An extreme performance by a controversial theatre maker

Promised Ends: The Slow Arrow of Sorrow and Madness

Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell, Saint Genet

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Few artists dare to look so ruthlessly for the common denominator of beauty and pain as Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell. In this intense new production by his theatre group Saint Genet, he mixes dance, music, visual arts and extreme performance. Performers experiment with accepted acts of transgression and radical acts of care, examining what is left when all has been lost. Promised Ends: The Slow Arrow of Sorrow and Madness is an opera-performance illuminated by an installation of dozens of fluorescent lights by Ben Zamora, inspired by Jean-Luc Godard and Akira Kurosawa’s King Lear films, and the horrific American legend of the Donner party. It is a ritual of guilt and penance.


Background information

The work of Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell is related to the Theatre of Cruelty of Antonin Artauld. Artauld emphasised that what happens on stage is not about performance but about spectacle. Mitchell leads the observer through a surreal world with beautiful but bloodcurdling images. 

Transcending all disciplines, Mitchell creates a visually and acoustically powerful, dynamic and non-narrative theatre. This won him the support of Robert Wilson, who recognised those qualities as an early stage.


It was Mitchell’s dark and extreme side that attracted the attention of Marina Abramović, who put him high on her list of ten young provocateurs to watch. Abramović met Mitchell in 2013 when he gave one of his boldest performances: a recreation of Christopher Burden’s piece SHOOT, in which Mitchell had someone shoot him in the arm. Mitchell’s work is theatre and reality at the same time; nothing is imitation or pretence. He brings the uncompromising essence of the physical violence of the performance into alienating contact with the aesthetics of theatre, just as he did in his earlier piece Transports of Delirium (2011), when he spent four hours with his body covered in gold leaf and his arms covered in leeches.


In 2015 he entered into a collaboration with the Donaufestival in Krems. His first piece there was the 72 hour long location-based performance An Exemplary Case of Love Without Respite. Each day began with a performance in an abandoned factory followed by a procession of 30 km. Part of the ritual was the gradual tattooing of a text onto Mitchell’s body, an homage to the Austrian radical artist Gunter Brus, who turned his own body into a canvas. Mitchell did not know what had been tattooed onto his chest until after the six sessions it took were all over: ‘Love me or kill me, brother’, a quote from John Ford’s 17th-century tragedy ‘Tis Pity She’s aWhore.


Frail Affinities followed in 2016. Within and beneath a large-scale light installation, with visual opera and pure movement and dance, Mitchell placed the tragedy of the Donner Party centre stage. Their story is fixed in the collective memory of all Americans. This is certainly the case with Mitchell, who grew up in Reno, less than a half hour’s drive from the place where the drama took place in 1846/47. A group of pioneers on their way west is stranded in the mountains in a snowstorm. In order to survive, the company resorts to cannibalism. For Mitchell the story was a poetic metaphor of the human capacity to survive the greatest of hardships. But also for the collapse of a human society, because what is left once you can no longer protect that which is most fragile, and most precious?


Shakespeare’s King Lear provides the inspiration for the last piece in his Austrian trilogy: ‘Is this the promised end?’ asks Kent when Lear appears with his dead daughter in his arms. In King Lear there is no reward for goodness. The only end is death. Promised Ends: The Slow Arrow of Sorrow and Madness will be the biggest work that the company has made to date. As they say: ‘A final madness opera for a mad time’.



Saint Genet is an artists’ collective around the young director, writer and producer Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell. Here, just as in his former company Implied Violence, he creates provocative, genre bending and surrealist performances in a variety of places, like buildings that have been abandoned 

or are due to be demolished, alleys, roofs or places out in the countryside, but also in prestigious museums like the Guggenheim and in theatres. Saint Genet makes not only large-scale operatic pieces but also intimate performances, visual art installations and pure movement art-sometimes all at the same time. During a residence at the Robert Wilson Watermill Centre, Mitchell developed the first of his Dorothy K programs, which was presented at the Dutch-financed New Island Festival in New York in 2009.

Mitchell and his companies have won various prizes, including the Stranger Genius Award in 2008 and the Otto Ritter Award in 2016. In 2013 he made his international breakthrough with a large multidisciplinary work that he produced on commission from the Luminato Festival in Toronto and the Donaufestival in Krems, Austria: Paradisiacal Rights. During the premiere of this production at the On the Boards festival in Seattle, Mitchell organised a series of satellites shows around the main play, including a recreation of a performance from 1971 by Christopher Burden, SHOOT. In 2015 Mitchell was given the opportunity to develop a series of plays and performances over three years for the Donaufestival in Krems. Promised Ends: The Slow Arrow of Sorrow and Madness, of which the Wiener Festwochen is producer and the Holland Festival co-producer, will complete this trilogy.



direction, text, concept
Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell / Saint Genet
light sculpture design
Ben Zamora
light design
John Torres
installation and kinetic sculpture
Casey Curran
Matt Drews
assistant choreography
Lavinia Vago
Brian Lawlor, D. Salo
Robinick Fernandez
costume construction
Jordan Christianson
Baso Fibonacci, Matt Drews, Lily Nguyen, Lavinia Vago, Francesca Frewer, Adriana Cubides, Steffie Wieser
Brian Lawlor (piano, synths), Brian Lawlor (piano, synths), Matteo Mijderwijk, Dudok Kwartet Amsterdam
company manager
Sara Edwards
sound advisor
Ryan Kelly
Alexander Nowak
Wiener Festwochen
Brian Lawlor (piano, synths), Matteo Mijderwijk (piano), Dudok Kwartet Amsterdam
Tanzquartier Wien, Holland Festival

This performance was made possible with support by