On a dazzling rollercoaster to Africa: Christoph Schlingensief’s ‘Via intolleranza II’

Would he be able to fix it? To save that all in all disappointing first week of the  Kunstenfestivaldesarts   (Brussels)? That seemed to me what many festivalgoers were thinking. Christoph Schlingensief ‘s Via Intolleranza II, which premiered yesterday at KVS, certainly proved to be an entertaining, exhilarating and sometimes provocative rollercoaster ride. But although it is a dazzling and impressive bombardment of images and ideas, referring to our relationship with Africa, it left me wondering if in the end the German director nevertheless hadn’t missed his point.

It was funny to see how the people who were in charge of the Dutch and French subtitles were completely lost, on several occasions. They just couldn’t follow the staggering speed of this theatre performance. Here, a speech, there, somebody rapping, oh, and there, somebody singing. Now we’re in a church and now we’re in a disco. Wait a minute: isn’t that Schlingensief himself in that white suit? What’s he talking about? And here we go: another white curtain for a part of that black-and-white movie. What does he want from me? Is this irony or is he dead serious?

Christoph Schlingensief has been praised as one of Germany’s most interesting theatre directors. He has staged theatre and opera productions at Berlin’s Volksbühne, Vienna’s Burgtheater and Zurich’s Schauspielhaus. Although he is suffering from cancer, he is currently working on the realisation of his utopian dream project: Remdoogo, an opera village in one of the world’s poorest countries, Burkina Fasso. It is supposed to remove the dividing line between art and life. The first stone was laid on February 8. (For a news report on Remdoogo, watch the YouTube-video at the bottom.)

Via Intolleranza II stems from that project. Schlingensief refers frequently to it during this performance. And a lot of the performers are African. But first and foremost Via Intolleranza II is based on Luigi Nono’s opera Intolleranza 1960, which premiered at the 1961 Venice Biennale: a political statement against racism, intolerance and state power. Schlingensief wants to know what happens when Nono’s work is shifted to an African context. Hence all the African actors and performers.

For his performance Schlingensief follows the structure of Nono’s Intolleranza, as you can see from the images projected on the white curtains that come and go during the performance. But what he throws in, apart from that, leaves you sitting in amazement. Think about our (European) relationship with Africa and you’ll see that Schlingensief manages to address almost every issue linked to it. Paternalism, selfishness, guilt, religion, superstition, exploitation, you name it, it’s all in there. Even the pope and his condoms. As Schlingensief uses a lot of irony it is sometimes difficult to grasp what his exact opinion is on all of the things he throws in your face. Even when he himself comes on stage, in the end, to once more reproach us our indifference.

As I said earlier, you won’t be bored, watching Via intolleranza II, and you will be in awe of Schlingensief’s carefully constructed chaos. But I wasn’t the only one thinking what to make of it, when it was all over. I’m sure he wants to put some sort of message across. This is too much of a personal crusade, to be thought off lightly. Yes, I was made drunk on ideas and images, but nevertheless I realized that his performance failed to get under my skin and réally make me think.

‘Intolleranza 1960’ will be brought to the stage by Schlingensief for La Monnaie/De Munt, in April 2011. Info here.

For more on Christoph Schlingensief, check his well-documented site here.

You’ll see a news report on Schlingensief’s opera village in Burkina Fasso by clicking on the YouTube-video.

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One Response to “On a dazzling rollercoaster to Africa: Christoph Schlingensief’s ‘Via intolleranza II’”

  1. […] chaos in Via Intolleranza (presented at KVS during this year’s Kunstenfestivaldesarts; review here). It’s always strange to leave a theatre shrugging your shoulders, knowing that a bunch of […]

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