The Berlin Festival Foreign Affairs
Frie Leysen, this year’s director of Foreign Affairs, has announced a “clash of visions” for the Berlin theater in autumn. And in fact the well-known Belgian festival organizer, founder, among other things, of the cultural center De Singel in Antwerp and the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels, is sending a clear message with the first edition of the new festival in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele. The program that is replacing the previous series spielzeit’europa will be “international, interdisciplinary” and decidedly “contemporary”. In recent years spielzeit’europa presented over a period of several months primarily spectacular guest performances and co-productions with stars of international dance and theater, which the public did not necessarily perceive as an independent cycle. By contrast, Leysen and Thomas Oberender, who has been artistic director of the Berlin Festspiele since January 2012, are betting on a concentrated space of time: Foreign Affairs condenses 22 projects of 19 artists from 15 countries into a four-week focus. In addition to internationally renowned guest performers such as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Boris Charmatz and Romeo Castellucci, the festival will present above all artists from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe who are still unknown in Germany.
Diverse content and theater forms
Pressing various positions into a catchy, overarching slogan, however, has never interested Leysen. Contrary to the European theater scene’s rampant propensity for theming entire seasons and programs, she says the artists are themselves the theme. Moreover, she doesn’t want to see the invited artists either “as representatives of their countries or their cultures” or as towing a “common aesthetic line”, but rather as “contemporary witnesses” whose artistic approach to their subjects is expressly diverse. This of course by no means suggests that no synergies or thematic emphases emerge from the first edition of Foreign Affairs; it means only that these effects are not pre-programmed.
Unconstrained synergies and wealth of perspectives
For example, it is striking that many artists, from completely different angles, treat European colonial history. In his (in the best sense) provocative installation Exhibit B, the South African director Brett Bailey recurs to the dubious nineteenth century format of “Völkerschauen”, or anthropological displays, and exposes African immigrants living in Berlin together with Namibian actors to the gaze of the viewer. We love Africa and Africa loves us , on the other hand, the Swedish artist Markus Öhrn and the Truppen Institutet and Nya Rampen confront “post-colonial fantasies of omnipotence” with “European family structures”. And in their study of racist thought, Black Bismarck previsited, the German performance collective Andcompany & Co. go back to the so-called Berlin “Congo Conference” in the winter of 1884/85.
Another and completely different example of festival synergies: on the opening weekend, the Japanese artist Kyohei Sakaguchi will build a house out of rubbish, inspired by the survival strategies of the urban homeless. And for three weeks during the festival, the Italian pianist and conductor Marino Formenti will then play piano in the rubbish house.
The festival director makes house calls
The new festival format of the Berlin Festspiele brings with it innovations not only in content and on the aesthetic level, but also on the purely practical level. So as to open the festival as far as possible to the city and reach a broad audience, the Festspielhaus has entered into cooperation with institutions of the independent scene such as the Sophiensaelen and Ballhaus Ost. Festival ticket prices have been significantly reduced from those of its predecessor spielzeit’europa and are now between an affordable 10 and 25 euros. And Frie Leysen doesn’t only talk about “respect for the audience”; she also knows how to show this concretely: upon request, she will even drop in at the homes of interested people and, in return for a drink, present her program “as at a Tupperware party” and talk about the participating artists.
Leysen, however, as all parties decided in common agreement at the outset, will be responsible for only the first edition of Foreign Affairs. Beginning in 2013, Matthias von Hartz, who recently directed the international Hamburg Summer Festival at Kampnagel, will become curator of the new Berlin festival. And in 2014 Leysen will take over the drama division of the Vienna Festival.
The author is a theater critic and journalist. She writes for various publications, including Spiegel online, the Berliner Tagesspiegel and Theater heute. She is a member of the jury of the Capital City Culture Fund and the Berlin Theater Meeting.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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