A naked man and a man in a suit fight to share the same space, and in the end become one.
That’s essentially what happens in Dimitris Papaioannou’s “Primal Matter,” shown at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer on Saturday night.
With expressionless players Papaioannou (in the black suit) and Tadeu Liesenfeld (in the buff), the piece aims to explore the cultural and economic shifts occurring in the choreographer’s home country of Greece. Considering the country’s austerity, Papaioannou uses the most basic of items in creating his world — small bean bags; a table; a microphone; a stool; a tub of water; and two walls, a plywood one and a black cloth one.
In the beginning of this 75-minute work, the two struggle to inhabit the same territory. But as the piece progresses, the men, one of whom appears to represent primitive man or a refugee and the other modern man, help each other cope and adapt in the most curious ways.
As it unfolds, however, “Primal Matter” is often baffling. It begins with Papaioannou carrying a small garbage pail of beanbags on his shoulder. He takes one out, drops it on the floor and places his heel on it. He takes out another, drops it on the floor and places his other heel on it. Those little islands or steppingstones lead him up a short flight of stairs and across a raised platform. The audience is startled out of this monotony when the wooden wall behind Papaioannou moves. As it slides, out pops Liesenfeld who, though Brazilian, looks like the epitome of a young Greek god or perhaps the model for Michelangelo’s “David.” Pure and beautiful, he and Papaioannou stare at each other — and the contest of wills and strength sets out.
For the next several minutes, the men take turns trying to slip their entire bodies under each others’ armpits or between the wall and the other man, who is pressed against it. They make it through by pushing and pulling on each other’s limbs and heads.
As that section, like the sand bag opening, grows dull, Liesenfeld disappears behind the wall. Papaioannou once again wakes up his small audience by making sounds into a microphone. He mouths amplified explosions like soaring and landing missiles. His hands burst open behind his head as if he himself is erupting.
From there, the two appear to become a circus sideshow — Liesenfeld on display while Papaioannou manipulates his figure to a muted, canned applause. At times, Liesenfeld acts like his dog, pooping out the beanbags that Papaioannou scoops up. He also frames Liesenfeld against the wall, staring at him as if he is a work of art. Papaioannou also bathes him and polishes him. Sometimes Liesenfeld has the microphone in which he makes odd sawing and swishing noises into as Papaioannou rubs Liesenfeld’s feet or arms.
In the end, Papaioannou appears to twist off the lower half of his legs and lend them to Liesenfeld. Ultimately, they walk as one. Perhaps this is Papaioannou’s hope for his country.
Still “Primal Matter” is an oddity. And while there are times that it is intensely daft, there are other times it’s thought-provoking. Needless to say, the piece fits perfectly into EMPAC’s avant-garde profile.