Merciless dada-like theatre


Richard Siegal, Ballet of difference, Ensemble Schauspiel Köln

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Roughhouse could be characterised as an edgy, Dadaesque comic. Richard Siegal, the artistic director of Ballet of Difference, hurls text and movement together in this critical look at the 21st-century media world in which the meaning of both violence and truth have become absurdly ambiguous. The cast of nine dancers and actors furiously hurtle themselves through an avalanche of words and gestures with breakneck, slapstick timing. The title Roughhouse is derived from the term ‘roughhousing’, describing the manner of play in which children are socialised to responsibly express agression. In Roughhouse, the dancers and actors are all placed equally on unstable footing, each venturing out of their comfort zone to unleash language as mercilessly as they do their own bodies.

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background information

The American choreographer Richard Siegal will be making his debut at the Holland Festival this year with Roughhouse. The production is a collaboration between his own ensemble, Ballet of  

Difference, and actors from Schauspiel Köln. Roughhouse is a playful critique of 21st-century reality, in which we increasingly experience the world indirectly, through media. The title refers to an early stage in human development – the moment when a child comes to an understanding of the boundaries of their own body and those of others through play-fighting and wrestling. This kind of roughhousing teaches children to channel their strength and aggression and to assume various social roles – it’s a crucial part of the socialization process. Siegal takes this principle as the starting point for a performance that is situated at the tipping point when play ceases to be fun but instead begins to hurt. 

Roughhouse is reminiscent of a furious, hyperactive, Dadaesque cartoon. Elements of slapstick, subtle humour and unexpected outbursts of violence à la Quentin Tarantino come together in a dizzyingly dynamic collage of dance and text. In addition to the choreography and direction, Siegal is also authored the text, which serves as the driving force of the performance. It’s a verbal tour de force, full of hashtags such as #metoo, socially engaged protest, politically correct tirades and various forms of controversial language. Siegal is exploring the way that language seeks to be politically correct and take people’s sensitivities into account while at the same time demanding the freedom to break through all taboos. He shows the mechanisms of alliance, collaboration, integration and exclusion that govern human interaction. Roughhouse asks the question: if everyone has their own truth, how can we come to understand one another? And what does that mean for our society? 

Siegal’s language reverberates into the bodies of the ten dancers and actors. Absurd associations and word games are echoed in their movements. It is language gone viral – literally and figuratively. As the people on stage attack one another verbally and physically, wrestling on the unstable surface, they embody revolutionaries and terrorists, victims and perpetrators, the dominant majority and the helpless minority and vice versa. Everything communicates, but no one understands each other. Ultimately language falls short.

This playful exploration of contemporary issues is intercut with scenes from Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone – the first dramatic work that we know of in which language is used to create a system of jurisprudence. Siegal is going back to this ancient text in an attempt to re-establish a clear, shared frame of reference for what is and is not permissible in social interaction – particularly when it comes to the way we use language.




The American dancer and choreographer Richard Siegal (1980) has been an influential player in the German dance and theatre world since 1997. Siegal grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, 

where there wasn’t a lot of dance to be found. The day after he graduated high school he moved to New York to pursue a career in dance. He ultimately ended up in Germany, where between 1997 and 2004 was a soloist with Ballett Frankfurt, working under the legendary choreographer William Forsythe. In 2005 Siegal decided to turn his own ambitions as a choreographer and theatre-maker into a reality and founded his own multidisciplinary platform, The Bakery. Between 2005 and 2015, he remained affilitated with his mentor’s new dance ensemble, The Forsythe Company, as an associate artist. Like Forsythe, Siegal takes the basic movements of classical ballet as his starting point. He pares them down to their essence and combines them with insights from other art forms such as architecture, fashion, design, performance, live music, spoken word and new media. His work has been honoured with numerous prizes, including a Bessie Award, the Deutscher Theaterpreis Der Faust, the prize awarded by the Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques and the Münchner Tanzpreis. Siegal has also been affiliated with numerous prestigious art institutions, including ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe and the Baryshnikov Arts Center. In 2016 he established a new ensemble, Ballet of Difference, as a progressive, contemporary riposte to the conservative art form of ballet. Between 2015 and 2017 he created a triptych for the Ruhrtriennale Festival, based on Dante’s Divine Comedy.



choreography, direction, text
Richard Siegal
Yuri Englert, Marlene Goksch, Nicola Gründel, Stefko Hanushevsky, Courtney Henry, Seán McDonagh, Margarida de Abreu Neto, Claudia Ortiz Arraiza, Diego Tortelli, Jemima Rose Dean
Stawrula Panagiotaki, Tobias Staab
Lorenzo Bianchi Hoesch
Jens Kilian, Richard Siegal
Gilles Gentner
Flora Miranda
Lea Heutelbeck
Tobias Staab
ballet master
Caroline Geiger
production leader
Miria Wurm
set assistant
Stella Lennert
assistant costumes
Christin Winkler
David Schäfer
Christiane Sundermann
Catherine Schumann
assistant director
Cemil Özen
set builder
Wiebke Vollmer
set technician
Justin Skowasch
sport supervision
light technician
Jürgen Kapitein, Hannes Grethe
sound technician
Martin Pfaffhausen, Martin Töpler, Gero Wycik
Jochen Ohr, Thomas Toth
set realisation
Alex Kempe
Werner Schaaf, Frank Hohmann, Boris Thelen, Frank Hohenkamp, Wenke Wesemann
costume workshop
Johanna Biehl, Anne Kathrin Lüth, Elisabeth Schlückler
Carmen Comanns
Daphne van der Grinten, Susanne Wade
costume colouring
Luise Unger
Moez Ben Brahim, Katja Böhm, Eva Gamble, Saskia Räde Maskenbild, Birgit Herber
Birgit Herber
Tobias Bergmann, Susanne Haaf, Erwin Haas, Maike Kraus, Ursula renzler, Julia Lehmann, Carmen Stieg
with support from
Kulturstiftung des Bundes, Kulturreferat der Landeshaupstadt München, Ministerium für Kultur un Wissenschaft des Lands Nordrhein-Westfalen
Schauspiel Köln
in coproduction with
Tanz Köln, Muffatwerk München ( Richard Siegal is resident choreographer at Muffatwerk München), Richard Siegal / The Bakery and Ecotopia Dance Productions

This performance was made possible with support by