Impulse Theater Festival 2015
Playing Seriously

Festival Impulse 2015
Festival Impulse 2015 | © Impulse

Impulse is one of the most important festivals for the independent theatre scene in Germany. In 2015, Florian Malzacher curated it for the second time. An overview of the 18th Impulse Theater Festival which takes place in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Dusseldorf and Cologne from 11 to June 20, 2015.

Gesellschaftsspiele – Games of Society, the title of the Impulse-Festival 2015, conjures up a dual image. A child-like joy of playing appears in the mind’s eye, together with rules that one has to keep. And, at the same time, the words can also relate to politics: is not democracy a great game with rules that have to be constantly renegotiated – and which accommodates many other agreements which are constantly changing? How does a society play itself, for whom does it play – and, above all, who is permitted to join in the game? “These questions of representation are currently occupying many theatre-makers,” says Florian Malzacher, artistic director of the most important festival of the independent theatre scene in Germany, regarding the second of these festivals that he has curated. He should know: for the Open Call of the Impulse there were over 330 submissions from independent theatres. Over the course of two years he and Nadine Vollmer, the new dramaturg, looked at a total of 500-600 works, around 40 of which were presented to the seven-member artistic board.

Gob Squad: “Western Society”
Gob Squad: “Western Society” | © David Balzer
Finally ten works were selected: in Western Society, Gob Squad exercises self-irony in investigating just how bourgeois and happy we are – the swan song of a representative affluent society. With their Ivorian/Congolese performers, Gintersdorfer/Klaßen subvert the European image of Africa in Das neue schwarze Denken – Chefferie (i.e. Black Thoughts Now – Chefferie), and by allowing “chiefs” to act, they keep a fairly low profile as representing directors. In Riding on a Cloud, Rabih Mroué, originally from Lebanon, invites his brother on stage, a character who has lost the ability to recognise representation as a result of being severely wounded in the war. Milo Rau and his international Institute of Political Murder gave up representation in the working process of The Civil Wars, actually planned as research on young ISIS fighters from Europe. Since it was not possible for the performers to portray this authentically enough, it became a soul-searching inquiry into their own rebellious attitudes.

Chris Kondek/Christiane Kühl: “Anonymous P.”
Chris Kondek/Christiane Kühl: “Anonymous P.” | © Nicolas Duc
Yet the guest list also features names that are not so well known: the performers Markus & Markus, appearing at the Impulse theatre Festival for the first time with their sensational Ibsen:Gespenster (i.e. Ibsen: Ghost) ”, spent three weeks in the company of a woman who had decided to die, accompanying her up to her actual death. They stage this documentation in a manner that is discordant and dignified at the same time. With Anonymous P., Chris Kondek and Christiane Kühl turn the Festival into an interactive hacker space. In Die Aufführung (i.e. The Performance), Herbordt / Mohren invite the audience to take part in an unfinished, flickering “job-site inspection” and theatrical self-interrogation on stage, while in Urforst (i.e. Virgin Forest),  Hendrik Quast & Maika Knoblich erect an old oak tree in the park of the Ringlokschuppen.

Rescued sustainably at last

Milo Rau: “Civil Wars”
Milo Rau: “Civil Wars” | © Milo Rau
Impulse has been in existence since 1990. In the past it was always hosted in parallel venues in Cologne, Düsseldorf, Mülheim an der Ruhr and Bochum. A logical tour de force – but it was always also an important flagship for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Now, however, Bochum has left the group due to financial reasons. Which is both bad news and good news. Bad – because one feels sorry for Bochum where the Impulse audience was always particularly adventurous. The wild nights at Gesine Danckwart’s Performance Bar Chez Icke in front of the Schauspielhaus in 2013 have since become legendary. Yet it is also good – for now a structural solution between the three other cities has become possible, one which has finally rescued Impulse sustainably. Only two years ago, the Festival was threatened by closure when the sponsorship of the Federal Cultural Foundation lapsed. Now with an annual budget of some 600,000 Euros the future of Impulse is secured. Malzacher’s relief is clearly visible at the press conference in Mülheim an der Ruhr in May 2015. “For the first time all partners, the NRW cultural department, the local authorities and the guest theatre, sat down together – and they are all really supportive of the result. From now on there is only good news.” The Arts Council NRW is also supporting the Festival again, and the Federal Government has promised a yearly sum of 100,000 Euros. The most important change, however, is that Impulse will once again take place annually and will be hosted by only one city each year. “Instead of a third of the festival every two years, there will now be a whole festival in each city every three years,” explains Malzacher.

Rabih Mroué: “Riding on a cloud”
Rabih Mroué: “Riding on a cloud” | © Joe Namy
In 2015, there will be ten guest performances in Mülheim; in addition, three international “satellite projects”, anchored locally in the partner cities, will premiere, and these are very important to Malzacher. At the FFT Düsseldorf, the Dutch artist Lotte van den Berg, with her dialogue project Building Conversation, will begin to reduce theatre to its core, which she defines as a “space for debates”. Entirely without actors, the spectators are propelled into controversial conversation with methods taken from quantum physics, from the Jesuits or the Maori: an “agonistic competition of ideas”, based on the political theory of Chantal Mouffe, who will also be a guest at the Festival. And since the “cultural tours” by shuttle bus between the NRW cities were always so entertaining in recent years, they will be retained in artistic form in this year’s Impulse: the artist Phil Collins, together with students from Ramallah, Palestine, and the University of the Arts in Cologne, will turn the inter-city trips into artistic spaces of experience in Our position vanishes.

Yet one of the most exciting and socially relevant projects of the Festival must be the Silent University, initiated by the Kurdish artist Ahmet Ögut, who has already founded sister-universities in London, Stockholm and Hamburg. A self-organised university offers courses by academics who have fled from their home countries. In Germany they are either not allowed to work or their qualifications are not recognised. Here a network of knowledge that has been virtually silenced due to flight and expulsion is reactivated. A room will be provided for this in the city centre and it should continue to exist long after the ten days of Impulse.

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