Saturday, 28 February 2015 00:00

Connecting bodies across space – performing European theatre

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Photo courtesy of Annemone Taake
Filip and Ivana, main characters of I'm afraid that we know each other now


Life is a stage, they say. Whilst institutions and many associations are working on integrating Europe under several points of view, the European Theatre Convention trascendes geographical and language borders andbrings real life stories simultaneusly to Europe's stages. Philip Wallmeier attended one of these plays in Heidelberg, Germany for E&M and now wants to unveil its reflections on sex, life and memory making.


How can young people today live and create change when they cannot even understand how they got to where they are in the first place? This is the question around which Ivor Martinic’s most recent work, "I am afraid that we know each other now", evolves; it is being staged simultaneously in Zagreb and Heidelberg as part of the project The Art of Ageing of the European Theatre Convention (ETC).

In "I am afraid that we know each other now" the young Ivana and her ex-boyfriend Filip run into existential trouble. Not because she broke up with him; but because when she told him about her decision to end the relationship, he responded by restating what his mother once said: "You best satisfy a woman with the tongue". Ivana cannot accept this as the last words which were spoken in their relationship: "How can I tell people about how it ended?". Since Ivana cannot accept Filip's reply, she comes to see him again and again. While Ivana is looking for a way to tell the story of her life, Filip is searching for words that could describe "what really happened".


In this involving play, the spectators are shown this tension between Ivana’s search for a story that could be told and Filip’s soul searching for what really happend not merely through the actors' words but also through their bodies in motion. The young actors, who spend nearly two hours continuously on stage, run, shiver, are aroused, beat or caress each other, looking for ways to communicate that could transcend the tension between what happend and what can be said. Often their bodies speak a different language from that of their voices. The play is not, however, a meditation on the general impossibility of true communication through language but can be understood as a reflection on the feelings and lives of the young generation today in Zagreb and Heidelberg. When, for example, Filip is finding a way to give his experience an expression, the characters think about the particular city part of which their story is: Ivana and Filip discuss the meaning of the monument "The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" in Zagreb. The monument was originally built for the fallen soldiers of World War One, but the placard which recounts this history was erased by the communist regime – the consequence: many people believe that this is a tomb for the soldiers who fought the Nazi regime. As the young director Miriam Horwitz explains, the "piece questions the role of spoken language but also the idea of stories as memories and memory making".


Photo courtesy of Annemone Taake
The cast of I'm afraid that we know each other now


The young artists rely heavily on the materiality and embodiedness of theatre. Not only is the stage often turned during the play to spectators who are sitting on two sides of the theatre hall, but the audience is further involved by the actors who hand them objects or stare at them while displaying arousal or anxiety, provoking an emotional involvement which Brecht, the forefather of a distancing theatre, would have certainly been uneasy with. Each staging of the play is different – depending on where you sit in the theatre and how you react. This is intentional as Horwitz understands the body to be "a chance for the theatre since the body expresses things we cannot say through words; but it also always involves ambiguity". She believes that theatre is an ideal medium for such an embodied experience.


The two young crews of the theatres in Zagreb and Heidelberg met before the play was even written and thought about what a play about memory and memory making for a young generation in today’s Zagreb and Heidelberg could and should look like. "In this meeting we talked about how things were shitty for many people", Horwitz explains while she describes how during this meeting they were talking a lot about youth unemployment, demographic change, inequality, hope and the possibilities and limits of utopias. In the end they decided against a utopian story and instead settled on direct involvement, sensual experience, on interaction. The interaction takes place not only between the audience and the actors but also between the crews of the two theatres. Jürgen Popig, the leading dramaturge of the theatre in Heidelberg, hopes that "this interaction will also lead to more translations of pieces from Eastern Europe into German". In their cooperation the theatres of Heidelberg and Zagreb hence performatively transcend borders between particular language communities by reflecting on the limits of language; they are creating a particular translocal European history of theatres by reflecting on the role history making.


Photo courtesy of Annemone Taake
The stage


But there is another layer of implications about this particular piece. The drama is part of a bigger project: according to the ETC, The Art of Ageing is an "artistic project which aims at bringing the burning issue of our ageing societies and the resulting challenges via innovative art creation and theatre co-production to international audiences". As part of this project, different theatres in Europe are cooperating and often co-create pieces, with each putting them on stage at the same time for different audiences. The results of this cooperation are well documented on a blog and a nicely created webpage. How far, however, the idea of an embodied theatre as experience can go hand in hand with a transnational project that relies heavily on representation through mainstream media and the internet is an open question. As part of the project The Art of Ageing, the piece "I am afraid that we know each other now" brings to the forefront one of the crucial questions which many young people in Europe and beyond are asking today: how to create open and fair societies in dialogue with each other while not giving up on the sensual, embodied experience of hic et nunc.


Photo courtesy of Annemone Taake
Ivana is walking with a friend of Filip 


More performances within the project are scheduled to take place. Find out when by clicking the following links:

- at the Deutsches Theater "Land der ersten Dinge/Bludičky"


- at the National Theatre Bratislava, Slovakia: "Land der ersten Dinge/Bludičky"


- Staatstheater Karlsruhe: "Die Uhr tickt / Pe ceas"


- Theater and Orchestra Heidelberg: Ich befürchte, jetzt kennen wir uns


- Gavella City Drama Theatre Zagreb: Bojim se da se sada poznajemo (same play as in Heidelberg but different artistic team)


- Art of Ageing – "1st European Theatre and Science Festival" April 16-19 2015 Teatrul National Timisoara Romania, more info to come next month

Last modified on Friday, 20 March 2015 14:46

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