloop of its amniotic sac who then sits up and waves to the audience. All these things live together in the world of Greek choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou, a master of contradictions. He’ll create sublime tableaux and then puncture the moment with absurdity; and cross beauty with disgust, wonder and comedy.
Papaioannou has been honing his vision since the 1980s, drawing on fine art and Greek myth, humour and optical illusion – two dancers combining into an exotic beast, for example, legs and heads seemingly pointing in the wrong directions. The title Transverse Orientation apparently refers to the mechanism by which moths always point themselves towards the light. We don’t know what drives Papaioannou’s dancers, they are flesh and blood (lots of flesh), but primarily raw material for Papaioannou to sculpt with: six men and the serene Breanna O’Mara, who with her long auburn hair looks like she’s stepped out of a Renaissance painting. There’s also an imposing and very realistic black bull, a puppet that almost steals the show.
What’s certain is that Papaioannou is unique in what he does, the painterly precision of his set pieces, the sudden magical transformations. Some scenes unfold slowly, a lot of downtime between the revelations and more process than strictly necessary. This piece doesn’t feel as rich as the last work he brought to London’s Dance Umbrella festival, The Great Tamer, but it concocts some truly arresting moments.
At Sadler’s Wells, London, until 23 October