The 15th edition of the SPIELART Theatre Festival Munich opened on Friday, 20.10.2023. The festival has set itself the task of networking the international artists and encouraging a lively exchange with their audiences. To this end, a multitude of topics are to be discussed in an intensive 16 days, a wide variety of formal languages and artistic concepts are to be tested, different venues are to be played, differentiated aesthetics are to be presented and constructive discourse is to be made possible.
Upon entering the room, which is hung out with cloths, there is a pleasantly sweet smell of burning incense and sugar, warm light sparsely illuminates the room and directs our gaze to a woman balancing a water canister on her head. Soon after, we gradually recognize a small robot that resembles the well-known cinema hero "WALL-E". It is standing next to an old television in a corner that has been cozily furnished with blankets and cushions. The lights go out, music quietly fills the room, a mix of traditional, contemporary and experimental sounds, and Ana Pi begins to dance in the dim light with the water canister balanced on her head in circular movements according to Haitian tradition. Gradually, she incorporates modern dance elements into her complex choreography in THE DIVINE CYPHER. She makes the robot move in circles across the stage, scattering kilos of sugar around the room. Although Ana Pi performs as a solo dancer, she forms a round dance with her voodoo ancestors. In addition, videos of landscapes are projected onto the old television and the bright cloths. She seems to be translating her own biography into dance. The collective memory of a country, its African roots and diaspora situation as well as hopes for the future are also incorporated. She also uses elements that reflect her ideas of artistic expression: "What is reality?" she asks after the thunderous applause has slowly died down and she wants to initiate a short round of discussion with reference to the title of her dance performance, but the audience has no satisfactory answer. Was this a missed opportunity for a productive exchange? Will the "divine cipher" ever be deciphered? Does a fast-moving Western society really engage with postcolonial questions?
Still pensive and lingering in the suspended atmosphere, our path leads us to the next item on the programme: the dialectical wrestling performance KAMPF UM DIE STADT by Julian Warner and Veronika Maurer. Six wrestlers personify the fears and worries of Munich's urban population, who are in sheer despair of finding housing. The choreographed spectacle will be accompanied by cheerleaders, a DJane and a moderator and will be accompanied by live video transmission, the use of fog and colourful lighting. The mood of the audience will decide the outcome of the fight. No wonder that the heroines, with whom we are supposed to identify, can only win the battle for the city in the end thanks to the goodwill of the referee. After this final slap in the face, people exchange stories about the performances attended and celebrate in the Ampere: The anticipation for the next two weeks is clearly noticeable.
The following day, we attend the documentary performance A NOTIONAL HISTORY by Mark Teh, which exposes the various, partly contradictory national narratives existing in Malaysia and calls for reading and questioning the past and present from different points of view. The stage set is reminiscent of school days through the arrangement of beamers and set-up school books, as well as the dark green floor, which is similar to slates and is thematically painted with chalk by the artists during the course of the performance, seemingly transporting the audience back to their own school days. The sensitive tone and the spherical musical background between the teaching units give the theatre evening a lasting impression and the motivation to read the history of our own country, also critically.
Afterwards follows the lecture performance RHAPSODY IN YELLOW by Ming Wong, which reflects on the changeable relations between the USA and China over the past 50 years by symbolically picking out two levels of communication: that of sport, represented by table tennis, and of culture, represented by piano concerts. Thus, two pianists compete in a piano duel during the performance of the concerto "Rhapsody in Yellow". Two computer-generated orchestras engage in an exciting match together with the two live pianists, who also speak long monologues on the historical classification of the musical work. This was additionally underlined by a cleverly edited documentary from the handshake to the trade war, which was enriched with excerpts from propaganda videos and concert recordings. The musical event is The musical event is staged with the apparent lightness and humour of the so-called "ping pong" diplomacy of the 1970s, but in fact the powerful and dangerous effects of propaganda and political gestures are exposed and exhibited through this evening of theatre. This contradictoriness likely reflects Ming Wong's emotional world, an internationally active Asian artist.
After a relaxed get-together in the festival centre at Motorama on Rosenheimer Platz, we visited Polymer DMT's exhibition HOME AWAY FROM HOME – MUNICH in the Black Box of the old Gasteig (now: Fat Cat), which deals with the themes of marriage, home, identity and childhood by creating scenic spaces and playing short film documentaries. At the same time, an audio-guided photo album can be borrowed at the Festival Centre. PHOTOS OF SICHOVYKH STRILTCIV STREET by Dmytro Levytskyi allow an intimate, expressive insight into the photographer's life in Ukraine after the start of the war, from the abysmal to everyday situations.
The event LIFE ON THE OFFSIDE – the Bavarian Refugee Association in conversation with refugees – at the GGGNHM on Max Weber Platz also provides an analytical yet emotional approach to the reality of refugees’ lives: Substitute bus stops for nine years, no internet or mobile phone reception, cold showers, a daily bike ride of 25 kilometres to work and overcrowded rooms are only a few of the problems mentioned. The biggest difficulty is still the social isolation and insecure status people suffer from. However, the aim is not to achieve consternation and pity, but to be drawn into creative and constructive attempts to find solutions for a common life in a pluralistic society in which everyone has their place.
The research work SIMPLE AS ABC #7 THE VOICE OF FINGERS by Thomas Bellinck and Said Reza Adib also deals with the topic of criminal reputation. They tell an already 2000-year-old story of how the individual fingerprint became an instrument of mass surveillance, power and identification. According to the guiding principle "If you can, count it", the myth is applied to asylum seekers. The more they move away from their homeland and have to get involved with Western bureaucracy, the more their longing for their countries of origin, symbolised by flowers, grows. In the course of the evening, the workroom of the Kammerspiele, which is equipped with two screens, is filled with hundreds of red tulips, which were historically cultivated in the Ottoman Empire and came to Europe via Amsterdam. They are arranged in regularly circulating light from blue to orange and are meant to remind us of our homeland.
The first three days of the festival already prove that the SPIELART programme lives up to its intentions. Not only are there already eight different theatre genres to see after three days, but also eight completely different aesthetic approaches, eight different formal languages, ten new themes, a hundred productive encounters and a thousand powerful images that have impressed us. The thematic focuses encourage one not only to inform oneself about the news, but to broaden one's view, to always question the information and to seek socio-political dialogue. In addition, an aesthetic was offered that will help shape our own artistic debates in the future.