In many ways, Berlin theatre itself was a drama this year – the stage of tension, tragedy and new beginnings. After his 18-year tenure at the Berliner Ensemble, Claus Peymann’s retirement made way for Oliver Reese at the helm, steering the ensemble in a more contemporary direction during his first Spielzeit – a direction that upset the old guard, resulted in some silly name-calling, and left little to distinguish the institution from the Deutsches Theater. Reese’s pace of 16 premieres a season certainly looks ambitious and only time will tell if such a factory production line approach to theatre is compatible with a lasting repertoire.
The year reached a dramatic climax in April: Chris Dercon had fallen. Figuratively, of course – the controversial Volksbühne director’s ousting may have got the critics to lower their pitchforks but left the iconic institution in anti-populist creative limbo. A Herculean task, interim head Klaus Dörr patched together a programme in record time featuring some exciting guest performances (Volksverräter!! and Unterwerfung) and some household names (Haußmann and Waltz) but the future of the Berlin institution still hangs in the balance. Castorf certainly left some big shoes to fill.
In August, Johannes Öhman took over the Staatsballett from Nacho Duato after a few turbulent years. He’s to be joined next year by the queen of the contemporary scene Sasha Waltz. It wasn’t love at first sight but after some talks, reassurances and a promise not to transform the company into Sasha Waltz & Guests 2.0, the dancers and the wider public seem happy.
From Radialsystem to HAU to the Sophiensæle, contemporary dance enjoyed a strong year of solid programming. A highlight was undoubtedly Tanz im August, now in its 30th edition. Curated by Virve Sutinen with the support of HAU’s Annemie Vanackere, the festival was a testament to the city’s maturing scene, and it showed that Berlin can finally rub shoulders with the titans of the dance world.
The Berlin stage was as political as ever this year. From Gorki to the Schaubühne, the anti-racist, antipopulist, anti-homophobic message was loud and clear. But one can’t help but feel that they’re preaching to the choir of this city’s theatergoers. How challenging can you be, when your politics come across like safe bets ringing out to lefty progressive echo chambers. A welcome move was the institutions’ foray into front-line politics: through their mobilisation for the #unteilbar demo in October and their Erklärung der Vielen (Declaration of the Many) for tolerance and diversity in November.