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Europe's changing, and will continue to change. What's left of the old dream of a united Europe? Renowned for their confrontational performances, the up-and-coming Estonian directors duo Ene-Liis Semper and Tiit Ojasoo have created a performance without words about the Europe of now.
Their piece is based on a play consisting solely of stage directions, by the Austrian writer Peter Handke. The author gave them permission to add their own scenes, in which they refer to some of Europe's most pressing issues. In a mesmerising series of short, sometimes ultrashort scenes, tens of actors, dancers and a choir portray the continent in all its diversity.
The 2016 Holland Festival opens with Peter Handke's Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wußten. Produced by Hamburg's Thalia Theater, the Estonian directing duo Tiit Ojasoo and Ene-Liis Semper have set the play in a square in the heart of Europe.
Peter Handke's play is set in an unidentified place, a square in an unnamed country. Despite being sixty pages long, the script has no dialogue. Handke only gives stage directions. We see a random collection of people passing by in a square, hundreds of individuals who come and go, each with their own story, each in their own way adding to the couleur locale and leaving their traces.
Estonian directing duo Ene-Liis Semper and Tiit Ojasoo staged Handke's play at the Thalia Theater in Hamburg as a snapshot of a central square at the heart of the new Europe. Over the last two decades, Europe and its people have changed dramatically. The abolition of internal border controls within the European Union and digital globalisation have brought Europe closer to other continents. After the two world wars, Europe was confronted with migrants and refugees, new political and religious conflicts within and outside Europe, environmental issues and, central to all this, the burning question of identity. It's this changing world order which inspired Semper and Ojasoo to stage Handke's play, with a cast of twenty actors from the Thalia Theater and an accompanying choir.
The passers-by who come and go 'write' a communal story of Europe, each adding their own storyline to the bigger picture. People meet up or hurriedly pass each other by, someone falls over, the street is cleaned, someone is in love, someone else is not allowed in, yet another person has their head in the clouds or prays at a wailing wall – people gather at this large central square with their own individual motives. Time elapses, the picture changes frame by frame. The audience is witness to a poetical European utopia, which is as absurdly comical as it is destructive. 'Don't give away what you have seen, stay with the image', Peter Handke wrote in his stage directions. In this way, the viewers can distil from the extremely short scenes the essence for themselves and relate it to their own lives.
Ojasoo and Semper have been artistic directors of the NO99 Theatre in Tallinn (Estonia) since 2005. Known for their large-scale political theatre productions, they frequently explore recent Estonian history and current world views in their performances. Soon after they started their collaboration, their work attracted attention from outside Estonia and they were invited to various international festivals. In 2011 they staged their first piece at the Thalia Theater during the Lessing Days. After staging two highly political pieces at the Thalia Theater's smallauditorium, Fuck your ego! and Hanumans Reise nach Lolland, they moved to the theatre's main auditorium with Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wußten.
'This is stage acting in its purest form – dancing, gasping, laughing, crying, without any dialogue,' wrote Spiegel Online. Die Welt concluded: 'The Estonian directing duo Tiit Ojaaso and Ene-Liis Semper unleash a deluge of imagery. (…) The energetic and virtuoso twenty-strong cast gave it their all, gasping for air after two and a half hours of performing. The audience was left breathless as well, be it from sheer amazement.’
Peter Handke (6 December 1942, Griffen, Austria) is an avant-garde Austrian playwright, novelist, poet and essayist. He is widely considered one of the most original writers in the German-speaking world from the second half of the twentieth century. From 1961 until 1965, Handke studied Law at the University of Graz, writing his first pieces for the avant-garde literary magazine manuskripte.
When his first novel Die Hornissen (The Hornets) was published in 1965, he abandoned his studies and became a professional writer. He first attracted attention from the wider public in 1966 for his anti-conventional stage play Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience), in which four actors spend an hour analysing the essence of theatre and insulting as well as praising the audience for their acting – provoking mixed reactions. Several more plays lacking conventional plot, dialogue and characters followed. Handke’s first full-length play, Kaspar (1968), received extensive media coverage. It depicts the foundling Kaspar Hauser as a near-speechless innocent destroyed by society’s attempts to impose on him its language and its own rational values. Another of Handke's early plays is Der Ritt über den Bodensee (The Ride Across Lake Constance, 1971).
Handke's novels are for the most part objective, deadpan accounts of characters who are in extreme states of mind. His best-known novel, Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, 1970) is an imaginative thriller about a former football player who commits a pointless murder and then waits for the police to take him into custody. Die linkshändige Frau (The Left-handed Woman, 1976) is a dispassionate account of a young mother coping with the disorientation she feels after she has separated from her husband. In Wunschloses Unglück (A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, 1972), Handke has recorded his memoirs about his deceased mother, who committed suicide.
