'Berg', a music theatre performance created by Raumteid | created and performed by Pascale Platel, Tom Goossens, Witse Lemmens, Gregory Van Seghbroeck | direction, set design Arno Synaeve | direction, musical direction Steven Prengels | dramaturgy Koen Haagdorens, Anna Luyten | costume design Marta Stoffels | light design Bennert Vancottem | production manager Valerie Desmet
production Raumteid | coproduction Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele, NTGent, C-Takt | with the support of les ballets C de la B, Toneelacademie Maastricht | thanks to Bart Van Den Eynde, Eva Line De Boer, Christophe Aussems, Merel Denie, Ludy Graffelman, Rosa Vrij, Anne De Loos, Simon Van Parys, Annemie Marchand, Kopergietery, alle medewerkers van de Minardschouwburg en les ballets C de la B, decoratelier NTGent, Hanssens Hout | photography Lars Duchateau, Jonas De Visscher | opening night 18 oktober 2018
© Lars Duchateau
Steven Prengels en Arno Synaeve in conversation with Suzanne Zorbach, dramaturge at the Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele
You have compared the creation process of a new performance with a walk in the mountains. What have you found on your trip to the summit this time?
SP: Werner Herzog once stated that, whenever you have difficult decisions to make, you should make them while walking. The Belgian painter Raoul De Keyser remarked that also the way back is a journey. Both artists connect traveling with learning and with self-exploration. This is exactly what I experience when I'm composing, drawing or working on a theatre piece. When climbing the mountain I'm more than anything confronted with myself. In 'Berg' this confrontation was connected with questions that had to do with escapism. Is diving into a world of poetry, music, dance or nature problematic? On our road to 'Berg' we explored the beauty that lies in confronting our audience with the combination of art and nature.
What potential lies in aimless wandering?
SP: I believe aimless wandering is difficult because our society is based on achieving goals, which makes an aimless wandering by definition a failure. But it is in fact a big quality, this aimlessness, which is also something we find in art: also art shouldn't have a clear purpose. We accept art for what it is and what it gives us. It forces us to slow down.
AS: The lack of a clear goal allows us to focus completely on the journey itself. I often make walks in the city, a park or forests without a goal - and it’s a very liberating thing to do: I’ll always come home with new insights and new plans.
What inspired you while creating the stage design for 'Berg'?
AS: I was fascinated by our tendency to turn our eyes away from our busy world. It was an important discovery for me that this is not something exclusively negative. In fact I now believe it’s something quite necessary and healthy to do from time to time. The mountain is a strong and clear metaphor for this movement - and the interesting thing is that beside being a useful retreat, it also gives the opportunity to have an overview over the valley. In the final set design I didn't want to show a clash between the mountain and the outside world on stage, because I believe this outside world is maybe even more present while not literally showing it.
The stage we see evokes at a certain moment Caspar David Friedrich’s 'The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog'.
AS: Since Romanticism is the art movement where the relationship with the self, nature and the past was so important, it was an obvious choice to delve into the works of Richard Wagner and Franz Schubert musically and Caspar David Friedrich visually. Besides the three large-scaled prints of landscapes of Friedrich I integrated into my set design, the scene is dominated by two - clearly fake - rock formations. The nature you see on the paintings of Friedrich is not ‘real’ - but carefully constructed in his studio. I wanted to take this a step further by bringing his view on nature back to the third dimension. And because the performers all relate differently to this mountain, they construct a new view on what this landscape could mean for all of us.
You decided to start the performance with Goethe.
SP: I believe the music adds another reality. A reality in which our daily vocabulary is no longer sufficient. It underlines the unpredictability of the events in 'Berg'. The performers are often alone on stage, and in other moments they form a group. But they always find a way of connecting with music or sound. I don't regard them as naive escapists, because they are searching for something very specific and valuable. I believe, time plays an important role in this quest.
How do you show 'time' on a stage?
SP: The music of the opening scene has sometimes not been interpreted as music at all. But for me music can have many faces. Out of my variation of the poem 'Gefunden' from Goethe speaks a bizarre kind of solitude. When I experimented with letting computer voices recite these lines, it brought a weird poetic quality about. In the end, for me it’s all about bringing the past together with questions about our future, always seen with the eyes of today. A theme that finds its conclusion in the final scene of the piece, the 'tik-tak-choreography', in which I created a composition in which the ticking of a clock coincides with fragments of Wagners 'Ring des Nibelungen'.
How does the stage reflect the state of mind of the protagonists?
AS: The relationship between landscape and figure is the central theme of my artistic research. For me, a landscape is much more than the genre in art history, it's a place that evokes both orientation and identification. So I do believe a landscape plays not only a crucial role in the physicality but also in the psychology of the person inhabiting it. In 'Berg' the performers assemble their own landscape. In the scenes following, in which they all relate individually to the mountain, it’s clear they all project different things on it. The final scene however - a weird group choreography - is a very disruptive one, even for us. But it reflects the questions the whole team had on this subject. It’s slightly unheimlich, slightly optimistic. Very absurd and very serious at the same time.
Apparently, our society estranges us more and more from our roots and thereby from nature. Where do you see possibilities, maybe even necessities to reconnect with nature?
AS: I think the way to nature - at least for me - is one leading to the inner self. I believe more than from leaves and trees, we’re getting estranged from that. We receive a lot of signals from our body, but are often not able to read and understand them. I notice this being a nearly impossible task for a lot of people. It takes a high amount of being sensitive and opening up. I think there, especially in these two things - evoking sensitivity and opening up - art can play a defining role. If my paintings and performances provoke this to some people I would feel very fulfilled.
SP: Connecting with nature or my roots is not my strong suit, so I definitely have quite a long way to go concerning this. What actually is my strong suit is connecting with silence. It might sound strange, but as a composer being surrounded with silence is a real bliss.
© Jonas De Visscher
Raumteid is a platform for projects with a visual and musical foundation led by Arno Synaeve, Steven Prengels and Wolf Govaerts.
Raumteid is based in Ghent, Belgium.
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All images unless mentioned otherwise: © Raumteid, 2021