See Controversial Volksbühne Director Chris Dercon’s Art-Inflected Inaugural Program

Dercon's first season might have more to do with the art world than the theater world.

Chris Dercon volksbühne
Chris Dercon in Berlin on January 16, 2017. Photo courtesy JENS KALAENE/AFP/Getty Images.

Performances by Tino Sehgal paired with one-acts by Samuel Beckett will open Chris Dercon’s first season at Berlin’s Volksbühne, the new director and his colleagues announced at a press conference at Tempelhof Airport on Tuesday.

“I thank you for the public drama of skepticism that I have experienced in Berlin in the last months,” Dercon began, according to Spiegel Online.

Dercon, former head of Tate Modern in London and before that, of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, has faced harsh opposition since his appointment to the legendary Berlin venue was announced last year. Undeterred, Dercon will oversee 13 productions in his first 16 months at the helm, and his program demonstrates that he plans to put a large emphasis on visual arts—possibly, critics might argue, at the expense of theater.

A quick glance at the 212-page program available on the theater’s website reveals the a long list of artists who will be brought to the theater. American artists Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff, who ran the experimental space New Theater in Berlin from 2013-2015, will take over the Volksbühne’s Green Salon bar and stage with twice-weekly, audience-implicating pieces in multiple languages. Thai filmmaker and artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul will bring his performance-projection hybrid “Fever Room” to the theater, which will also host a retrospective screening of his work. And Israeli artist Yael Bartana, who works with film, photography, and installation will present her theater debut with a female-centric spin on Stanley Kubrik’s “War Room.”

Volksbühne, Berlin. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photographer Michael Schmidt will see his series “Waffenruhe” projected on the theater’s façade, and director Jan Bonny and artist Alex Wissel will premiere their web series, “Rheingold,” which looks at the prominent German art advisor Helge Achenbach, who was sentenced to six years in prison for defrauding his clients.

There will also be a focus on dance, mainly including choreographers who have been embraced by the art world, such as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Jérôme Bel, and Alexandra Bachzetsis.

The theater will also get a house scrivener: journalist Timo Feldhaus, of the art magazine Spike, will become a full-time theater employee according to the program booklet, and will share his musings about the house in an online column.

The Volksbühne will also stage performances at Hangar 5 of the disused Tempelhof Airport, which has not functioned as an airport since 2008, and has housed refugees since 2015.

This fall, the first performance to utilize Hangar 5 will be a dance piece, Dance Fools—All of Berlin Is Dancing on Tempelhof, by Boris Charmatz. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Dercon said, “Tempelhof is important to us because we want to offer artists a space that is not a stage to develop new projects and new forms of presentation.”

Other performers who will use the space include Mohammad Al Attar, who will work with Syrian refugee performers for a production of the Greek myth Iphigenia, and poet and playwright Kate Tempest (whom Dercon refers to as “a famous rapper.”)

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