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Foreign Affairs: An art vacation

Director Matthias von Hartz has big plans for his first Foreign Affairs festival, which will bring three weeks of international dance, music and art to venues all over the city. This fine affair starts on June 27 and runs through July 14.

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Life and Times

Director Matthias von Hartz discusses his first edition of Foreign Affairs: the Berliner Festspiele’s three-week festival for international performance, music and art.

Last fall, HBF’s newest baby entered the scene to much fanfare with an adventurous programme from Belgian grand dame Frie Leysen. Its second round – bumped up to June – marks Kampnagel in Hamburg veteran Von Hartz’s first time at the helm and a shift to a new season and structure. The festival is now organised around two artists: this year’s are William Forsythe, American choreographer and head of his own company in Frankfurt, and the New York-based Nature Theater of Oklahoma.

Even if the artists in focus aren’t your style, the director-turned-impresario’s programme still promises some of the most exciting performance of the summer – and free hamburgers.

What’s your goal for the festival?

For me it was important to find out what Berlin needs – maybe we’ll only know after a few years – but one thing I decided to do is really give time and space to selected artists over several performances. In this festival frame, you can also try to realise projects that couldn’t happen during the regular season. For example, the Nature Theater of Oklahoma will basically perform all of their stuff over two weeks.

What kind of a tone are you trying to set with moving the festival from fall to summer?

I want some kind of art vacation feeling. This is the feeling I always have at the big summer festivals, like Avignon: everybody’s in a good mood, there’s good weather, and finally, there’s good art. What would be a better way of spending a day in July?

Your partner organisations this year are HAU and KW instead of last year’s Sophiensaele. Are they going to stick around?

I think they will stay for the next few years. But there will be probably be more, especially because it’s interesting to have partners in the real city.

And the real city is not Wilmersdorf.

At least, nobody I know lives here or – that’s not true. I mean, I’ve thought of two people I know that do live here.

Did the collaboration with HAU come about because you wanted to invite Nature Theater of Oklahoma, who have worked with HAU in the past?

It’s a bit more complicated than that. [HAU artistic director] Annemie Vanackere and I both sat in the same performance of No Dice in 2006 in New York. Immediately after the show I went up to them and said, “What’s your next project?” They said, “We don’t have a next project. We don’t have money.” So I said, “Okay, I get the money, you do the project.” Then Romeo and Juliet was produced in Hamburg, and later we also co-produced in Rotterdam with Annemie. For this we decided to join forces to do a project the company has been wanting to do for a long time.

So tell me more about this project…

They are going to do what they have been claiming on the website for seven years, which is: they call everybody to become part of the Nature Theater of Oklahoma for the barbecue on the first night, then people can work with them for the whole festival at different levels of engagement. You can just go and talk to them for three minutes, or you can rehearse with them every night and participate in the final show presented at the end of the festival.

How many people are they expecting to show up?

We don’t know. Every time we talk, we shift between “maybe only five people will come” and “what do we do if 500 people come?” – which is a bigger problem, I have to admit. We cannot really use all of them and then lots of energy’s wasted… let’s see. Maybe we have to make a plan for 500.

Have you noticed a change in the funding situation post-financial crisis?

Directly after the crisis, I immediately lost €100,000 from a private foundation. Of course, there’s also more pressure on public budgets. And sometimes, people in the cultural administrations come up with strange ideas like, “Couldn’t you have more sponsors like in the United States?” And you try to explain to them that you can’t compare.

What do you think the role of these arts institutions is now?

In the end, I think cultural institutions have always been one of the last remaining public spaces that are not directly controlled by money. Therefore these spaces have to be where we discuss how we live and how we want to live. So my answer is more radical than before: we have to use these spaces to make sure that the financial crisis doesn’t negate the progress that people have been fighting for all this time.


Artist Focus: The Nature Theater of Oklahoma

Named after a Kafka quote, the concept performance makers from New York will finally fulfil their mission to offer a place to “anyone who wants to be an artist”. Interested? Come to the opening barbecue and interview for a position, free burger included (Jun 28, 19:00, HAU1). Their cult classic production of Romeo and Juliet (Jun 29-30, 20:00, HAU1) – reconstructed from not-so-accurate memories – then begins a total of 10 performances, including one 13-hour (Jul 7, 14:00) and one 15-hour (Jul 12, 14:00) marathon of the everyday opera Life and Times.

Artist Focus: William Forsythe

The Frankfurt-based American, known for his large-scale dance productions and impeccable ensemble, brings a pair of so-called choreographic objects to the festival in June: The Defenders Part 3 (at KW, Wed-Mon, 12-19:00, Thu 12-21:00) and White Bouncy Castle (Lokhalle Schöneberg, Tues-Wed, Fri, 14:00-19:30, Thurs 16:00–22:00, Sat-Sun 12:00-18:00). His company’s July performances will sell out, so buy tickets for I Don’t Believe in Outer Space (Jul 5-6, 20:30, HBF) and Sider (Jul 9, 20:30, Jul 10, 21:00, HBF) well in advance.

Other English and dance highlights:

Choreographer-dancers Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Boris Charamtz return with a collaborative piece inspired by Bach, Partita 2 (Jun 27-29, 20:30, HBF). Nick Talbot of the Bristol folktronica band Gravenhurst goes solo for the opening concert (June 27, 23:00), On the more experimental end, the Fundacion Collado-Van Hoestenberghe from Spain will take over the HBF’s lobby with the English-language participatory performance Nueva Marinaleda (Jun 28, 22:00, Jun 29, 19:00). Looking to take a ride in a limo? Just call up The Improbability Drive (Jun 30-Jul 7). And keep your eyes open in July for more…

Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Schaperstr. 24, Wilmersdorf, U-Bhf Spichernstr.

HAU1, Stresemannstr. 29, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Hallesches Tor

KW, Auguststr. 69, Mitte, S-Bhf Oranienburger Str.

Foreign Affairs, Jun 27-Jul 14 | various locations – see Berliner Festspiele for more information.

Originally published in Issue  #117, June 2013