Portaits of an European festival

Willy-Brandt-Platz 4
45127 Essen

Opening hours:
Mon, Tue, Thu 8 am - 6 pm
Wed 8 am - 12 am
Fri 8 am - 4 pm

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Keynote speech given at the opening on 26th April 2008

Cornelia Brüninghaus-Knubel

Over the last 6 years, the RuhrTriennale has evolved to become the unmistakable face of theatre staged in relics of the former coal, iron and steel industries.

Through the performances at this festival, we have learnt to take a fresh look at our industrial monuments. We have been allowed closer access than was ever possible in the past, as these sites used to be virtually no-go areas, secretive and full of danger for mere mortals. The former workers, who now work there as guides and curators of the region's heritage, can tell us a thing or two about them. But the art and culture vultures, theatre lovers and fans of the Triennale amongst us can now experience these places as our common heritage. And the strong tradition of work combined with artistic creation transforms itself into a place which is probably just as dangerous, a place where we can simultaneously lose our hearts to art and, through the experience and enlightenment of art, take home with us untold benefits.

The fascination of these special places and their part in these specific theatrical experiences are also communicated to the viewers in the photographs which go on display from today here in the 'Praxis'. This is what the authors and organisers of this exhibition are hoping for. And I believe that they have achieved this.

Theatre photography is, after all, a highly individual medium. It preserves the moment, a moment seen by the photographer - not by us, the audience, as we allow ourselves to be carried away by the unfolding events of the play and the performance. The photographer captures this one moment on film, which we perhaps can no longer remember in detail, but which nevertheless allows the performance, condensed to its essence, to pass before our eyes once again.

When I think back over the many decades that I have been going to the theatre, and to the pictures of performances from the 1950s through to the 1970s, in magazines, programmes and books, I see predominantly portraits of actors, on their own or in groups, in photographs of scenes, with the emphasis on facial expressions and gestures. And all in black and white.

There are wonderful examples from those days, for instance from Rosemarie Clausen or Thérèse Le Prat in France.

Today, everything we have here is in colour, and you will notice that not the individual performer plays the leading role, but, completely in tune with the spirit of the Triennale: the location, the scene and the movement.

When you look at the pictures really closely and read the captions, you will see that every photographer has their own view of the performance. For Michael Kneffel, for example, the architecture of the auditorium and the stage-set always play an important role, which he meaningfully incorporates into his pictures, together with the content of the performance, its mood and its character. You will already have seen his large photo in the stairwell, and there are three more to be found here in the long galleries.

You can even make exciting comparisons: When he photographs Jan Fabre's »Requiem für eine Metamorphose«, we see the scenes as a narrow strip at the bottom of the picture, with the majority of the space taken up by the impressive »Jahrhunderthalle«. Ursula Kaufmann, on the other hand, goes close up with her lens, right into the middle of the frenzied action of dancers and actors with plants and flowers in this mass for the dead by this exceptional Flemish artist. Here in the long gallery, you can also compare the photographs that the two of them have taken of B.A. Zimmermann's »Soldaten«. Ursula Kaufmann's long-term association with Pina Bausch's ‘Tanztheater’ is evident from all her photos which are assembled here; they hold the movement of the body for a split second, but still manage to convey the sequence of movement with all its vitality.

Birgit Hupfeld has photographed »Next Level Parzival« and »Corpus Delict« – two stage premieres written and produced specifically for the Triennale. I saw them both, and the two photos which can be seen here clearly illustrate everything that is typical and characteristic of the plays and their productions.

Bernd Uhlig shows us two aspects of »Nächte unter Tage« – classified as a »creation« (rather than a play) – which was a joint project between director Andrea Breth and artist Christian Boltanski. Uhlig has photographed two of the most enormous stage sets – the mountain of rags, which has been piled up through the shafts of the coking plant, and the floating piano on the canal in the coking plant – in such a way as to convey powerfully the idiosyncratic mixture of mourning and harsh reality, romanticism and the working environment.

It just remains for me to mention Clärchen and Matthias Baus, who photographed »Le vin herbé«, an opera by Frank Martin about Tristan and Isolde, directed by Willy Decker, the future Director of the Triennale. This mother-and-son team from Cologne has captured the specific scenic transformation of the blasting hall in Duisburg-Meiderich with its ingeniously simple but effective scenery in a single moment on film, exemplifying the whole performance of this drama full of longing and mutual destruction.

And finally we come to a real »star« photograph by Christoph Sebastian, featuring film actress Barbara Sukowa in Gloriole, with her band in the background. Here too, as is typical for the Triennale, two-thirds of the picture is taken up by the enormously tall and huge »Jahrhunderthalle«. And yet, the performer is caught in the spotlight like a sparkling, mysterious jewel.

We have to thank the photographers for capturing these jewels of the theatre and immortalising them. Unlike, for example, film and video recordings, they give us their unique perception of the moment and their choice of visual image, one that they then project onto our memories.

Enjoy reliving performances that you have seen already, and for those of you who have not yet visited the Triennale: allow yourself to be inspired by the photographs to go and see something this year.