Restarts at HAU and Mousonturm Dancers as Researchers and Players

Jérôme Bel „Disabled Theater“; © Michael Bause
Jérôme Bel „Disabled Theater“ | Photo (detail): © Michael Bause

As of the start of the 2012/2013 season, the Berlin theatre Hebbel am Ufer (HAU) and the Frankfurt Mousonturm have new directors. They support young performers as well as the scene’s recognised greats.

In Berlin, Annemie Vanackere relies on old connections as well as making new alliances. Vanackere brings along her experience and contacts from Flanders, where she previously directed the Schouwburg in Rotterdam. She will start the season in November with a choreographer whose work she has known since she first started directing in the nineties - Jérôme Bel. “He is a dancer who has not done any more dancing, but through not doing it has said a great deal about dance and theatre,“ she recalls. That was quite revolutionary back then.“ Meanwhile, Bel’s probing exploration of the conditions apparently prevailing in dance and theatre has set a precedent. This year, he set out on new border-crossings: Disabled Theater is a cooperation with the Zürich ensemble HORA, which consists of actors with a mental disability, and a HAU coproduction. “A moving piece. But it is also a brave move to show it as the season’s first play.“

Meanings stems from movement

Another of Annemie Vanackere’s old acquaintances is Meg Stuart, whom she has known since her first choreographic work at the Klapstuk Festival in Leuven. “What I value about her is that the meaning stems from the movement. It is dance because it cannot be said in words,“ said Vanackere. The choreographer is now going to be able to realise special projects at the HAU, for example during her three-week residency at HAU3 in January 2013, an experiment with an open outcome that will also open its doors to the public. HAU will also show The Fault Lines by Stuart and Philipp Gehmacher and their Munich production Built to last, enabling audiences to gain a broad view of their work.

Continuity, but not exclusivity

Vanackere would like to work continuously but not exclusively with performers such as Bel, Stuart, Laurent Chétouane, Kat Válastur and Nicole Beutler. “I would prefer to work with particular performers than with particular projects. That has something to do with the way in which I work as a member of an audience. It is fun to see how performers develop and we would like to enable our audience to see that too.”

Since August, Vanackere has been assisted by a dance curator, 34-year-old Ricardo Carmona, who previously worked at the Alkantara Festival in Lisbon. The young Portuguese represents a different generation in the team and also a different view of Europe. There are also changes at Germany’s biggest contemporary dance festival, “Tanz im August“. Previously, it received joint support from TanzWerkstatt Berlin and HAU. Now it has exclusive links with HAU. In 2013, it will be directed by Bettina Masuch. “To sharpen the festival’s profile, I thought it was important for there to be a curator to give the festival a distinctive character. That character may be controversial, but it is more productive than making too many compromises,“ said Vanackere.

Discovering common ground

In Frankfurt, the new artistic director Niels Ewerbeck, who previously worked at the Theater Gessnerallee in Zürich, has thoroughly revamped the Mousonturm. Since it reopened in September, its foyers and stages have shone in renewed splendour. And he has pulled off a coup through the “Doppelpass” theatre cooperation project of the German Federal Cultural Foundation which enabled him to take on three young choreographers for two years. May Zarhy, Ioannis Mandafounis and Fabrice Mazliah met one another through their connections with the Forsythe Company and have been working together in the Mamaza collective since 2009. “That is a decision in favour of performing artists who keep calling themselves into question,“ says dramaturge Martine Dennewald. “In their cooperation, nothing is done as a matter of course, not even when we have done the movements a hundred times before. On the one hand, they are relentlessly strict, while on the other they are very playful.“ Supporting local performing artists is important to the new team. “The idea is that they should get a good basis here with organisational and infrastructural support.“

Determined researchers and players

Getting Mamaza’s determined researchers and players to come to the theatre is a programmatic decision, which suggests that the Mousonturm, too, is continuously questioning its conditions. “We have exactly the same situation in dance as in the other areas of our work,“ says Dennewald. “We are interested in a definition of dance that is not self-explanatory, but raises questions and carries out experiments. For example, in October, there were four dance productions from the Maghreb that explored what a body is in different social and historical contexts. And the area of camp/anti-camp explores different forms of body constructions and of another person’s viewpoint.“

In addition, the work of Tanzlabor 21 will be continued. It began in 2006 as part of Tanzplan Deutschland and since 2011 has been funded by a foundation alliance between the City of Frankfurt and Land Hesse. In addition to teaching projects, such as dance in schools, there are various modules that give young dancers opportunities for exchange and further training in their respective locations, as well as a residential programme that invites dancers and choreographers to work in Frankfurt. “Frankfurt has a well-informed audience for dance,“ says Dennewald in conclusion. “But that audience also needs to be presented with things they do not yet know.“

Both theatres seem to have an underlying belief in the importance of openness, curiosity and orientation towards performers.

Niels Ewerbeck died during the preparation of this article. Since his programme is to be continued for the time being, this text is being published nevertheless.