An Interview with Falk Richter “I like the earthy Australian sense of humour”

Scene from “Complexity of Belonging”: “A constant exchange of words and movement”
Scene from Complexity of Belonging: “A constant exchange of words and movement” | Photo: Jeff Busby

Dancing actors, acting dancers. And the constant question: When does one belong? Director Falk Richter and choreographer Anouk van Dijk did an experiment funded by the Goethe-Institut: the dance theatre play Complexity of Belonging. Richter explains why in our interview.

After its very successful premiere in Australia last year, Complexity of Belonging is now coming to Berlin. What is at stake in the play?

Richter: In our western, globalized societies, in which traditional forms of relationships and national identities are dissolving, the question of identity and belonging is becoming ever more important. I am interested in the question of how individuals define their own personal sense of belonging. Along with Anouk van Dijk, I put together a group of dancers and actors who are not only great artists, but are also interested in sharing their personal stories with me and the audience. How do they define “home”? How do they define “family”? How do they keep long-distance romances alive? How do you express feelings for someone who is far away on video chat, by email or texting? How important are their origins to them, how would they define their own “nation”? What is “a real Australian man” and how does he behave? For more than 200 years, Australia has been a country of immigration, where people come from all over the world to start from scratch. Germany has only recently recognized the fact that it is an immigrant society, and we are slowly beginning to realize that even Germans with Turkish, Bosnian or African origins are shaping a new and more complex society. Germany and Australia both have a traumatic past that was marked by genocide and that still characterizes political life. Complexity of Belonging is about very personal, individual stories of people whose lives are touched by all these influences and issues.

You describe your work with Anouk van Dijk as “choreographic theatre.” What exactly is special about it?
Anouk and I work with an ensemble of actors and dancers, but in our work all of them use words and movement as means of expression. In the show, we create a constant exchange of words and movement. During rehearsals we always work together in a large studio – the actors warm up with the dancers and work there physically, and the dancers are involved the same as the actors in all discussions about the content of the piece and the deeper, theoretical discussions with the dramaturges and me. Sometimes a scene arises from physical action; sometimes it is a text that inspires movement in a certain sequence. If everything goes perfectly within the performance, you can no longer tell who is a dancer and who is an actor.

Can you describe how Complexity of Belonging originated? What was the inspiration and what came first? Words or dance?

In my recent work in Berlin I have dealt with the “transitional society”: a society that is going through a shift in its basic paradigms. I perceive Germany as a society that is faced with serious challenges. We are redefining what it means to be German. More and more Germans with immigrant or LGBT backgrounds are holding important positions in politics and art and are beginning to contribute their ideas of a modern German society. This makes our society more complex and interesting; they enrich it. At the same time, a lot of people are afraid of this new complexity. They want to keep things simple; they want simple definitions and clear hierarchies when it comes to origins, genders and sexual orientations. To a certain extent, globalization goes hand in hand with this new rise of fascism, which is alarming.

You have worked with numerous ensembles on the German stage. What differences were there cooperating with an Australian ensemble?

I was overwhelmed at how well actors and dancers can improvise here in Australia. It’s just natural; I just have to give them a few keywords, to describe what I’m looking for, and minutes later I see an entire scene unfolding in front of me. It’s part of their training, but it’s also a general openness and curiosity. The actors all seem to have a great talent for both work on stage as well as in film. In Germany, film and theatre are often worlds apart. Oh, and there’s the humour. As you know, Berlin is not known as the world’s capital of stand-up comedy. Australians are very funny. Their humour is earthy and direct. I like that very much.

What significance does Complexity of Belonging have within your oeuvre?

This is the first play I’ve written in another language. At the beginning of the rehearsals I was still writing in German and Daniel Schlusser translated. I soon stopped doing that and decided to write all the texts in English. So this is my first Australian play, written in Australian “with a little help from my friends,” as the Beatles song goes.

For Complexity of Belonging you again collaborated with Anouk van Dijk. What makes this so special for you?

We met for the first time when I was still a student and Anouk was a young dancer and we immediately began to develop ideas about what we would do together on stage with dancers and actors should we ever have the opportunity. Now we have been friends for almost 20 years. We’ve worked together since 1998. We are very interested in each other’s work and we have a lot of confidence in one another, which allows us to always try new things and to go a step further than in the previous production. Together, every time we create something that we could never do alone.

The interview was conducted by Gabriele Urban.

Falk Richter, who was born in Hamburg in 1969, studied directing under Jürgen Flimm at the Hamburg Academy of Music and Theatre. He has worked on national and international stages since 1994. His best-known and most successful librettos include Gott ist ein DJ, Electronic City, Unter Eis and Trust. His works have been translated into more than 30 languages ​​and are performed worldwide.