Bernhard Gaul | 25 May 2008
I was told to check out the Theatre Grütli in Geneva, in particular their current Dante production, Inferno. I was told there is material available on the internet, too.
I do so reluctantly. I have had little interest in the theatre for almost 20 years. Once you learned to appreciate Brecht’s point that it is really attitudes and gestures you should be watching, visiting the theatre becomes a dire experience. More than other art forms it seems to lend itself to be half-hearted, not consequent enough or a mere display of ego where I would like to see communication.
Bearing that in mind I am surprised by the first impressions that I get form the Grütli. Entering their website a pop-up opens, quite square, reasonably big, not clogging your whole screen but yet obviously content, not an add-on advert. Gestures – working with conventions. It is the sub-site paralleling their current production. You get info, details of location, admission, materials for the press. A bundle, but also content – the info can be switched off, what you get is full sight of the slideshow beneath: paintings, drawings, mostly related to the Divina Comedia. A couple of production photos.
The one that catches my eye first is a photo of people hanging off a red wooden wall. I wait for the animation to bring that picture round again. Eventually take a screen shot for off-line use. I can’t tell at first glance whether this is a photo montage or people hanging in some way off the wall or if it is a motion snapshot. If it is the latter, they have found a perfect moment where the whole collective seems to be at the apex of the jump at the same time.
I wonder how long it took them to get this. How synchronized are they as a team? I find some answers later: there is a video of the attempts at YouTube, referenced also in the Journal the Dante, the blog that accompanies the production. It is clear: it is multiple attempts of synchronisation, the photo a frozen moment of (almost) perfection.
What I like about the aesthetics: it seems accessible. The red wooden wall is generous, simple and in the public domain. The costumes, too, are simple. White t-shirts and jeans. Everyday wear, marked as costumes – or uniforms (?) – by simple choice. There doesn’t seem to be make-up or hair-does beyond personal choice – a training exercise? In any case, it seems fun, too.
I find more material, in particular videos of various productions. Amongst them one of the Inferno.
I don’t speak French beyond being able to second guess what is written down, but the video contains a section in German, my first language. It reminds me of the quality of the text and the importance of it. I assume there is no narration as such – the videos are condensed snippets, I don’t know the extend of time of the real production, but I can extrapolate the snippets and deduce from what I see that there is probably more of the same. Voice, text, rhythm – in time. Only that the French readings don’t get through to me. The German bit does. – It’s not the first time that I see theatre like that, but I am glad to see it again. Opening spaces to listen. Opening (hermetic?) texts. Accessibility once again, versus interpretation. Collective readings: what is the other’s take on the text, the voice, the intonation, the timing? It is said that good texts, like rock music, work over the rhythm. I do miss the images that text evokes in the French readings, though. Time might make a difference.
The other picture that stood out from the intro is the naked back of a person with smudged writing on it. Prospero’s Books/Greenaway and Kafka’s Strafkolonie spring to mind, but this is writing on skin, not into it –yet: we left naturalism behind us for over a century now. Heiner Müller kept referring to Marsyas, the satyr skinned alive by Apollo for challenging him in a contest of music. The skin, our largest organ, our boundary to the outside world, the perfect metaphor for being exposed to pain.
“Theater must hurt” is one of the comments in the Inferno internet guest book. Not sure if that is true, but it seems obvious that this production goes beyond the consumption of an idea of the director. “Theatre must hurt” – seems like the person who wrote this wants it to hurt. Flagellants, the exposure of skin to excruciate pain with pain? The exposure to the circles of the inferno, deeper, more intense by the day, to emerge purified back at the top?
The Collectif3 – and Time
Looking at the journal: it appears that there is a core collective who work with multiple directors over time. I wonder how the team communicates, chooses the directors. Do they have a choice? Don’t know. But I imagine it could be like with the great orchestras who choose their principle conductors. I’d guess they have at least a say.
I wonder how much there is of the bitching and moaning, the backstabbing, the egocentric drama, which I associate with theatre. What strikes me though, from what I can see, is that the appearance of Collectif3 seems relaxed - an entity in its own right, even though there must be the tensions and up and downs that are part of every project work. I’d like to know more about how they got to that point, how they maintain it over time. Regular training, I expect, but you must be pretty good to get so far. What drives them? The thrill of the production? A political motivation?
I learn that this is the 3rd collective. It looks like there is an established
understanding of that way of working. And then there is time - is it 10 months
elaboration, partly public, and 4 months final stages? Something in that region.
I find an interview with Maya Bösch, co-directress of the Theatre Grütli, one of the directors of the inferno. This is about another Grütli project, Stations Urbains, which from what I understand are type of installations/performances at various places, outside the theatre, in the city.
As a performance this is very good. You get some sheer physical energy here.
Reminder: theatre is a thing of the body. The costume: a sports outfit. There is physicality involved, exercise, every day urban fashion.
A prop: that is the cigarette, of course, which extends the gestures of the French speaking intellectual, underlining passion and pathos like the dot on an exclamation mark.
Two-woman team to head up the Théâtre du Grütli
From July 2006 to June 2009, the Théâtre du Grütli, Geneva’s independent creative centre, will
be headed up by Maya Bösch and Michèle Pralong, who are uniting their efforts around a
common project. The decision was taken by the city’s administrative councillor, Patrice
Mugny, following the outcome of a competition inviting applications for the post of director.
Applications were received from 21 candidates. The two female candidates were finally chosen
for their proposed artistic project management concept/work approach for the brand new (and
some would say unique) theatre in Geneva.
Geneva, City of Culture Newsletter, September 2005
Les objectifs du GRÜ sont d’inventer une scène expérimentale pluridisciplinaire essentiellement pour des créations, d’ouvrir le théâtre à la ville,d’établir des moteurs thématiques (Logos, RE-, Chaos), et de proposer ainsi un matériau qui puisse enrichir et défier la création théâtrale. Les Perses ont fait participer la ville en distribuant la partition du Choeur à des citoyennes et citoyens. Stations Urbaines , projet de la compagnie sturmfrei emerge littéralement dans la ville et pose un pentagone de verre sur le toit du théâtre St.Gervais. Le GRÜ va à la rencontre de la ville.
The Theatre / The City
I am learning more about the theatre. As I don’t speak French this is a bit like driving through dense fog. I have to learn the navigation system on their web site, which is heavily text based, too – and it is a Flash based portal, meaning: sub-content is not listed on Google.
Anyway, I dig deeper, browsing for pictures and headlines that stand out, trying to decifer the French around it. There is plenty of material. I add a direct link to their Archive here, it provides a good overview.
I find some further astounding pictures, again interaction with the city.
The interesting thing is that this seems to be a city owned or sponsored theatre. About the only English text I can find about it is some kind of council newsletter, confirming the appointment of Maya Bösch and Michele Prolong as directors.
Just judging from the energy that the place exudes there seems to be feedback though. Would you do all that over a prolonged period of time if all you get is indifference? On the other hand the people of Geneva seem to be getting a lot for the money I assume they are investing. Judging from the archive there is continuity in the projects and the formation of a cultural identity at the very heart of a civic theatre that is far removed from appeasing conservative expectations, but claims its avant-garde place by clearly being about the city and its inhabitants. There is clearly a lot of work done, constructive work that’s not compromising but maybe truly driven by two-way interaction as a matter of fact - and not by a demand to be applauded.