PF | Where did the idea for The Great Tamer come from?
DP | I was commissioned to create a new work and I was thinking about excavation, the archaeology of memory and the sense of human identity and I remembered the story of a young University student who went missing in Greece after being bullied. The whole country was looking for him and he was found dead by a river. No one knew if it was murder or suicide. The story evoked emotions in me that I didn’t know what to do with and it kind of connected with the idea of grace – what we do with grace, how look for it and how we destroy it. This muddy environment of concepts and thoughts was the beginning of The Great Tamer.
PF | What does the title refer to?
DP | For the Ancient Greeks the ‘all tamer’ is time. So the title is playing a game with this concept – the concept of time. For humans, the notion of time is linked with the consciousness of death – the ‘end time’. This makes time valuable because we know it is limited for us. It also opens up important questions about existence that have tormented us since the since humanity began. What is the meaning of life? What happens after it? Science, philosophy, religion and art are all about these questions! So The Great Tamer is a game with the concept of time.
PF | We can see many visual references to the Great Masters in the work. Can you tell us more about this and why you chose to explore them using the active human form?
DP | I don’t work with texts. I work with human movement and the interaction of the human body with different elements. But I don’t like a lot of dancey movement – so I try to keep things simple.
There is a lot about the human condition and our history that has been crystallised by the Masters and has become a common human memory that we all (at least those of us from the western civilisation tradition) share. Because I’m not narrating with words, encouraging these references is a way to communicate with the audience. It also makes for a pleasant and entertaining game of associations and triggering the imagination. And it reminds us that we all have things in common.
There are some well-known religious images in the work – of course, I reverse them and I try to be ironic and playful with them. For me it’s a way to have fun.
PF | Tell us about your experience creating the Opening and Closing Ceremony for the Athens Olympics in 2004 – how has your work evolved since then?
DP | It was a life changing experience because for three years I had to use all the skills that I had (artistic and non-artistic) in order to endure the experience and to succeed. I had the chance to experiment with the alchemistic dimension of art making – in trying to apply it on such an enormous scale. Not just the size of the stadium but the enormous scale of the impact.
So for me this was a very interesting experiment and one that I repeated with much more confidence at the European Games in 2015.
It helped my work evolve because I got rid of loads of burdens about living a life as an artist. I got rid of vanities and ambitions and the unnecessary burdens of wanting to be successful. I took five years off my own personal expression and when I got back I had a lot to criticise myself with, and I had the chance to concentrate on the more essential dimension of trying to create art and to communicate with my fellow humans.
PF | Do you think it’s possible for the future of theatre to be based purely on concepts; can concepts survive without a clear narrative?
DP | I think our perception of a clear narrative is a little bit limited. A clear narrative could be that a linear thing is followed by a circular thing and then there is a sudden break and then there is a quiet empty thing – this is a narrative. So if the question is linked to whether there is visual value to abstract art or it has to be a representative painting then yes I do think there is value and I think human history has answered that question very clearly.
Do I think that concept alone is enough for theatre? I do not think that even narrative alone is enough for theatre. I don’t think anything alone is enough for art if the act of transformation is not achieved. If transformation or alchemy is achieved then no matter what the medium, it is enough.
PF | What did you want people to take away from the work?
DP | I am not really the one to say. I would be flattered if they were entertained and taken into another dimension of reality. If they were transported, as they say, a little bit. And if they have the time, while having the experience of the show, to get in touch with themselves, with their inner life, a little bit more.
THE GREAT TAMER, 8 - 12 Feb, Heath Ledger Theatre