Thursday night. No Limits Festival. Two of my favourite theatre groups get together for one night of three productions: Berlin’s Das Helmi and Zürich’s Theater HORA. Together, they are a force for theatre equal to Castorf in the Volksbühne. Nah, seriously, if I was Staatsministerin für Kultur und Medien I’d kick out the illiterate appointment of the Dercon-Charmatz clique, keep Castorf and add the Helmi-HORA supergroup. That’s how good they are.
A little (hopefully correct) backstory: After their first collaboration in Zürich, Mars Attacks! they came together again for two this past summer for Ding Dong Dom in Berlin’s Holzmarkt, creating and performing five new works. Now it’s November, and the awesome No Limits Festival, so they’re back together for Schlafe kann ich, wenn ich Tot bin, three “anarchic theatre seances”: American Beauty, Hunger Games, and Ein Bett mit 1000 Kerzen. (And if Jennifer Lawrence ever reads this, Gianni, who directed Hunger Games and plays Katniss, was kinda upset your crew was so slack when you were in town.)
I was also slack, only staying for American Beauty. Which has a priceless insert of Dasniya Sommer doing Nijinski’s L’Après-midi d’un faune—about the only thing my poor camera managed to make look half-decent (one day I’ll blow some euros on a proper rig that laughs at fast movement and theatre light). Matthias Grandjean is there, also Gianni Blumer, Julia Häusermann, and Tiziana Pagliaro plus the Helmi mob, Cora Frost, Solène Garnier, Brian Morrow, Felix and Florian Loycke. Total supergroup.
What else? Mars Attacks! is on tonight in Balhaus Ost, it’s fucking legendary; the HORAs have shows on almost every night—a retrospective of their work since Jérôme Bel made Disabled Theater with them they’ve called Jérôme doesn’t ask the actors anymore (burn much?); and No Limits Festival runs ’til the 15th. Go to all of it. Berlin’s festivals are small and it’s easy for one to be over before you’re aware it exists, but they are gems, especially this one.
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
3. Wiederaufnahme: Starwurst – das Helmi im Ballhaus Ost
Am: 19,20,21 Dezember
WANN: Fr + Sa jeweils 16 + 20 Uhr, Sonntag 20 Uhr
WO: Ballhaus Ost, großer Saal, Pappelalle 15, 10437 Berlin, U2 Eberswalderstraße
In Berliner Kindergärten und Grundschulen geht seit einiger Zeit ein lauter werdendes Geraune durch die Reihen. Es ist die Rede von Verschwörungen, wunderbaren Wesen und leuchtenden Schwertern, einem weisen Zwerg und vielem mehr. Info hier
When: SO 30 November 19.15 / MO 01December 20.15
Location: Schauspielhaus Zürich, Schiffbaustrasse 4, 8005 Zürich
Nasty Martians attack to torment, torture, destroy humanity in this brutal Sci-Fi classic from the 1950’s. This repeatedly censored and banned material full of (un)canny projections now forms the foundation for a surreal performance about desire, dark longings and the end of humankind.
Between now and the last time I posted something non-reading-ish a whole month has passed. Then, I was in Heppenheim with Dasniya and Florian; now, Vienna and still with the two (though Florian caught a night train to Berlin for what we’ve been sweating on the past month.)
The day after we drove back from Heppenheim, I was back in Alte Kantine with Das Helmi for the second block of filming Adrian Jacobsen’s Reisebericht, now titled Der von einem Stern zum anderen Springt, almost two weeks of puppets, foam, cardboard, musical instruments, that got progressively weirder until it completely untethered itself from any faithful telling of the story. I managed two part-days off at the end of filming—I wanted to write a whole post about the Zeiss lenses I was using, but ah, not much time besides hauling camera and sleeping—before dropping into editing land, my first proper slab of time in front of a computer since early-June, and the intervening months reminded me how much my body prefers to be moving around.
So, two weeks; one of syncing audio, cutting the rubbish—bad takes, shaky camera, loss of focus, general meh—and dealing with 12 hours of footage from the second block plus at least familiarising myself with the first (most of which we’d redone, but a couple of scenes at least had usable stuff), and the second, finishing yesterday, of sorting out a rough cut. The first version of that ended up being 50 minutes, twice as long as required, giving Florian and me some gratuitous moments of slashing to solve that.
About now, he’s with the Dahlem museum showing the 15 seconds short of 30 minutes version which we’ve watched twice and have a lot of work to do to shave off a few more minutes, clean up the editing, add and remove things to make the story more coherent and flow better, clean the sound, correct the colour, miscellaneous other things, all in another two weeks starting Monday.
In the meantime, on Sunday we three jumped on a plane at Tegel Airport and arrived a short time later in Vienna for a week at ImPulsTanz teaching Yoga & Shibari. The sultry weather turned stormy and not-summery the next evening. The workshop is sold out, twenty people, once again in the farthest studio from the front in Arsenal. Hans is here to perform, Ivo also is here. I’m not taking any workshops for the first time just to have some leisure to see some of Vienna and the festival in a way that isn’t rushing from one place to another.
That then is the past month as I remember it. A couple of very good books in there also.
In late-1880, ethnologist Adrian Jacobsen bought two Inuit families from Labrador to be exhibited in zoos in Berlin and around Europe. By mid-January 1881, all eight were dead from smallpox, which they had not been vaccinated against. Hartmut Lutz’ translation and editing of The Diary of Abraham Ulrikab, along with art and forward by Alooktook Ipelle and photos by Hans-Ludwig Blohm is an unusual turn in my reading, one which I wouldn’t be making were I not working with puppet theatre group Das Helmi on their project for the Dahlem Museum on Adrian Jacobsen.
Reading about Jacobsen is educational, though I wouldn’t say enjoyable. He, like the majority of Europeans of that colonial and imperial epoch were convinced of their racial superiority, engaged in establishing colonial domination through a variety of means, from actual land grabs and genocide to de facto claims by returning with artefacts for the newly-established national museums, and by today’s standards is a difficult to reconcile with as Wagner. This book, the diary of one of the unfortunate victims of the journey, is not what we’re covering in the project, which focusses on his north-west coast of Canada and Alaskan journey. It is though crucial to understanding Jacobsen, the culture he lived and worked in, and the economic and social reasons why families from one continent would uproot themselves to be looked at like animals in a zoo and be eager to do so. It’s also very sad reading of the country I was born in.
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!