A young man rises from the dead and returns at his own funeral. What happened? How did he die? One cold, wintry night, horrific memories resurface. The encounter and dialogue between his ghost and another adolescent takes the audience on an equally beautiful and bizarre trip. Onstage, the group KTL (formed to create this piece in 2007, consisting of Stephen F. O’Malley and Peter Rehberg) perform live music that mixes guitarist-composer Stephen O'Malley’s experimental interpretation of black metal with the electronic sounds of Peter Rehberg. On stage, the boundaries between good and evil, humans and animals, and life and death dissolve. With Kindertotenlieder, Vienne has created an uncanny dream reality full of references to wonderfully eerie fairy tales and traditions.
Kindertotenlieder is a sensual experience of great violence. It is constructed by superimposing the expression of fantasies, fiction, reality, the unknown, and different temporalities, as different permeable strata of the experience of the real, and slips from buried memory to awareness.
The staging of a teenager’s funeral and his return as a ghost in Kindertotenlieder bring together three types of rituals and the codes and aesthetics associated with them: a funeral, a black metal concert, and a pagan celebration linked to the march of the Perchten, an Austrian tradition in which grotesque monsters embody dread and anguish. They appear in early January to chase away evil demons and take the souls of the damned to punish them.
Having Austrian family ties, Vienne has followed the recent evolution and significant return of this tradition with special interest. Since the early 1990s, groups of mostly young men have worked at reviving this once-popular Perchten tradition. Its close link to horror and fantasy films as well as the culture of heavy metal and black metal shows the importance of being able to move between a highly local culture and an international one. Thus, while being pagan and local, this tradition has different echoes in contemporary popular culture.
Kindertotenlieder links this tradition, its aesthetics and codes with those of black metal, which is also influenced by various Scandinavian and Germanic pagan cultures and has a similar Romantic iconography associated with it. A black metal group is giving a concert for this teenager’s funeral; the teenagers in attendance are fans of the genre and bring its codes into play.
The dramatic work unfolds in a landscape under heavy snow. The setting makes it possible to stage different reconstructions of the events, and thus offers several hypotheses concerning the boy’s death, revealing different layers of memory.
When speech is yet to emerge, emotions, movement and poetry do the speaking. This language of the body and poetry precedes the spoken word and leads to an understanding of what was buried in memory: that the dead teenager was raped and murdered by the living teenager, whom he sees again. The emergence of intelligible speech, which culture trains us to hear, requires, foremost, a sensitivity of mind. As the piece unfolds, memory returns and bodies and words come to the surface.
The stage has always served as a place where the deceased could be summoned and reanimated. In their appearance and their gestures, the performers in Kindertotenlieder mingle with other characters in the form of artificial or retouched bodies, both animate and inanimate. Five dancers and actors, two musicians and ten life-sized dolls interpret these characters, alternately incarnate and disembodied, alive and dead, real and hallucinated.
By superimposing the different temporalities that make up the experience of the present, through a score that combines choreographic, theatrical, musical, literary, and visual work, the different strata that make up our perception and experience of memory are formally deployed within the space of the stage.
Liberation and representations
Death is the ultimate example of something that on the one hand is already familiar but at the same time belongs to a different, unknown world. Traditional celebrations like the Austrian Perchten night, during which death is both feared and celebrated, temporarily lift such taboos.
Kindertotenlieder invites us to experiment and question our reading of reality and fantasy through different registers of superimposed representations. It is about exploring the way we express our obsessions and fears, and our awareness of them, within what is represented and what is not. The representation of dread can be linked to that of death and its constant proximity to human characteristics such as body appearance and behavior. The representation of a form that is both familiar and foreign, and therefore disturbing, constitutes a unique resource for the experiences that are a part of the ceremonies, rites, and performances.
Gisèle Vienne (1976, Charleville-Mézières) is a Franco-Austrian artist, choreographer and director. After graduating in Philosophy, she studied at the puppeteering school École Supérieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionnette. She works regularly with the writer Dennis Cooper, among others. Over the past twenty years, her pieces have toured throughout Europe and were regularly performed in Asia and in America. These include I Apologize (2004), Kindertotenlieder (2007), Jerk (2008), This is how you will disappear (2010), LAST SPRING: A Prequel (2011), The Ventriloquists Convention (2015) in collaboration with Puppentheater Halle and Crowd (2017, Holland Festival 2018). In 2020, together with Etienne Bideau-Rey, she created a fourth version of Showroomdummies at the Rohm Theater Kyoto, originally created in 2001.
Vienne has regularly exhibited her photographs in museums, for example at the New York Whitney Museum, the Centre Pompidou and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Buenos Aires. She published two books together with Dennis Cooper, Peter Rehberg and Jonathan Capdevielle: JERK / Through Their Tears and 40 PORTRAITS 2003-2008, in collaboration with Dennis Cooper and Pierre Dourthe in February 2012. Her work has led to various publications and the original music of her shows led to several albums. Her latest show L’Étang (‘The Pond’), based on Robert Walser’s short story Der Teich, was created in November 2020 at the TNB in Rennes and will be staged in this year’s Holland Festival edition.
Dennis Cooper (1953, Pasadena, California) is a novelist, poet and critic who lives in Paris and Los Angeles. He has published ten novels, most recently Zac's Haunted House (a novel composed of animated gifs) in January 2015. He recently completed a feature film, Like Cattle Towards Glow, which he created in collaboration with the artist Zac Farley. He is a contributing editor of Artforum Magazine and the editor of the American publishing imprint Little House on the Bowery. Collaborating with Gisèle Vienne since 2004, he wrote the texts for I Apologize (2004), Kindertotenlieder (2007), Jerk (2008), This is how you will disappear (2010), LAST SPRING : A Prequel (2011), The Pyre (2013), The Ventrilquists Convention and Une enfant blonde/ A Young Beautiful blonde girl (2006), in collaboration with Catherine Robbe-Grillet.
