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When emotions come to play

Spielzeit Europe, the theatre and dance season of the Berliner Festspiele

This article was commissioned by the  Korean Arts Management Services and originally published in Korean  for – a database website for the global exchange of performing arts, a project supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Republic of Korea.

CONTINU Sasha Waltz & Guests © Sebastian Bolesch

Utopia, emotion and hope have moulded the artistic form of the Berliner Festspiele’s “spielzeit’ europa” under the artistic direction of Brigette Fürle and she is not afraid to say it. Fürle, who has a solid footing on shaping prominent international festivals in Vienna and Salzburg as well as working with a state repertory theatre in Frankfurt, remains an optimistic view on the role of theatre in today’s society.  With full enthusiasm, she says, “If we are not going to do utopia moments in the theatre, where else would it take place? Reflecting on reality is so easy.  I wish to strive for something higher than reality in my work.” Now on its 7th season, spielzeit’europa 2010 braves fresh theatrical dimensions beyond the “traditional European way of looking where understanding is purely the decoding of language to an experience of the other. ” The festival pursues an opening of perspective about the other as oneself, offering an experience which theatre can make possible through cultural dialogue.  Encounters or even confrontations with forthcoming theatrical languages contained in the programming of this year’s festival season, reflects dialogue as experience evident on the seven high caliber of pieces of  MAUForum: THE EVENT OF THE SELF/OTHER by Lemi Ponifasio and MAU ]; CONTINU by Sasha Waltz; UN TRAMWAY, Directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski; AND THEN, ONE THOUSAND YEARS OF PEACE by Angelin Preljocaj / Bolshoi-Theatre / Ballet Preljocaj; MISSION, Directed by Raven Ruëll,; BABEL [words] by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet; RITE OF SPRING | B.E.R.L.I.N. | RE- [PART II] by Shen Wei Dance Arts and TRISTI TROPICI by Compagnia Virgilio Sieni.

Each year from October to January, spielzeit’europa delivers exceptional and high-quality productions to the Haus der Berliner Festspiele. Since its inception in 2004, the programme has initiated and sponsored productions by renowned performing arts luminaries such as Heiner Goebbels, Dimiter Gotscheff, Alvis Hermanis, Robert Lepage, Christoph Marthaler and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. It regularly acts as a production partner for important festivals, including Salzburger Festspiele, Wiener Festwochen, Festival d’Avignon and the Edinburgh International Festival.  Apart from premières and co-productions spielzeit’europa offers exclusive guest performances by outstanding European directors and choreographers and their companies. A series of discussions, film screenings and concerts augment its rich programme. This year’s spielzeit’europa’s artistic reach extends far beyond Europe.

In full confidence, its artistic director utters, “I do not bring in artists based on where they come from. It is no longer acceptable to label people according to their nationalities. Identity or nationality is not a definition. After all, what does it mean when you say someone is Indian or German?  It’s like saying you are a woman. And so? The programme is based on an idea and the necessity for a dialogue.” The seasoned programmer, who has spearheaded the festival for the past five years, continuously seeks to find artists and collaborators that are challenging boundaries. “The days are over when you say that the festival is a window to the world. It is time to create artistic possibilities and dialogue that can bring something from the inside, an encounter,” articulates Fürle. She continues by saying, “I am tired of reproducing the exotic. Festival programming is not about creating role models but the search for a new face of the world.”

AND THEN, ONE THOUSAND YEARS OF PEACE Ballet Preljocaj / Bolshoi Theatre © JC Carbonne

Her statement resonates beyond lip service and highly evident in spielzeit europa’s unprecedented reputation in the creation theatrical encounters. During her initial year, Austrian born Fürle approached the 7-week festival calendar with an experimentation of  “theatrical time” as a way of life and a strategy for survival, as a space of longing and as space-in-time.  With a theme “Everything is going to be all right,” (2006) the theatre embodied the last refuge of memory and utopia. This was followed by reminiscence of the sixties “Paradise Now” (2007), which revisited the spirit of the Sixties generation. In 2008, “The End – A Beginning,” presented an explosive and acutely contemporary Balkan blues that told the depths of human existence, visions of the end of time and our yearning to begin again from scratch.  This programme likewise included the Revolt of the Mannequins in the display windows of the KaDeWe.  For the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a very compelling public programming was developed on “Fairy Tale for Berlin.”   This was no regular performance series as the protagonists were giants: the uncle and his niece separated by the iron curtain, who wondered in the streets of the German capital for four days exchanging smiles with the millions of onlookers. This open-air theatrical spectacular by French street theatre company, Royal de Luxe, featured two giants with a towering height of 15 and 7 metres managed to convey images of poetic fable as they were reunited at the Brandenburg Gate.

