Das Helmi on tour, all the way out east to Lichtenberg, in the shallow parabola of northern Rummelsberg right by S-Nöldnerplatz, where the rails form a curved triangle around the old railway workshops backing onto the roundhouse and railway turntable to the east, now typically Berlin ateliers and halfway to forest of the B.L.O. Ateliers.
Festival time. Wagner festival time. Berlin is not Bayreuth. Vol. 1. Six hours of Tannhäuser spread across at least four stages, meandering through the dishevelled brick and concrete buildings and fastigiate black poplars charging thirty metres into the dark, cloudless evening sky. Peter Frost wrecking it singing dodgy Schlagermusik, Cora Frost doing the same as a Pope to ruin The Young Pope. glanz&krawell (I think) working their way through the long shouty bits with proper opera singing. Das Helmi with their always always glorious, monstrous, chaotic stagings, scaring off people who though it was going to be, y’know, opera, culture and shit, instead of what the fuck is happening here, how did I find myself on stage slapping a stranger’s arse with twelve other people doing the same I should’a left when the Pope started kissing people’s feet kinda thing.
Mad thanks to Dasniya Sommer for getting me in, reminding me of a Berlin I utterly love, deeply pagan and animist, rough as guts and no intention of ever changing.
Pretty bloody sci-fi looking after a night in the Kino with Dasniya. Semi-regular Hollywood superhero slash hoonage slash sci-fi outings followed by ‘our local’, the restaurant next to the cinema, which, for a tourist joint, is actually kinda good? Film was Captain Marvel, very obvious queer, very obvious Hongi and Pasifika carry-over from Thor: Ragnarok, and lol at the blue eyes.
We went and saw Mission Impossible: Fallout and laughed for 2½ hours at the brilliant kinetic absurdity: Tom Cruise, part of the Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton lineage of getting audiences to pay stacks to watch them do mad stunts. We ate chocolate and ice cream and nachos – cinema nachos! – and drunk Sekt. In the Kino. This is Germany and everywhere is drinking erlaubt. Ten years today, ago Dasniya and I met in her Fabrik studio in Uferstraße.
These days, Dasniya calls me mid-week:
“Hey, D! Where are you?”
“Berlin! I just got back from [place]”
“Excellent! You here this weekend?”
“Nah, I’m off tomorrow morning to [other place].”
And repeat next week.
Last week she was in Mainz, this week Helsinki. Right now, yes! For the Helsinki Shibari Festival, where she’s teaching a rope/shibari/bondage workshop this weekend. In Helsinki? Go. It’s called Wellness to Torture. How could anyone not want to go to a workshop called that? Also another one called Japanese Dreams, where she goes into butoh and bondage.
In Berlin, not in Helsinki? Her Tuesday morning workshops are running all October. And she was in Oliver Riehs’ new comedy Der Affenkönig, on at CineStar Kulturbrauerei from next week.
I’ve been pronouncing his name, Me-eh-ville. Rolled into one. Meyeahville. Paul in St. George’s—who is a Brit—says, Maiville. Either way, one of my books of the year.
This is lazy-quick blogging. Fuck I love China Miéville. Even when I only read his books once—most of them at any rate. Short stories, I’m not such a fan of. Most of these though are subperb, and some are brilliant, horrible genius. I’ve had a selfish want for him to write proper hard sci-fi space opera skiffy, to dispense with his grime fantasy, and he does! And it’s glorious. Should be a whole book, not just six pages. (That’d be The Rope is the World.) Finished the whole thing over a week of breakfasts.
Caveats first: stupidly forgot to charge camera battery, so I missed the last two or three scenes. Camera also suffers in low or high-contrast theatre light situations, so these are mostly ones with without either, without fast movement, mainly still-ish scenes, occasionally where camera made the unexpected most of it, in a couple of moments catching the stillness in frenzy. And then there were a whole bunch that were just framed shitely. The remaining ones here are not exactly representative of the whole piece is what I’m saying.
