Bach, and a master of ceremonies with magical powers: Raimund Hoghe’s ‘Cantatas’

'Cantatas' (Raimund Hoghe; photo: Rosa Frank)

Allow me to start with a bold statement, for once. I think every art student (dance, theater or visual arts) should at least have seen one performance by Raimund Hoghe. In order to realize how one can create something with almost nothing. It was a while since I’d seen one of his performances, and even though I wasn’t entirely taken by Cantatas – his newest piece –  Hoghe, as master of ceremonies with a minimal toolbox, once again succeeded in enchanting me.


Things I remember about the first Raimund Hoghe performance I ever saw: a friend got so irritated that she just had to leave the theater. Funny how slowness, and coming close to an almost nothingness can annoy people that much. Especially as Hoghe does not intend to be confrontational.

Things I remember about the first Raimund Hoghe I ever saw: the German performer walking along the four sides of the stage, holding an incense stick. Thus ‘marking’ his territory. Funny to see how, many years later, Hoghe was doing exactly the same thing. This time around by just walking along those four sides of the stage. It’s how Cantatas begins. Hoghe, in black pants and white shirt (courtesy: French designer Agnès B.), just walking. One by one the other performers appear on stage as well. They follow Hoghe. They walk. And they walk. In a square. Silently. On music by Bach.

'Cantatas' (Raimund Hoghe; photo: Rosa Frank)

It’s Hoghe’s shtick. His almost shamanistic way of constructing a performance. His pieces (co-created with Luca Giacomo Schulte) consist of a series of scenes, each time built on a particular song or piece of music. For Cantatas Hoghe promises Bach’s music to be the connecting element. He even has soprano Kerstin Pohle singing some of it (and Britten’s Corpus Christi Carol, or Händel’s Lascia ch’io pianga as well).

But it will be a disappointment to some of the viewers (and a weak point of this performance, I think; one that becomes apparent especially during the second part) that he doesn’t stick to Bach. I guess he can’t help it. He just has to have some of those old, melancholic songs too, to create the atmosphere he needs. Frank Sinatra singing The September of my years. Nina Simone’s version of The house of the rising sun. Or Audrey Hepburn singing La vie en rose to Humphrey Bogart.

'Cantatas' (Raimund Hoghe; photo: Rosa Frank)

On those pieces of music he and his 7 dancers/actors slowly and quietly perform small scenes. Hoghe makes one of his dancers move as if he were a giant puppet. Somebody dances with two fans. Hoghe, with a black cape, runs on stage as if he were Zorro, or he walks around with a bouquet of white lilies, which he puts down on stage where it will be lying for much of the second part of Cantatas. We hear 10 important rules for a dancer. And some of the dancers get their solo spot too (one I will not forget: Emmanuel Eggermont, in a wonderful way combining Mr. Bean and William Forsythe).

Sure: some of it clearly breathes Pina Bausch. Hoghe can’t help it (he used to work as a dramaturge for her in the eighties). And although Cantatas promises to tread new territory, as it is the first time Hoghe has that many people on stage, it is first and foremost Hoghe as you know him. Or to get back to my opening lines: the wonderful way in which he succeeds in creating magic by means of almost nothing. Just some music setting the mood, and a little ‘ritual’ performed on it.

Boring? At Kaaitheater (Brussels) many people once again did think so, as quite a few members of the audience left during the break. But he did succeed, once again, in enchanting me. Just too bad that Hoghe couldn’t keep the attention span going during the second part. By then too much other (classical) music had been thrown in, for instance, and it felt as if Hoghe had not much to add to what he had already said. All of a sudden you were looking at all the tools in that really small box and a man failing to create magic with it. 

'Cantatas' (Raimund Hoghe; photo: Rosa Frank)

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