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René Pollesch: cancelled, but maybe too good for the Netherlands anyway

Over the next few days at The International Choice in Rotterdam, the show would be Der perfekte Tag - Ruhrtrilogie Teil 3 by German director René Pollesch play. But unfortunately, the main player, Fabian Hinrichs, broke his leg and the performance had to be cancelled. What are we missing out on now?

In recent years, I saw a number of performances by René Pollesch in Berlin at his home base, the Volksbühne in Berlin. Can I even recount what those were so about? Ehhm, no. But was it witty, intelligent and sometimes brilliant theatre? Definitely! First of all, the titles. Performances I saw were called Darwin-Win & Martin Loser-Drag-King & Hygiene auf Tauris, Liebe ist kälter als das Kapital or Ich schau dir in die Augen, geselschaftlicher Verblendungszusammenhang. The performances are equally eclectic, playful and lavish. Pollesch uses sociological theories, garbled economic analyses and other particularly un-theatrical basic material for his texts and then has the actors regurgitate them in an over-the-top theatrical setting. At times in rustling Biedermeier dresses with a cardboard door décor, at other times with the audience on stage looking into the vast audience space of the Volksbühne.

In a sense, what Pollesch makes is anti-theatre. There is no illusion, no representation. In using basic material that is not part of the standard theatre repertoire, he is a typical representative of the study of "applied theatre science" in Giessen, where he graduated in 1989. Documentary theatre group Rimini Protokoll and performance artists She-She-Pop also come from there. Sometimes Pollesch does use plays - preferably 19th-century boulevard comedies - but only as a framework of ups and downs to hang his own abstract text constructions, which are often difficult for non-German speakers to follow, on.

In Pollesch's world, there is no mainstream; everything is obscure. Be it his film quotes, the social theories his characters preach or the plays he rehashes. But the forms are usually recognisable. He makes great use of television formats like game shows, soaps. But what is Pollesch really about? 'I don't want to tell stories. We thematise that storytelling doesn't actually say anything,' he said a few years ago in an interview. He sees his work as a struggle against the "regulation of reality, the affirmation of gender division and the normalisation of prejudice. With our theatre, we try to challenge the position of the white, heterosexual, male narrator, that position which is always seen as 'neutral'.' Stories that are too far from that norm become 'unreadable'. That is a firm philosophical stance and one that is political on a level that in Dutch theatre - with its 'Film scripts depicting modern life in a soapy way' says Joan Nederlof - hardly seems to exist.

In his latest performances, Pollesch seems a little more in tune with current events. Ich schau dir in die Augen, geselschaftlicher Verblendungszusammenhang, A solo by Fabian Hinrichs (according to German critics the best role last season), is a complex description of the idea of a 'representation crisis'. We already had it in theatre; you can't actually seriously pretend to be someone else on stage anymore - the audience already knows the all the stage tricks. But now it is also there in the economy; we thought our money, our pension contributions or our mortgages represented something, but the crisis has taught us that that was an illusion. Did economics perhaps learn that from theatre, Pollesch suggests. The problem is that Pollesch's performances use a vocabulary and a way of thinking that is not common in the Netherlands. Our media does not refer to academic theory to describe or interpret issues in society. And even the bourgeois theatre he so vehemently opposes hardly exists here. This perhaps makes his performances here "unreadable".

It is unfortunate that we cannot control that, but there is a consolation: the Dutch theatre group De Warme Winkel wants to put on a show with Pollesch. I am enormously looking forward to that. Because that at least seems to get the language problem out of the way, and then we can see what pain points Pollesch manages to hit in the Dutch situation.

5 thoughts on “René Pollesch: afgelast, maar misschien sowieso te goed voor Nederland”

  1. To add: De Warme Winkel's collaboration with René Pollesch is already a reality. Pollesch was in Rotterdam for a week in August to work with De Warme Winkel on their Poets and Bandits. He was supposed to return at the beginning of September but unfortunately that could not take place (he was jumping in on an opera project by the deceased Christoph Schlingensief). The idea was to create an international perspective for The Warm Shop alongside René Pollesch's indeed grandiose Der perfekte Tag. And that this should ideally be with Pollesch was quickly decided.

    You can't plan against a broken leg, but The International Choice is already in talks about Ich schau dir in die Augen, geselschaftlicher Verblendungszusammenhang for the 2011 edition. That could count as revenge.

    Annemie Vanackere
    The International Choice

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Simon Van der Berg

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