Second seeing for me of Das Helmi’s Große Vögel, kleine Vögel, a fucking brilliant staging of Pasolini’s Uccellacci e uccellini. I was thinking of Castorf’s Kaputt after, which I saw at the Volksbühne in December, 5 hours of monolithic, unrelenting, angry Berlin theatre, not a shred of irony or entertainment, I left that piece at midnight, utterly exhilarated and ready to see the whole thing again and after this one I thought, between the ’bühne and the Helmis, Berlin has theatre nailed.
Große Vögel, kleine Vögel is much closer to entertainment, though kinda like Jim Carrey playing Andy Kaufmann in Man on the Moon, where he does the Carnegie Hall gigs, or when he says of entertaining the audience, “short of faking my own death or setting the theater on fire, I don’t know what else to do.”
Also was thinking of Castorf-Brecht Baal legal drama (the latter’s estate trying to shut down the production; the former calling the latter, “passé and absurd.”), and what the Helmis did to Pasolini’s film, and with both of them—I mean, what do you expect? I also thought, God (yeah, I actually asked God), why is Berlin dance so dreary and complete soul-sucking joyless bilge, why can’t it be like Castorf or the Helmis, why can’t it leave you feeling like you’ve totalled your car and you’re all laughing and feeling more alive than ever and invincible ’cos you walked out of certain death? (Even though you’re bleeding a little from your scalp.)
It’s fucking brilliant. Did I say that? Yup, I said that. Not long enough. It’s around 80 minutes and doesn’t feel it at all. There’s singing and dancing and songs and St Francis and talking birds, talking rabbits, talking other animals, gay love, more gay love, Pasolini looking sharp in a suit and Pasolini with a monster beer gut, guns, money, fucking, running, spitting, football (soccer, you know, the other football), a whole scene of Jesus coming down off the cross done as a film shoot, the Red Detachment of Women with fouettés! (I went off and watched some to remind myself of how gloriously Mao Tse-tung Thought Cultural Revolution it was. Glorious.) More songs, more St Francis, more birds, killing and eating the crow (probably had it coming), more Marxism, some whipping and bondage also, and a really unexpectedly calm, contemplative ending. Probably worth seeing a third time, says I who’ve seen now seven of their works. And! And! An ensemble who crush it! They sing (yeah probably worked that out), they dance, they play multiple roles, they play multiple instruments, they play with puppets, they make puppets, they are puppets, they go from dirty, spitting street toughs to Descent from the Cross and you believe it all. And they do it in that delightful Helmi way where it’s on the sharp edge of chaos, like they’re gonna catastrophically derail and take the audience out with them. It’s a fucking masterpiece.
My favourite theatre company in Berlin—well, along with Carstof at the Volksbühne, but besides shouting in German they’re not so comparable, but like Carstof at the Volksbühne Das Helmi perform new stuff often. And old often. A lot of performing often.
New! Pasolini’s Uccellacci e uccellini! My first encounter with the Helmis was an earlier search for God in the form of Der Name der Rose. I saw it twice. Yes, that good. I’ve heard from Dasniya small bits, their wanderings into St. Francis’ basilica in Assisi, many weeks of rehearsals. Premieres Friday 13th and probably worth hauling self to Berlin to see.
Wir wollen. Abbruchlandschaften und poetische Ruinen, die Dialektik der Vorstadt, den dunklen Ausdruck der Gesichter und das verrückte „Weiter! Immer Weiter!” Intensive Puppen, gesungene Landschaften, getanzte Erleuchtungen, tanzende Stricher und Spatzenbanden, Kommunisten und trotzige Perversionen, durch Hingabe und Erleuchtung, zwischen Narr und Heiligem.
Wir wollen: Endlich die leeren Straßen rings um Rom, das geheimnisvolle Niemandsland zwischen Märchen, Fabel, Surrealismus, Slapstick, marxistischer Allegorie und christlichem Lehrstück betreten, in dem Pasolinis Film Große Vögel, kleine Vögel spielt. Diese wunderbaren Bilder werden helmisiert, sie werden zum einen in die Gegenwart geholt, zugleich wird aber die Erhabenheit und Strenge des Vorbildes gewahrt.
