The captivating choreography of Christos Papadopoulos has spread far beyond the country where it began, Greece. Three weeks ago, BRUZZ met the free spirit at the Théâtre des Abbesses in Paris, where he was presenting his new work Ion. It’s happening now at Les Halles.
A rising star in the universe of contemporary dance, the Greek artist Christos Papadopoulos made a name for himself due to the meditative power of his choreographic style. Following Elvedon, a show inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves and by the perpetual movement of the sea, once again the artist looks with wonder to nature and its fascinating ways, to explore the place of the individual in the larger whole to which he or she belongs, without always being aware of it. In his new work, Ion, a swarm of ten men and women with bare torsos moves slowly around the space, as if drawn by an instinctive force that is stronger than they are. Without turning their heads for a moment, exchanging neither looks nor words, the group glides in unison from one side of the stage to the other in a hypnotising flow, never taking their eyes off the void that lies before them. Beneath the apparent harmony and coordination, however, is a stream of individuals expressing themselves.
Your new show is inspired by synchronised movements that are found in nature, like swarms of bees or shoals of fish. Is that something you have observed a lot?
Christos Papadopoulos: I’m a country boy. All my life I was surrounded by nature and the mountains, working with grapes with my grandfather. I only moved to Athens when I was 17. But I think the moment I really found out what it was all going to be about was in 2008, when I spent a month and a half in Kenya for a project. I had to create a small performance using the rituals of the tribes in the area. So, I was in my tent in the middle of the savannah, away from civilisation. At night, I could see the lions passing by next to me. And something very spiritual happened to me. I felt like a small gazelle, like if I made the wrong move, a lion would eat me. And the paradox was that, instead of filling me with fear, it was amazingly liberating. It gave me a sense that it has nothing to do with me, my presence is irrelevant, that, in a way, I have no role to play. It was as if I was on drugs, I was so happy. That was where I became interested in taking a step back from the human drama of the civilised Western world. In Ion, I’m trying to zoom out, as if I was very far away from the earth, in something so much bigger, and slowly zoom back in to view individuals as part of a system in which we are all really connected.
Do you believe strongly in the group and in community?
Papadopoulos: So much. I believe it’s the only way to exist successfully. When you observe birds and fish, you can really see their social behaviours operating, even though they have complicated systems with alternating hierarchies. It’s really fascinating to think that, right beside us, there’s a system at work and, in a way, we are missing it. I wanted to create a social situation in which the essence of the group is the result of each individual’s generous devotion to their common task.
Does that mean that Ion is a political piece?
Papadopoulos: It is not a political play but, in a sense, it is deeply political: the truth that lies behind it is that we can only make it together. In a way, the crisis in Greece made us re-evaluate life, what is important, what it means to have money. At times, I felt it was a precious lesson, but you quickly realise that’s a romantic idea. You start to see poverty and hunger, the rise of extreme right-wing parties, violence, not to mention the suffering of refugees. “Ion” is a word from the vocabulary of chemistry, but in Ancient Greek it means “the common step in order to”, a common motion with a common goal, with mutual support.
Ion has an almost hypnotic effect. Are you testing the power of dance over the spectator?
Papadopoulos: I want the audience to let go. When you see the sea, you surrender yourself without expectations to what you see. You empty your mind in order to record your thoughts. A friend of mine told me that, during the piece, he was thinking about the laundry he still had to do. For me, that’s a wonderful trip. It makes me very happy to get that kind of feedback because it means that audience members’ minds and imaginations can drift. I don’t want people to force themselves to be there and feel guilty if they feel their thoughts drifting. It is meditative in a way. The fact that the input could affect them without them really understanding how, that they surrender to something it triggers inside you without really knowing why, is very precious to me.
Are the dancers in that same meditative state when they perform onstage?
Papadopoulos: For the dancers it’s not meditative at all! They must be extremely aware of what’s happening. Ion is an elegy of life told through real effort on the part of the dancers, because it is extremely painful to dance like this. You really need to exert yourself onstage in order to communicate without looking, to slide without falling. The movement must not become a ritual or the connection would be lost. I find the endeavour very charming.
There’s an intensity in the dancers’ gaze. They seem to look right at us at the same time as staring into space, helping to mesmerise the audience.
Papadopoulos: The expression on the dancers’ faces is the moment before a smile, a very delicate and small thing. In my imagination, the dancers look at us that way because they have a very specific target, as in those amazing slow-motion videos in which you see athletes running. Their entire body and all the movement is just an echo of their face. Everything is relevant because the imagination and the eyes are running. Sports really inspire me in general. When you watch a sport, you can really see the basic coordination of movements with true intention, and how everything is engaged in achieving a very specific target. I find that simplicity very touching.
Do the naked torsos relate to that same idea of simplicity?
Papadopoulos: That came about because I couldn’t find the right costumes. Casual was too casual, and formal was too formal. There was always a filter. When I started to try it out with the dancers nude, I really connected with the human beings, a very fragile flock of individuals. After a while, you don’t see the nudity anymore, just people. It’s not even a matter of sex or gender. It’s just what we see. We are equal but all different.
> Christos Papadopoulos: Ion. 7 & 8/12, 20.00, Les Halles