With an annual budget of 1.3 Million Euro provided by the Federal Ministry of Culture, exemplary productions reached the Berlin stage and streets, and touched on the emotions of many of the festival followers. Out of this budget, 300,000 Euro goes directly to the running costs of the theatre, leaving a million directly for the programming expenses. Considering her position, she admits that there is a certain expectation for her to bring in international artists.  From the 7 lustrous productions programmed each year, she tries to make the German premiere with most of the productions, with at least one world-premiere.

Fürle acknowledges the privilege position of programming spielzeit europa as she has the artistic freedom and the luxury of time for its development.  She says, “ I have a house and can decide if we will have 4 months of rehearsal.  In terms of finding artists, they are well selected over a long-term period. I have long-relation with the people I work with. And as I am a part of the community too, it’s beautiful to give it soul.  I am interested in artists who are braving the unknown and prepared to take risks.”

Nonetheless, the highly driven director confesses, “It is a misconception that just because we are Berliner Festspiele that less effort is to be made in terms of audience development.  This is even more challenging since you have to make yourself visible – you have to make yourself clear.” And although there is no set quota in terms of numbers, Fürle “I am the one who question myself all the time – what can I do more?” As for the festival’s theme, besides the apparent influence of historical occurrences or issues proposals also come from artists. Moving to her 6th year of programming, spielzeit europa is expected to touch on the topic of “Roma” in 2011.  This would include a commissioned work between Lemi Ponifasio and Fabrizio Cassol, which will attempt to look into the new face of Berlin.  Without being explicit, this will be a new offer, adapted to the community of Berlin.

Reviewing spielzeit europa’s programme in the past years will give a definitive hint to its audiences as well as those aspiring companies to take part in its future roster of talents that the “encounter of artists go beyond the formulas.” On the outset, one might easily think that the approach to having established names falls on the safe zone or standard rhetoric of large-scale festivals.  After all, many of them (productions), repeatedly appear from one festival to the next.  But when one takes a closer look, there is more to it than the star factor. Fürle admits that she tries to balance in bringing in prominent names alongside those who have yet to make it big in the theatre world.  She clearly states, “I am always attracted to something unknown and new experience. When I see the work then I know if they have something to say. I go to the house of the artists – see how they live, how they work.  When artists wish to work with me, they should know my work too. Every company should know where they want to go and be able to judge whether they fit into someone’s programming or not.” With unexpected combinations that of the Bolshoi and Anjelin Preljocaj, Sidi Larbi and the Shaolin Monks, Sasha Waltz’ bold approach to dance and architecture, live mannequins in the mall or even giants strolling in the streets, spielzeit europa is already ahead of the race that is yet to be defined.

When enquired whether there is a political dimension to the artistic direction of this festival, Fürle retorts, “I am sure with what I do. I am capable of being political but I don’t have to put it on the table.” With full idealism she explains the role of theatre today, “Theatre is a place for meeting and communication. A big group comes together – we try to say something together and it is s the most challenging place for communication. In the theatre we are in a sanctuary, a secure place. We can go further – we are able to communicate not only through words.” From her perspective “Emotions, looks, feelings can travel beyond where every politician can go.”

Related links:

| spielzeiteuropa 10

| spielzeiteuropa 09

| spielzeiteuropa 08|09

| spielzeiteuropa 07|08

| spielzeiteuropa 06|07

| spielzeiteuropa 05|06

| spielzeiteuropa 04|05

MAU Forum<

Sasha Waltz & Guest<

Ballet Preljocaj<

Bolshoi Theatre<

Sidi Larbi <

The Berlin Reunion <

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