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Artistic project manager
Interview with Heiner Goebbels

Heiner Goebbels
© Heiner Goebbels

Mr. Goebbels, this is your first time in Vietnam. For the German cultural scene, Vietnam is a very remote place. When it comes to cultural collaboration, German artists tend to work with Japanese, Korean, or Chinese partners. There are just a few rather uncharted cultural trails leading from Germany to Vietnam. Vietnam is a blank spot on the map of German cultural relations with Asia. What is your impression of Hanoi?

Heiner Goebbels: What I took away from my travels is that you cannot possibly generalize such a wealth of impressions; wherever you travel, your experiences are as complex and contradictory as the people you encounter. But I am happy to report that I found Hanoi very lively and surprisingly young. And as I tried to figure out how the seemingly unregulated traffic works here – which is why I always wanted to sit in the front seat in the car - what fascinated me most was the scooter drivers’ gift for improvisation. Apparently, it not only takes alertness, but also about a rare blend of flexibility and assertiveness – you can´t even cross the street as a pedestrian if you don´t master that skill.

What were your impressions working with the artists (dancers, musicians)?

Heiner Goebbels: The young artists I had the privilege to work with are incredibly open-minded and highly motivated to travel different paths from the ones they were trained for - and to question them. The participants were literally demanding to see an outside view of what they are doing, and they did so with great confidence. The musicians have an ability to improvise music at a consistently high artistic level, which they could communicate in the art scenes of other metropolises any time, which some are already doing. That is also true for many of the dancers and choreographers. My impression is that individualism is well developed, yet many are unaccustomed to reflection at the audience`s perception level; but they gratefully accept it, knowing it is an important perspective. They took a great interest in the notion of organizing on-stage elements – light, room, sound, movement, image – not in a hierarchical model, but rather developing them jointly and non-hierarchically.

Did you invite the participants to share their opinions after each phase of artistic exploration? Was there a consensus, or were they worlds apart?

Heiner Goebbels: I am surprised at the participants` openness and directness in their mutual criticism, and how well they are able to articulate their discomfort or incomprehension regarding certain directives or criteria. For regardless of the language barrier, many terms mean something different here, they are charged with different notions. Words like presence, absence, representation, illustration or stereotyping must be defined or described very clearly.

Were there any surprises or new artistic discoveries?

Heiner Goebbels: First of all, it was a valuable learning experience for me to have to articulate contemporary perspectives outside of known discourses in the European performance and music scene. And I am sure that traditional Vietnamese instruments and their possibilities (e.g. Dan Bau Pro – the monochord, and Dan Thran bzw Dan Thap Luc, a 16-string zither) will continue to inspire and occupy me as a composer.

Thinking back on the development of the 14-day camp – what are the Vietnamese artists taking away from their collaboration with you?

Heiner Goebbels: You`d have to ask the participants themselves, please! I assume they will be able to tell you very well individually...

How should the Goethe-Institut Vietnam follow up on the impulses you and the participants created?

Heiner Goebbels: Such experimental workshops or phases are indispensable to develop an independent form of aesthetics – and you can`t do this alone or at home. The spaces and funds required to work this way are always scarce – in Vietnam as well as elsewhere. And they are key prerequisites to create a new language in the performing arts. It would be nice if the Goethe Institute could continue to provide that...