In the week leading up to my seeing “The Great Tamer,” conceived, visualized and directed by Dimitris Papaioannou, the only thing I knew was that it contained full frontal nudity. So, naturally, I asked my dad to accompany me for a unique father-daughter bonding experience. Unfortunately, he was unable (or unwilling) to join me on what promised to be “a visually stunning production of ten dancers that grapples with the meaning of life and the mystery of death.” So on Friday night, I shuffled into my seat, dad-less and defenseless, not even close to ready for the self-proclaimed “surrealist nightmare” and the experience of a lifetime.
When I took my seat, there was already an actor on stage. I checked my phone. I wasn’t late, still five minutes to show time, but he was just hanging out center stage, looking around at the audience. Then, the play began. The house lights remained on while the man on stage slowly began undressing himself. There was no music, no sound, just the occasional uncomfortable cough from the audience. Once he was fully undressed, he laid down on a white sheet of what I assumed to be plywood. Another man appeared to cover him in a sheet. As soon as that man left another man uncovered the naked man. While I was still trying to wrap my head around how he was comfortable enough to be fully nude in front of an audience of 500 people, there were murmured chuckles from the audience as the cycle started over. And over. And over. By the 13th or 14th time, the chuckles subsided in place of a fatigued anticipation for a new bout of action.
And action it was. Soon enough, the stage was alive with movement. If I diverted my gaze to one person, two more people would appear onstage, usually naked, always in the midst of a new interpretive scene. These scenes built upon one another, fluidly moving from one to the next and often recurring throughout the show. Even the covering tarp came back once or twice. With so much going on, not every scene’s meaning was apparent. In fact, very few scene’s meanings were apparent. I genuinely wish I could say what the play was concretely about, but to be honest, I’m not exactly sure myself.
Even calling it a play is a stretch; there were no words and only limited music. The performance featured twelve dancers who spent the hour and forty-five minutes contorting their bodies into visually stunning and unimaginable shapes, depicting puzzling yet fascinating — sometimes even grotesque — interpretations of human existence. Each dancer was barely distinguishable from one another, always dressed in black and thrown together in various formations, often being used as singular body parts making up one whole human. While many parts of this performance were confusing and disturbing, some parts were relatable and beautiful.
There was a man who entered in a full body ceramic cast. He could barely move, needing a crutch just to walk. When the other man onstage realized his problem, he began breaking the ceramic shell off his body by hugging him. Though they had just met, the man in the cast had to learn to trust his new friend quickly, at least enough for him to put his hands around his neck. With this deep sense of trust, the ceramic man allowed his friend to break through his tough outer shell to see the person he was beneath. With one final heart and ceramic-breaking hug, the man was free from his binding cast. He patted himself down, in awe of his new body, shook hands with his friend and left. The friend was left with nothing but a handshake and a pile of broken, ceramic hopes. The ceramic man and this friend had spent so much time together that, consequently, when the ceramic man departed, he took a part of the friend with him. To escape the pain of being left behind, the friend began gathering all the ceramic pieces and stuffing them in a plastic bag, leaving a fine layer of dust, never fully being able to rid himself of the memory no matter how hard he tried.
“The Great Tamer” was not a show I necessarily enjoyed. It is not one I would go see again, and it is certainly not one I would have wanted to see with my dad. I didn’t leave with a smile on my face. But despite not being particularly enjoyable, I understood its value. Humanity isn’t always beautiful and enjoyable. It doesn’t always bring a smile to your face. Sometimes it’s puzzling, disturbing and grotesque. It’s fascinating and it’s magical and it’s completely unpredictable. Moments like the ceramic man, simple, plain and heartbreakingly real, made all the chaos of the movement, the music and the people completely and utterly human.