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Art that is not about anything. Greek spectacle The Great Tamer was a delight on #HF17

During the first two weeks of this Holland Festival, almost all art was about something. The festival theme 'democracy', conceived for the occasion, appears to have penetrated just about every hairline. Sometimes painful and strongly topical, as in the phenomenal 'The Nation' of the National Theatre, sometimes downright embarrassing, as in the heavily overrated 'Democracy in America' by Romeo Castellucci, and sometimes deeply personal. The performances '887' and 'The Gabriels' were rare highlights of storytelling talent and eloquence in that area.

From the cradle of our democracy, Greece, came a very different sound last weekend. For the performance The Great Tamer was not about anything at all. And how nice that was.

Programme booklet

Forget for a moment the story about a disappearance and suicide that the creator had to hand in to the writers of the programme booklet. The Great Tamer (the great tamer) was a one-and-a-half-hour string of comic, beautiful, sensually erotic and juggling images that kept captivating. The stage of the Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg had been turned into a matte-black ramp for the occasion, covered with thin sheets of plywood. All sorts of things were hidden under those sheets: disappearing holes, a bath, traps and graves.

The actors were all very beautiful, athletically-shaped men and women. They filled that stage with beautiful scenes and sometimes made inimitable movements and tableaux. Everything had to do with death and impermanence, but it was brought unapologetically and performed dryly comically.


So The Great Tamer was actually pretty much about something. About how life is a cycle, about how there is little difference between a freshly exhumed corpse and an antique statue broken into pieces. The earth takes and the earth gives, and at some point we are no more.

Actually, this way of not being emphatically about anything is one of the better ways to dealing with life if you live in Greece now. After all, that country is saddled with a sky-high debt to the rest of Europe. Ironically, we, the spectators in Amsterdam, actually get to decide how they should live their lives there for the next 50 years. That is an incalculable time for every person involved and an inhumane punishment in debt restructuring. Then The Great Tamer is the perfect answer from the country saddled with the reputation of having once invented our constitutional values and our theatre.


Time heals all wounds. But exactly how much time is needed for that? Ask the Greek how to deal with it.

The creator of all this, Dimitris Papaioannou, will become the darling of festival programmers around the world in the coming years. This makes him a worthy successor to the slightly too boozy Marthaler and the slightly too lazy Castellucci. Enough reason to overcome that Hollandfestivalschroom next year and buy a ticket. Are they happy in Greece anyway.

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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