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INK: Dimitris Papaioannou and Sadler’s Wells’ production in 7 dramatic images

Exclusive: The theatre director and choreographer discusses his upcoming show

By Alastair James

Šuka Horn and Dimitris Papaioannou
Šuka Horn and Dimitris Papaioannou in INK (Image: Julian Mommert)

Following on from the success of productions such as The Great Tamer and Transverse Orientation, the Greek director, choreographer, and visual artist, Dimitris Papaioannou, is returning to Sadler’s Wells Theatre for the UK premiere of INK.

Papaioannou, who is gay, has described INK as “an unexpected sequel” to Primal Matter, his London debut back in 2016.

In this hyper-visual dance theatre experience Papaioannou and dancer Šuka Horn engage in a battle between old and young, father and son, civilisation and wasteland, stewardship and inheritance, and eroticism and torture amid hundreds of litres of water.

Here we chat to the choreographer about INK, where it came from, how his identity as a gay man impacts his art, and more.

Where did the idea for INK come from?

INK is a project that started out as a visual installation and ended up as a full-scale show. It is a duet that transforms into a duel and is eternally evolving. When I went into the studio, I had no idea what I was going to create but we started playing and collecting pieces that seemed interesting. While I’m always inspired by life I don’t necessarily know where that inspiration comes from. I was in a period full of life and full of light when I was creating INK, yet a lot of darkness appeared in the piece. Ultimately, I had to accept that I was creating a dark piece and follow what needed to be manifested. I control the way the piece is organised and manifested, but I try not to control what it is.

Dimitris Papaioannou in INK
Dimitris Papaioannou in INK (Image: Stelios Theodorou Gklinavos)

You’ve described INK as “a very personal work”. Are you able to elaborate on that?

Firstly, I’m performing in it myself so it feels more personal. It also resonates to paternity in a way that is relevant to my age and my not becoming a father. It circulates around areas of the subconscious that I hope are common for everyone, but they come from a very personal place with regard to the phase of life and age that I’m at.

Šuka Horn and Dimitris Papaioannou in INK (Image: Julian Mommert)

To what extent has your identity as a gay man shaped your work?

In order to become an artist and be openly gay I had to run away from home when I was 18. This meant I was among the first artists in Greece to openly come out and create explicitly homoerotic comic stories. They were supposed to be extremely daring but were really okay in the environment. I’ve discovered over the years that things that are supposedly very daring are ultimately okay if you just go out there and show them. Even now, for instance, full-frontal male nudity is not very common in live shows yet is very prevalent in my work and this has never stopped me from touring. My work is flooded with homoeroticism. And yet, I want my poetry and my artistry to broaden the alchemistic procedure of art so that it shines a mirror against everyone to reflect upon.  

Šuka Horn and Dimitris Papaioannou in INK (Image: Julian Mommert)

In an interview you said dance gave you the “self-fulfilment” you had been looking for in your youth – how do you feel about dance now?

Growing up I went to an all-boys school and had a strong athletic instinct. However, I did not participate in sports because of my artistic sensitivity. When I was studying painting at a fine art school, I met a dance teacher who invited me to her classes. Finally, I found an outlet for all the athleticism and physical energy I was deprived of expressing in my youth. This sense of physicality gave some grounding to my existence. 40 years on, I have a space to express myself through physical performance.  

Šuka Horn and Dimitris Papaioannou in INK (Image: Julian Mommert)

You’ve also mentioned you’ll be on stage “one last time” for INK. Will you continue to create work?

Yes, I’m too old to perform again but it’s difficult to imagine myself not creating. Creating is not only my profession but also my way of life. I can’t imagine ever not creating work although perhaps I won’t tour as much, and my career may stop. In terms of performing though, this is definitely the last round of punishment.

INK runs at Sadler’s Wells Theatre between Wednesday 28 February – Saturday 2 March 2024. Get tickets here.