‘Intense and intelligent ... a wonderful performance’ – Frankfurter Rundschau

The Dark Ages

Residenztheater, Milo Rau/International Institute of Political Murder

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From the downfall of the Third Reich to the siege of Sarajevo, Swiss director Milo Rau’s The Dark Ages recounts the dark history of Europe’s unification. Actors from Bosnia, Germany, Russia and Serbia relate their personal stories of deportation and homelessness, dedication and despair. Rau is a political stage director at heart, acclaimed for the award-winning production The Civil Wars (2014), first part of his European trilogy. The Dark Ages is the second part of his European trilogy, exploring the human implications of Europe’s history. Filmic close-ups and an original soundtrack by controversial Slovenian rock band Laibach complete this intimate psycho-analysis of our times.

Programme

Background information

The Dark Ages is the second part in Milo Rau's critical theatre trilogy on the failure of Europe's unification project. The Swiss writer and theatre maker is one of the most controversial and in-demand directors of his generation. Rau has developed an original, minimalist and literary style of theatre, poised between journalism, documentary, film and performance art, often blurring the line between actor and character.

The first part of Rau's trilogy, The Civil Wars, deals with the rise of extremism in Western Europe. In this performance, four actors discuss the complicated relationship with their fathers. For the second part, The Dark Ages, Rau puts five actors on stage who have each been scarred for life by war in Eastern Europe, from the end of the Second World War (1945) to the fall of Sarajevo (1995). Staged on an inventive set – which changes from a monument into a study – using cameras and a large projection screen, these five life stories are interwoven into the performance. Supported by the ominous sounds of Slovenian cult band Laibach – widely known and notorious for their flirt with totalitarian iconography, social realism, nazi art and pop culture – Rau shows us the dark side of Europe. What happens to people when their ideals are shattered and their country is torn apart? What are the foundations Europe is built on?

 

Vedrana Seksan is an actress with the Bosnian National Theatre. She talks of her experiences during the siege of Sarajevo; how she survived not only the ceaseless shelling, but also the long and deep crisis of the aftermath. Despite the NATO bombings, Sanja Mitrović stayed in Belgrade to dance. Later on, she left Serbia for the Netherlands, where the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was to be held. As a young Bosnian, Sudbin Musić survived mass murders and concentration camps. Now he works as a human rights activist in his home village. He had to identify the remains of his own father which were discovered in a mass grave. Rau's cast is completed by two actors from Munich's Residenztheater: Manfred Zapatka and Valery Cheplanova. Zapatka’s memories go back to post-war Germany, stories about forced evacuations and the return of his father, broken after his stretch as a prisoner of war camp. Cheplanova moved with her mother from the Soviet city of Kazan to settle in Germany, where she became a puppeteer touring the world with Heiner Muller's production Hamletmachine. Five stories about refuge, homelessness, justice, the role of art, despair, loss and carrying on with life.

 

Laibach's music plays a significant part in the performance. At a concert in Belgrade in 1989, the band prophesied the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia. In 1995, the Dayton Agreement, officially putting an end to the Bosnian War, was signed while the band were playing on stage in Sarajevo. Two of the actors performing in The Dark Ages witnessed the band’s performance: Mitrović at the concert in Belgrade, Seksan in Sarajevo, when the historic peace agreement was signed.

 

Rau reveals Europe's shaky foundations by investigating their poignant biographies. These intimate close-ups put a face to a continent which in its history has fallen apart numerous times before. Europe is not a realm, but a ruin, desperately searching for a new ideology. The Dark Ages represents a political psycho-analysis of our times.

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Festivalfocus: Edges of Europe

During the first six months of this year the Netherlands holds the Presidency of the European Union. But what is left of the dream of European unity? At the Holland Festival international artists present a series of performances focusing on current European issues and exploring this changing continent. 

The festival’s opening performance by Estonian directors Ene-Liis Semper and Tiit Ojasoo Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wußten shows the diversity and tensions of modern Europe. And in their film Ash and Money they focus on the phenomenon of political populism. Directors Milo Rau (The Dark Ages), Joël Pommerat (Ça ira (1) Fin de Louis), Wael Shawky (Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala) and Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha delve into Europe’s past, exploring the effect of some of its history’s darkest chapters. From the heart of Europe, the collective God’s Entertainment stages a test about chauvinism, which is causing the European dream of unity to falter. The Dutch theatre company Wunderbaum responds to European issues in its project The New Forest. A large Syrian orchestra for Arabic music will reunite for a special concert in Africa Express Presents… The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians with Damon Albarn and Guests. Artists may not be able to change the world, but they can change the way we look at it.

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Biography

Writer and theatre maker Milo Rau (Bern, 1977) studied sociology, German and Roman Studies in Paris, Zurich and Berlin before working as a foreign reporter in Ciapas (Mexico) and Cuba. In 2000, he started working as a journalist for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and from 2003 as a director and writer at home as well as abroad. 

In 2007, Rau founded the theatre and film production company International Institute of Political Murder (IIPM). His productions, campaigns and films – among them Die letzten Tage der Ceausescus (The Last Hours of the Ceausescus), Hate RadioCity of ChangeBreiviks Erklärung (Breivik’s Statement), Die Moskauer Prozesse (The Moscow Trials), Die Zürcher Prozesse (The Zurich Trials), The Civil Wars, The Dark AgesDas Kongo Tribunal (The Congo Tribunal) and MitleidDie Geschichte des Maschinengewehrs (Compassion. The History of the Machine Gun) − have been touring in more than 30 countries around the world and have been invited to some of the biggest national and international festivals, including Berliner Theatertreffen, Festival d'Avignon, Zürcher Theaterspektakel, Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival Groningen, Festival TransAmeriques, Wiener Festwochen, the Kunstenfestival Brussels and Biennale Teatro di Venezia. In 2014, Rau received the Swiss Theatre Prize as well as the Hörspielpreis der Kriegsblinden (War Blinded Audio Play Prize) for Hate Radio, which deals with the role radio propaganda played in the Rwandan genocide. Rau was awarded the Politik im Freien Theater Festival's Jury Prize for his play The Civil Wars, which was also selected as one of the 5 best plays of 2014 by Swiss State Television and voted one of the best plays in the Netherlands and Flanders (Theatre Festival 2014/15). In 2015, Rau was awarded the Konstanzer Konzilspreis − Preis für Europäische Begegnungen und Dialog (Council of Constance Prize – Prize for European Encounter and Dialogue) in its inaugural year. Milo Rau was awarded 2016 with International Theatre Institute (ITI)'s prize on World Theatre Day.

Rau's political essay Was tun? Kritik der Postmodernen Vernunft (2013, What to do? Critique of Postmodern Reason) was a bestseller. Belgian daily La Libre recently named Rau 'Europe's most sought after director' and Le Soir described him as one of the 'freest and most strident minds of our time.' The Dark Ages will mark his debut at the Holland Festival.

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Credits

concept, text, direction
Milo Rau
text, cast
Sanja Mitrović, Sudbin Musić, Vedrana Seksan, Valery Tscheplanowa, Manfred Zapatka
set, costume
Anton Lukas
music
Laibach
camera, video
Marc Stephan
dramaturgy
Sebastian Huber, Stefan Bläske
translation
Marija Karaklajić
production
Residenztheater München in samenwerking met Milo Rau / International Institute of Political Murder (IIPM)
kindly supported by
Pro Helvetia

This performance was made possible with support by