Should we bemoan the lack of showstopping guest productions in Berlin, or be grateful for the local talent we have? Why not both?
I admit it: Sometimes I get homesick for New York theatre. Or rather, for theatre in New York. There’s a difference. It’s not just acclaimed off -off -Broadway locals like the Elevator Repair Service, The Civilians and Radiohole who don’t seem to make it to Berlin – though even the renowned Wooster Group hasn’t played here since 2006. Prominent guests from Europe also find it easier to perform across the ocean than right here in their backyard. Two years ago, the Berliner Festspiele touted the first Berlin performance of the world-famous Nederlands Dans Theater in 15 years. Fifteen years!
Last month, I again had a queasy feeling of missing out while my New York Facebook friends debated the merits of Ariane Mnouchkine’s A Room in India, on tour in Manhattan. From what I hear, it sounds like a sprawling, wondrous mess of theatrical styles and worldly themes from the 78-year-old French theatre titan. It premiered in Paris in 2016 but there are no plans to bring it to Berlin – and in fact, Mnouchkine’s company, Théâtre de Soleil, hasn’t been here since 2005.
When I spoke about this with Aenne Quiñones, the theatre curator at HAU, she pointed out that it’s not her mission to present a cross-section of artists from New York or any other city; instead, she looks for locally relevant groups who tend to be part of the “off ” or “free” scene. And HAU often tries to have an ongoing relationship as a producer of a particular group’s work.
There is something to be said for developing a deeper relationship with artists, rather than presenting a survey of what’s out there. Boston-born Chris Kondek is one such repeat invitee to be grateful for. Now a Berlin local, he’s designed video for luminaries such as the Wooster Group, Laurie Anderson and Meg Stuart. For years, he’s also collaborated with Christiane Kühl under the name Doublelucky Productions; their new work about the “life tracking” fad, The Hairs of Your Head Are Numbered, is part of HAU’s January “Spy on Me” festival, as is a repeat of last year’s data-mining performance You Are Out There.
Local artists are even more central to the Sophiensaele’s programming, and you’ll see plenty of them at their annual dance festival, Tanztage. In Arcadia (photo), for example, the Berlin- and Buenos Aires-based duo Ana Laura Lozza and Bárbara Hang choreograph both bodies and objects to explore the dynamics of physical order and disorder. Also at Sophiensaele this month, an English-language “unsettled cabaret” called Across the Middle, Past the East, starring nine female Middle Eastern Berliners, promises to bring music and humour to a serious subject.
The Haus der Berliner Festspiele is the obvious venue for established names, though many of their guests from the past five years aren’t exactly unknown at other Berlin venues: Forced Entertainment, Rosas, Robert Wilson. Festspiele director Thomas Oberender cites budgetary constraints but also says he’s aware of “audience hunger” for large-format theatre and plans to satisfy it “in the near future.” For January, he’s offering Requiem pour L.: Alain Platel, choreographer for Les Ballets C de la B, will provide movement and visuals to complement composer Fabrizio Cassol’s reinterpretation of Mozart’s Requiem, played by 14 international musicians and incorporating styles such as jazz and Afropop. Not bad… but I still want to see that Mnouchkine play
Tanztage 2018 Jan 5-15 Sophiensaele
Requiem pour L. Jan 18-20, 20:00 Haus der Berliner Festspiele
Doublelucky Productions: The Hairs ofYour Head Are Numbered Jan 18-21, You Are Out There Jan 24-25 HAU2, in German and English
Across the Middle, Past the East Jan 25-28, 20:00 Sophiensaele Kantine