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“Telling a story is no longer really possible”

INTERVIEW. Explore the work of Lebanese-American poet and artist Etel Adnan through dance and drama in Corinna Harfouch and Frank Raddatz's Dreizehn Drei Dreizehn, taking over HAU 2's stage from Thu, Jun 6.

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Photo by Simone Fattal

Actress Corinna Harfouch and author Frank Raddatz on Dreizehn Drei Dreizehn, premiering this month over all three HAU stages.

Part of a five-day fest focusing on the works of Lebanese-American poet and artist Etel Adnan, Dreizehn Drei Dreizehn (“13-3-13”) is inspired and soundtracked by a German translation of her rapid-fire text To Be In A Time Of War. This genre-defying work puts an ensemble of actors and dancers through a series of devised machines to paint a grim picture of conflict in a media era and examine the human effect of our industrialised society.

What inspired you to begin working on this piece?

Corinna Harfouch: It really started with an enthusiasm for this text, and that reaction you have as a theatre person: something must be done with this text on stage. As an actress, I am in awe of dance and dance theatre. It can communicate such complex, complicated things non-verbally. Speech in theatre is almost too linear to me. There’s almost always a story, and my feeling is that telling a story is no longer contemporary, no longer really possible.

How are you going to make the abstract themes of systems and the individual versus society something concrete on stage?

CH: We’re taking a person – an actor or dancer – and putting him into a system on stage that takes him to the edge of being overwhelmed. But in order to do that, you have to build a clearly functioning system. The goal of the journey through this performance is to see, to experience, what we lose due to this need to be efficient, this obligation to function.

How does the industrialist Henry Ford come into the piece?

Frank Raddatz: We chose Henry Ford in 1913 as an expression of technical civilisation and then kept going through history to the computer age in 2013. Look at how much has changed in these 100 years! And since the Iraq war in 2003, there have been those multiple wars permanently going on. As inhabitants of the western world, sometimes you care a little more or a little less, but it’s not the exception, it’s the rule. Our idea for choreography is to have dancers respond to this text and reflect this history in fragments.

Does the subject of Adnan’s dual identity come up in the text that you’re using for the performance?

FR: It’s implicit thematically. The history of the Arab world is very real for her, and she suddenly feels a kind of isolation in her American home. The intensity with which she absorbs everything, the physical and mental breakdown – you can understand it. Structurally, the text is only written in infinitives: eat, listen to the radio, go to the coast, drive a car. We don’t know who the subject is and we don’t actually know what happens between the individual actions.

So you have to read between the lines.

FR: Exactly. It was written fairly soon after the beginning of the war, when there was still a little bit of this illusion that something new could be built out of it, but you can see that she already knows that this isn’t the right way to create democracy in the Arab world.

Dreizehn Drei Dreizehn, June 6, 20:00, June 7-8, 21:00, June 9, 17:00 | HAU2, Hallesches Ufer 32, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Hallesches Tor 

Originally published in Issue #117, June 2013