Modern Theatre in Transformation – An International Snapshot of euro-scene Leipzig
The euro-scene Leipzig festival has taken place every November since 1990. One of its focal areas is on theatre from Eastern Europe.
Every year at the start of autumn, bright green printed material appears in Leipzig - posters, flyers and a booklet – signalling to theatre fans that “euro-scene Leipzig is coming soon!“ The festival presents contemporary European theatre - experimental theatre and innovative dance from all over Europe. Usually, 12 productions are shown with a total of some 25 performances at about nine different venues. Dance, music and spoken theatre are represented and there is also a play for children. Every two years, a competition is held to find the Best German dance solo. Many visitors book subscriptions. The festival is managed by an association and by Festival Director Ann-Elisabeth Wolff. It receives financial support from the Free State of Saxony, the City of Leipzig, international organisations and many commercial enterprises.
From citizens’ initiative to international institution
In the early 1990s, theatre scholar Matthias Renner had the idea of setting up the festival and realised it in Leipzig. He already had the support of Ann-Elisabeth Wolff at that time. An association was set up, making the festival first and foremost a citizens’ initiative. After the end of the Cold War and the opening of the Iron Curtain, there was a lot of catching up to do and great curiosity about international theatre. There was much discussion about the term “avant garde”, used in the festival’s subheadline back then. And the festival management had the ambition of bringing to Leipzig the latest, most interesting and artistically most original theatre from each of the participating countries.
One cross-genre theatre piece from each European country
In 22 years, the festival has remained true to itself in its programme while undergoing constant change. euro-scene Leipzig aims to spot new trends, is committed to contemporary and socially-minded themes, is a hub between Western and Eastern Europe and crosses genre boundaries. The productions invited to attend should touch a human nerve, be exciting but also startling, and give people food for thought and issues to discuss. “I am looking for strong personal styles,“ is how Ann-Elisabeth Wolff describes her selection system. “Many themes and places in our globalised world are interchangeable. A play or production may be unfinished. Its characteristic features often reveal stylistic developments. That is something one can recognise through intuition in a way that is often impossible to explain. What is important to me is that there is a source, the strength to explore new avenues and to develop further, strength for the future.”
The whole of Europe and a round table
Ann-Elisabeth Wolff travels all over Europe several times a year to study productions, intentions and effects at source. In so doing, she has made acquaintances who have influenced the Leipzig festival. Like Alain Platel from Ghent, who has already brought a number of plays to Leipzig. He also contributed the idea for the Best German dance solo, in which performers are given five minutes to demonstrate their skills on a round table seven meters in diameter with specified and repeatable choreographies. The number of entries, huge audience interest and mood in the hall during the three final rounds demonstrate the exceptional popularity of this biennial competition.
Commitment and creativity
The festival has demonstrated creativity in its own productions, for example on the theme of Johann Sebastian Bach, in promoting talented young directors and in seeking new venues. Performances are staged at Leipzig Schauspiel and Leipzig Oper, at independent venues and in unusual, newly-discovered places. Exhibition and industrial halls have been used as theatres, as have the former municipal swimming baths. After climbing the tower of the new town hall, audiences watched performances in old casements with human actors and puppets. Leipzig’s largest church, St. Peter’s, has become a regular venue. In 2007, a production was staged on isolated railway property on the theme of deportation during the period of fascism in Germany. This was the authentic historical site from which people from Leipzig were forced to leave their homes. It was only in early 2012 that a memorial to the deportees was set up at Leipzig’s central station. In 2008, Festival Director Ann-Elisabeth Wolff was awarded the Friederike Caroline Neuber Prize by the City of Leipzig for her committed work.
euro-scene Leipzig has developed from being a citizens’ initiative into an international institution. Theatre fans from Leipzig, the region and Central Germany as well as specialists travelling from further afield convene for the days of the festival. Herbstzeitlose (Autumn crocus) is the evocative title of the twenty-second festival. Tonstörung (Sound disturbance) was last year’s motto. 95.7 per cent of the seats were booked at last year’s festival. Such a keen interest cannot be planned, but in Leipzig, one can almost rely on it.
is a freelance cultural journalist and theatre critic. She has been following euro-scene Leipzig since its foundation with coverage on radio, in the print media and online.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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