Handke has also written short stories, essays, radio plays and autobiographical works. He won the Georg Büchner Prize in 1973 and the Grand Austrian State Prize in 1987. The dominant theme of his writings is that ordinary language, everyday reality, and their accompanying rational order have a constraining and deadening effect on human beings.
Ene-Liis Semper (1969) studied scenography at the Estonian Academy of Arts. Since graduating in 1995, she has worked frequently in theatre and opera and received many awards for her set designs. In 2005 she and Tiit Ojasoo founded the NO99 Theatre, where she and Ojasoo are artistic directors. She has worked with Ojasoo as a co-director on several NO99 productions as well as productions for other theatres.
In her work, Semper mixes various art forms, ranging from theatre and opera to fine art, video art, film and installation art. As well as at NO99 Theatre she has also worked at the Münchner Kammerspiele with Sebastian Nübling and Kristian Smeds and at the Malmö Opera with Dmitry Bertman. In addition to her work as a stage director and scenographer, Semper also works as a video and performance artist. She has exhibited her work around the world, including two appearances at the Venice Biennial.
Tiit Ojasoo (Estonia, 1977) graduated in 2000 as stage director at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, before starting his career as a director at the Estonian Drama Theatre. In 2004 he was appointed artistic director of the Old Town's Studio, which was renamed NO99 Theatre a year later. Since, he has shared the theatre's artistic direction with scenographer and director Ene-Liis Semper.
Ojasoo has staged more than twenty performances in various theatres across Estonia (NO99, Von Krahl, Draama Teater, Vanemuine, Endla). His directions have included works by Shakespeare, Bernard-Marie Koltes, Akira Kurosawa, Martin McDonagh and Alfred Jarry. In his work, he has frequently used texts by Yukio Mishima and Sarah Kane as well as his own texts, including Oil! and GEP. He's also directed musicals (Blood Brothers, Evita) and a rock opera (Ruja). Ojasoo works in close collaboration with set designer and co-director Ene-Liis Semper.
In the Baltic States, Ojasoo has won many theatre prizes, including the prize for best producer of the year at the Estonian Draama Teater Festival. His work has been performed at a range of international festivals, including Wiener Festwochen in Vienna, Politik im Freien Theater in Cologne, Novaja Drama in Moscow and Kontakt in Torun. Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wußten is the third play he and Ene-Liis Semper have staged for the Thalia Theater.
The Thalia Theater in the German city of Hamburg is home to one of Germany's most famous theatre ensembles. Housed in a neoclassical building dating from 1912, the theatre is one of Germany's largest drama venues, with a seating capacity of approximately 1,000. In the city's borough of Altona the theatre operates a smaller stage, with approximately 200 seats. This theatre, called Thalia in der Gaußstraße, is considered an important stage for contemporary theatre.
In the nineteenth century, the Thalia Theater was the most important drama theatre in Hamburg. After having been nationalised In 1937, the Thalia Theater pursued a national-socialist agenda. Largely destroyed by bombings in 1945, the theatre re-opened a year later and was completely restored in 1950. In the 1970's, under the direction of Boy Gobert, the Thalia Theater was renowned for staging significant contemporary director's theatre, producing directors such as Peter Zadek and Jürgen Flimm. In 1985, Flimm returned to become artistic director for the next fifteen years, building Thalia into a successful theatre attracting a wide audience. Since 2009, the theatre has been led by artistic director Joachim Lux.
Voted Theatre of the Year by the German-speaking magazine Theater Heute in 2003 and 2007, the Thalia Theater's ensemble is one of the most popular in Germany. Many great directors have worked with the ensemble in recent years, including Martin Kusej, Peter Sellars, Robert Wilson, Luk Perceval and Dimiter Gotscheff. The ensemble stages classic plays as well as contemporary theatre, including works by Peter Handke, Elfriede Jelinek and Jon Fosse. The company have been invited to perform in cities worldwide, including in New York, Bogotá, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. They have also performed at major international festivals, including the Wiener Festwochen, the Theatertreffen in Berlin, the Budapest Drama Festival and the Avignon Theatre Festival. The Thalia Theatre performed at the Holland Festival in 2014, staging Die Schutzbefohlenen, Elfriede Jelinek's biting polemic about Europe's increasingly acute and distressing refugee problem, directed by Nicolas Stemann.
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.
- original work
- Peter Handke
- Tiit Ojasoo, Ene-Liis Semper
- Lars Wittershagen
- body work
- Jüri Nael
- chorus master
- Uschi Krosch
- Sandra Küpper
- Thalia Theater
- Haus der Kulturen der Welt als onderdeel van het project 100 Jahre Gegenwart met Thalia Theater Hamburg en Ruhrfestspielen Recklinghausen
- Uwe Behrmann,
- Alicia Aumüller,
Felicia Jackson (dance),
Issiaka Moussa (dance),
Joazi da Silva (dance),
Oda Thormeyer and Shiyue Chen,
Ngai Fung Elvis Cheung,