Wir wollen als Narren in dem Land umherziehen, in dem Vögel von der Ideologie berichten, die schönen Prostituierten in Kornfeldern sitzen, wo Laien und Schauspieler gleichberechtigt agieren und in dem die magische Ennio-Morricone-Musik eine Atmosphäre zwischen elektrischer Kirchenmusik und italienischer Tarantella beschwört. Inspiriert von unserer kongenialen Partnerin und legendären Papstdarstellerin Cora Frost, die seit langem schon treue Weggefährtin ist.
Auf unserer Suche nach Gott sind wir bereits in Eco´s Der Name der Rose auf Franz von Assisi gestoßen; jetzt folgen wir den vibrierenden Bildern des revolutionären italienischen Kinos der 60er Jahre. Die Figuren von Toto und Ninetto erinnern uns ein wenig an Dostojewskis Idioten in ihrer Mischung aus Wahnsinn und Unschuld. Pasolinis aggressive klassenkämpferische Haltung, die sich in absurder Expressivität ausdrückt, bietet eine weitere interessante Facette für unsere Suche nach Erfahrung, Schmerz und Spiritualität. Dabei wollen wir rausgehen in die Hinterhöfe, ins Niemandsland, nach Marzahn und mit unseren sprechenden Vögeln den Menschen als existentiellen Individuen auf der Reise ihres Lebens begegnen.
Von und mit Cora Frost / Julia Gräfner / Felix Loycke / Florian Loycke / Brian Morrow / Franz Rogowski / Dasniya Sommer / Emir Tebatebai
Eine Produktion von Das Helmi in Kooperation mit dem Ballhaus Ost
After the last performance, we made some photos in the Saalbau under the trees. While it was still light, I took photos of the suspended installation, and once it was dark, we moved things around, turned on some lights, got back in costumes and played around. After that we packed everything out and back into the van before early morning wine in my room. Sunday morning I was back to climb trees and strip all the rigging. Of course, it pelted us with rain. The drive back was long-ish, diverting off the Autobahn and onto Landstraßen, past forests and castles and hills. More photos!
Siegfriedstr. Wurms. Odenwald. Much Wagner. A late-evening Döner for dinner. We are in the Park Inn on the edge of the old town. The houses are 2-3 stories, whitewashed cut with a grid of dark-painted beams. Across the street from my window a vineyard creeps up the hill to the Starkenburg castle. The other direction wends through narrow streets to the museum and further to the two-spired, one-domed church. Breakfast and then to the cinema.
Originally we were to perform Platanaceae in a vast tree of that species, hence the name. That became not possible, and so a beautiful set of several Rosskastanie (Horse Chestnut) trees in the large courtyard of a neighbourhood cinema was proposed. We arrive at Saalbau (Lichtspiele seit 1910!) around 930, rain coming and going. Dasniya has already visited with Stephan, the Gassensensationen Festival artistic director, but for the other four of us it’s the first time. We meet a couple of the family who own and run the cinema, and over the day are gradually introduced to the many buildings and their history.
More rain. Pizza for lunch.
By the main driveway gate a long, low building commences, small square windows march along its length, each with soft peppermint green shutters. At the cinema end it meets a larger building, four sets of closely spaced windows long. I thought it might have been stables at first, but it was both too low and too narrow for that. The rain continues and we are shown in via a door at the farthest end from the street, offered the use of it to store our equipment and to warm up, stay out of the rain. It’s a single-lane, fully-mechanised bowling hall, the alley running the length of that long building, the larger one having tables and chairs, and on the walls photos crossing a century of groups of old men, the Polizei Pensionäre Kugelbahn Verein.
More rain and the Genie arrives. Dasniya and I throw slings and metal in and levitate to 8 metres above the ground, to begin hanging the ropes and building the installation. Still more rain and the others warm up inside while I enjoy the damp and navigate between several trees. The festival opens tomorrow and so far the weather gave us no respite in which to finish, let alone rehearse. We went for dinner to celebrate Dasniya’s birthday, echt Deutsche Küche und Wein at the vineyard across the street. Tomorrow is more rain. We’ll try to finish the rigging in the morning, the forecast though is noch schlimmer.