KTL is the band of Stephen O’Malley and Peter Rehberg for which Kindertotenlieder formed the basis. Their first CD was released in October 2006 (Editions Mego).
Stephen O’Malley, born in 1974 in New Hampshire, now lives in Paris. Over the course of fifteen years, he was responsible for over fifty releases and several hundred performances around the world as a composing and performing musician and producer. Stephen O'Malley is part of several groups, including Sunn O))), Burning Witch, KTL, Khanate, Aethenor, Ginnungagap, Lotus Eaters and Gravetemple. He is involved in highly collaborative experimental work and works with various audio creatives, both live and in the studio. The work created is recognized as crossing genres, or ignoring them altogether, defying definition. It is always challenging and changing. As a designer and visual artist, O’Malley has worked with a variety of underground music labels, directing hundreds of sleeves and related ephemera. He has a special relationship with the Southern Lord label from Los Angeles, for which he did the cover art for nearly one hundred albums. O’Malley has worked together with visual artists on gallery installations, most notably with the American New Gothic sculptor Banks Violette and the Italian artist Nico Vascellari. For Gisèle Vienne, he created music for Kindertotenlieder (2007), This is how you will disappear (2010) and LAST SPRING: A Prequel (2011) in collaboration with Peter Rehberg, with whom he founded the band KTL, as well as for Eternelle Idole (2009), Crowd (2017) and L’Etang (2020).
Peter Rehberg (1968) is an author and performer of electronic audio works based in Vienna, Austria. Rehberg has done live performances, both solo and in collaboration, throughout Europe, North and South America, Japan and Australia. He is among the first artists to turn to mobile computing devices for presenting live audio performances in the middle 1990s. He has collaborated both live and in the studio with, among others, Jim O'Rourke and Christian Fennesz (as Fenn O’Berg), Stephen O’Malley (as KTL), Gisèle Vienne/DACM, Peterlicker, Z’EV Russell Haswell, Florian Hecker, Meg Stuart, Chris Haring, Marcus Schmickler, Jade, SUNN O))) and is also a member of MIMEO. He has run the Editions Mego label since 2006, and was co-founder of the original Mego label in 1995. His collaboration with Gisèle Vienne involved creating music for I Apologize (2004) and Une belle enfant blonde / A Young Beautiful Blond Girl (2006), Kindertotenlieder (2007), This is how you will disappear (2010) and LAST SPRING: A Prequel (2011) in collaboration with Stephen O’Malley, with whom he formed the band KTL, Jerk a radio-play, Jerk solo for a puppeteer, Crowd (2017) as well as for two other pieces by Etienne Bideau-Rey and Gisèle Vienne: Showroomdummies (2001 and rewritten in 2009 and 2020) and Stereotypie (2003). He collaborated on the music for Highway 101, a show choreographed by Meg Stuart, and on Fremdkörper by Chris Haring, while also taking part in the 2nd Göteborg Art Biennale (Against All Evens) curated by CM von Hausswolff in 2003.
In March 2011, Gisèle Vienne, Dennis Cooper, Peter Rehberg and Jonathan Capdevielle published an audio book in both a French and English language version: JERK / Through Their Tears.
- Gisèle Vienne
- text, dramaturgy
- Dennis Cooper
- Stephen F. O’Malley, Peter Rehberg / KTL, ‘The Sinking Belle (Dead Sheep)’ van Sun O))) & Boris
- Patrick Riou
- conception robots
- Alexandre Vienne
- conception dolls
- Gisèle Vienne
- creation dolls
- Raphaël Rubbens, Dorothéa Vienne-Pollak, Gisèle Vienne, geassisteerd door Manuel Majastre
- creation wooden masks
- Max Kössler
- Rebecca Flores
- translation text
- Laurence Viallet
- Jonathan Capdevielle & Dennis Cooper
- Sylvain Decloitre, Vincent Dupuy, Theo Livesey, Katia Petrowick, Jonathan Schatz Originele cast: Jonathan Capdevielle, Margret Sara Gudjonsdottir, Elie Hay, Guillaume Marie, Anja Röttgerkamp
- Anja Röttgerkamp
- general manager
- Richard Pierre
- light manager
- Samuel Dosière
- sound manager
- Adrien Michel
- special thanks to
- Christophe Le Bris, Christophe Tocanier, Kenan Trevien, Arnaud Lavisse, David Jourdain
- thanks to
- Hortense Archambault and the team of MC93
- production and distribution
- Alma Office: Anne-Lise Gobin, Alix Sarrade, Camille Queval, Andrea Kerr
- Etienne Hunsinger & Giovanna Rua
- Le Quartz - Scène nationale de Brest, Centre, Chorégraphique National de Franche-Comté in Belfort in the frame of “accueil-studio”, Centre National de danse contemporaine d’Angers, Les Subsistances/ 2007, Lyon
- with support of
- Drac Rhône-Alpes / Ministère de la Culture et de la communication, of the Région Rhône-Alpes, of the Conseil Général de l’Isère, of the town of Grenoble, of Dicream / Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication and of Etant donnés, The French-American Fund for the Performing Arts, a Program of FACE, Centre Chorégraphique National de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon, Point Ephémère in Paris, CN D Centre national de la danse, MC93 for the recreation in 2021
- This performance was made possible with support by