Ruhr Triennial Venue: industrial monument

The international cultural festival in the Ruhr area was launched in 2002. The idea of the 12206519 was that science and culture should furnish the once flourishing heavy industry and mining region with a new identity.

Europeras 1, Ruhrtriennale 2012, Centenary Hall Bochum, Europeras 1, Ruhrtriennale 2012, Centenary Hall Bochum, | © Wonge Bergmann for Ruhrtriennale, 2012. Dress rehearsal for „Europeras 1“, John Cage, staging Heiner Goebbels, 14.08.2012, JHH Bochum. Mezzosopranos: Liliana Nikiteanu and Karolina Gumos, Soprano: Asmik Grigorian, bass: Frode Olsen. The founding intendant, Gerard Mortier, set the Triennial in imposing industrial monuments and established it as a cross-genre festival; Jürgen Flimm raised individual epochs to focal points of his programme; and Willy Decker devoted himself to the three major world religions. By contrast, the programme of the current intendant, Heiner Goebbels, has no overarching theme, yet still bears his signature. Above all, the composer and theatre-maker Goebbels has embarked across a terrain of new, interdisciplinary and experimental hybrid forms beyond the usual repertory theatre. Through the formats of (music) theatre, concert, performance, dance, installation and video, the visual arts have almost always been interwoven into the programme.

In 2012, the first year of his directorship, Goebbels and his team conjured up a magnificent visual and musical tour through the history of opera, John Cage’s opera Europeras 1&2. Last season they managed to abduct audiences into wholly uncharted territory: Goebbels started brilliantly with the European premiere of the opera Delusion of the Fury by Harry Partch. In order to realize his extravagant music of 43 tones per octave, the American misfit Partch invented 75 idiosyncratic sculptural instruments. Using recreated replicas of these, the ensemble musikfabrik gave an image and action-filled musical performance.

The audience as sovereign of its experience

Pioneering are Goebbels’s various ways of incorporating the audience into productions and so of appealing to their own experience and responsibility. In the Rimini Protokoll’s Situation Rooms, for example, visitors became co-players. Per hand screen, small groups found themselves placed in appropriately equipped rooms and in the roles of all those people and institutions involved in weapons – a provocative action and brain-teaser.

Particularly inspiring was the installation test pattern by Ryoji Ikeda. The Japanese artist magnified black and white bar codes and projected them onto the floor of the gigantic Duisburg Central Power Works in such a way that they moved in two parallel tracks and in a biting rhythm of staccato tones. Visitors could give themselves to the play of light on the soft hall floor, playing, singing, dancing or simply viewing. The choreograph William Forsythe’s installation required of the visitor that he carefully enter into a web of hanging pendulums without touching them. The delicate installation filled a bright hall of the Folkwang Museum in Essen, which had been gained as a partner for the second time. On the other hand, the brutal, gloomy corridors of the former Essen mixing plant called for dramatic artistic responses; these were given with impressive works by Douglas Gordon and, even more convincingly in the previous year, by Michal Rovner.

Paths of cultural mediation

The directorship of the Triennial has succeeded in making all the installations available to visitors all the time and free of charge. This has gained the Triennial a huge increase in visitors, especially young people. Otherwise moderate admission fees combined with free access to the installations has rejuvenated the age of visitors by ten years.

Contributing to this success has been the establishment of a campus festival. Accompanying the Triennial since 2012, there have been seminars and workshops with over 200 and students and teachers from international universities and institutions of higher education. The border-crossing, innovative and hands-on experiment is meant to make up for the deficits of theory-heavy courses of studies and to render theatre experienceable as its own reality through extensive exchange.

But the general audience too is addressed and included. Formats such as “tumbletalks”, talks with artists on Sunday morning, and the “Friday canteen”, a communal meal with artists, are very popular and contribute to making the festival an open and communicative meeting place. The proximity to the audience extends to children, whose sense of responsibility has been fostered by their being made members of a jury. As part of the programme “No Education”, about 100 children and young people from schools in the Ruhr region have been solemnly invited to take part in “The Children’s Choice Awards”, to view the events and to evaluate them according to their own self-conceived criteria. For example, dance performances, which enjoy a high place in the programme, received awards in the categories of “The Craziest Gestures” and “The Best Body”.

In the upcoming season, children will take part even in a choreography specially developed for the Ruhr Triennial by Boris Charmatz. Goebbels has invited him, like many other artists, many times so as to deepen the understanding for his artistic work. The Ruhr Triennial will open on 15 August with the German premiere of De Materie, an opera by Louis Andriessen.