A Place That Embraces Diversity – Frankfurt LAB
Frankfurt LAB understands itself as a place that gives artistic processes time and allows the audience an insight into the laboratory’s various activities.
These plain factory halls have witnessed a great deal already. In 2002, theatre manager Elisabeth Schweeger opened the Schmidtstraße 12 branch of the schauspielfrankfurt, which was directed initially by Armin Petras, then by Florian Fiedler. It was a highly successful enterprise, with its own audience and the charm of imperfection. Schweeger’s successor Oliver Reese no longer wished to run the place. So, in 2009, some of the big shots of the Frankfurt cultural scene got involved in realising the new concept of a jointly-used rehearsal and performance venue - Frankfurt LAB. The idea soon caught on. LAB is supported by the Rhine-Main Cultural Fund, the Stiftung Polytechnische Gesellschaft and the BHF Bank Foundation, and its financing is secured until mid-2017.
Network of contemporary artists
Five established Frankfurt institutions have created a place here to rehearse, cooperate, experiment and perform. The collaboration also benefitted from the earlier cooperation within the Tanzlabor_21 Tanzplan project. This place provides space for something for which there is little room elsewhere in the densely built-up city of Frankfurt. The Mousonturm uses the large hall for dance productions, the Ensemble Modern has a chance to perform outside a concert hall, the Frankfurt School of Music and Performing Arts, which has cramped quarters of its own, gains space here, the Forsythe Company has moved its offices and rehearsal rooms here and the Hessian Theatre Academy, an association of theatre training institutions, can offer its students cross-institutional job opportunities.
But the concept involves more than just the two halls. It is envisaged that one day LAB will move to the future cultural campus which is to be established on the university grounds in Bockenheim that are becoming vacant and which aims to combine work, living and culture.
Dancing on genre boundaries
What these so very varied artistic works that are being created here have in common is that they cross genre boundaries. There are installations, audio tours, performances, lectures and scenic concerts. LAB is an institution as heterogeneous as the aesthetic experiences that make it possible. Located on the grounds of the communications factory on the outskirts of Frankfurt, between Aldi and Nadine’s Pizzeria, the plain, white and grey halls can certainly not be called representative.
And that is a good thing, because LAB is first and foremost a workroom that opens temporarily to audiences who gain an insight into the work of established and young artists, both in performances planned long in advance and in presentations held at short notice. The special thing about its programme is that it is not curated, and anyone working at one of the institutions involved or invited to do so by one of these institutions can stage a production. While LAB provides the infrastructure, the costs of each production have to be raised from other sources by the institutions involved. Festivals, such as the CRESC… Biennale for Modern Music, the BHF Bank Foundation’s Frankfurt Positions and Rough Cuts, a platform for local dance groups, also benefit from the special atmosphere between the dressing room and highbrow culture. And Motion Bank, the Forsythe Company’s research and education project, organises workshops, presentations and performances here with choreographers such as Deborah Hay and Bebe Miller.
Space and time for experiments
The lowest common denominator is the slogan ‘Space and time for contemporary production’. LAB’s concept catches up with the changes that have been under way in the contemporary arts for some time now. Instead of one institution, there is a network of artists, academies and institutions. And process-based works that give audiences individual ways to approach and internalise them replace ready-made products performed in a hierarchically structured theatre. As William Forsythe says, an event becomes “an occasion that organises itself”. “That may be our future: spaces not designed to be used in just one way. We need them to address the questions society is raising today.“
Long-term performances and games of hide-and-seek
“Unprejudiced” is how project manager Sabine Stenzel describes the bare, high-ceilinged rooms where extremely varied material finds a venue. In a long-term performance in 2011, Japanese performance artist Sadaharu Horio created a meticulously complex superstructure for the production of a picture. Palettes tumble down and paint splashes onto it – the picture is less important than creating a depicted moment. In the production Debut: Ich verspreche ein Konzert zu geben (2009), which counted towards Lucie Tuma’s diploma,she explored the question of what promises promise. And in cover up (2011) ), the dance trio MAMAZA (Fabrice Mazliah, Ioannis Mandafounis and May Zarhy) used an enormous white Flokati rug to examine hiding and concealment strategies.
There is no doubt that LAB, with its planned yet flexible programme, is unique in Germany as a place for theatre, music and research. In spite of its unpredictable programme, it won its place in urban society long ago. People walk through its halls sporting hooded sweatshirts or high heels. There are people in suits and young artists. And it has created a beneficial environment. A few doors down, you will not only find Altana Cultural Foundation and the Forsythe Company at work, but also the recently-opened Z Centre, which, like LAB, also functions as a network, providing a base for Frankfurt dancers and choreographers. Sabine Stenzel is pleased to report that “as well as artistic cooperation, there are also everyday synergies”. So eight years after the closure of the Theater am Turm (TAT), it can be hopefully declared that something is going on in the Frankfurt theatre scene.
writes about dance and theatre for publications such as taz, nachtkritik.de, tanz and corpusweb.
Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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