Stage frights: Surreal dance performance explores human darkness

Untamed hearts: The dance performance “The Great Tamer” uses evocative imagery to tell a story without words.
Julian Mommert

They’re dancers in the dark.

A bizarrely beautiful new dance performance will showcase humanity’s dark side, but serves it up with a sense of humor. “The Great Tamer,” showing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Nov. 14–17 as part of the Next Wave Festival, demonstrates mankind’s sinister tendencies, with an otherworldly show featuring 10 performers moving and writhing across a malleable stage, accompanied by well-known music and images, according to its creator and director.

“It’s a kind of poetry that doesn’t take itself seriously,” said Dimitris Papaioannou. “It sometimes deals with dark issues, but hopefully in a light way.”

In the roughly 100-minute show, the performers create temporary interpretations of well-known artworks, myths, and archetypes from across the Western world, imitating Michelangelo’s “David,” Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” or the story of Narcissus looking at his reflection — all used to tell a story without words, said the Greek artist.

“When you go to archetypes you go to Greek myths, they’re kind of a common global language — at least in the Western world,” Papaioannou said. “They are familiar themes in an unfamiliar atmosphere.”

The bizarre assembly of images will include — among other things — dancers performing in the nude, others pulling fake intestines out of each other, and an appearance by an astronaut.

The stage itself will also come to life, with the floorboards tilting, trapdoors opening, and the whole stage threatening to devour the people standing on it, which creates an uneasy feeling among the audience, said the director.

“At certain points you don’t know if the stage could swallow you,” Papaioannou said. “The interaction of elements, light, stage, and bodies, all those elements are equally important.”

The artist decided to explore human darkness in the wake of a tragic 2015 suicide by a Greek student who had been bullied by classmates. The show is not about that incident, said Papaioannou, but the emotions he felt as a result of that story kept coming up when he created the show.

“You will see a lot of destruction and people devouring other people, but it’s more like a meditation about those things,” he said. “The element of hostility and bullying and this kind of cannibalism and all these issues about wanting grace, searching grace, all these things that humans do.”

“The Great Tamer” at Brooklyn Academy of Music Howard Gilman Opera House [30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene, www.bam.org, (718) 636-4100]. Nov. 14-16 at 7:30 pm, Nov. 17 at 3 pm. $25.