My second step in the world of theatre
Burkhard C. Kosminski, Meeting with a « Theatre Mensch »
We are in the year 2000. Claudia the secretary of the Pina Bausch company send me a mail:
« there is job for you at the theatre of Dusseldorf, they will call you ».
A few days later, I receive a call from the Dusseldorfer Schauspielhaus, telling me that they were looking for a choreographer for a theatre piece.
This is how I met Burkhard C, Kosminski which will be the person who really introduced me to the world of theatre, who will become one of my dearest friend, and who with, I, twenty years later, still work with a real great pleasure.
Burkhard was at this time a stage director starting his first season at the Theatre of Dusseldorf, and he was looking for someone who could take in charge the choreography for various danced scenes for the theatre adaptation of the movie « Dancer in the Dark » von Lars von Trier. I could hire about twelve dancers for this production.
This play had its premiere on September 2001 and it was the first world stage presentation of this play which originally was a movie script.
My first meeting with Burkhard went very easy. I had in front of me a sympathetic smiling face, and I felt right away comfortable.
The work went wonderfully well. The actors were excellent and I discovered what meant the work of an actor at he high level; I was very impressed.
My creativity was only required to find some interesting dancing movements for the dancers. All the rest of the directing was Burkhard’s part. The press and the public reactions have been very positive.
During this period Burkhard and I became also good friends and this was going to be the beginning of a long friendship and work collaboration.
> (More about Dancing in the Dark, please click here)
> (Press Reviews, please click here)
Only two months later, Burkhard invited me to do my first experience as an actor in german spoken theatre. The piece was « 39,90 », out of the book written by Frederic Beigbeder.
The first was on in November 2001.
F. Beigbeder who was a famous publicist in Europe wrote about this strange world which is the world of advertising. This book had quite a strong effect by the critics and it was not tender for the people involved in advertising. Thomas Dannemann was playing the main role of Octave Parango, and he was perfect. As in « Dancer in the Dark », the actors were very good and Burkhard showed a great talent to choose his actors. This talent will be confirmed through all the pieces that I would collaborate with him, or just watch. I always get the feeling that the chosen actors were made for the role that they had to play. In « 39,90 », I had to play Enrique who was a sick minded guy…
I only appeared in one scene and my text was not more than one page, but, for the real beginner that I was, it was all ready a very big responsibility, and I was scared to death..
I worked my german spelling and diction with a great teacher who was supporting many actors in Germany. We had a good time together laughing about my tremendous french accent, and my bad spelling.
I will always feel deeply thankful to Burkhard who trust whatever he saw in me , and gave me the opportunity to feel and understand what is to be an actor and what it means to work and get into a theatre acting role.
This helped me to realise that even if it is said that Pina Bausch dancers are also actors, there is a big difference. As a dancer or performer in Pina´s work, Pina requested from us to be naturally ourself as much as possible, and not to play any other role. This is not a very easy thing to reach, but it is different then put yourself into the skin of another character.
> (more about "39,90", please click here)
> (Press Reviews)
The next work with Burkhard has been « Platonov » from Tchekhov in June 2003. Here too, Burkhard proposed me to realise the choreography and also proposed me to take the role of Osip in the play.
The choreographic work was based on realising the transitions visual moments between the scenes. Many actors were also part of the cast that I collaborated with for the two first works and I was slowly feeling always more and more at home with Burkhard and with his actors ensemble.
Platonov has been a very interesting work which gave me a great pleasure. It became also a big success which remained two seasons in the programm of the theatre.
As usual, the actors were excellent and I was feeling very proud and very lucky to share the stage with them. I even had to learn some text in Russian!.
The dancing transitions scene were choreographed as fast lines danced by all the actors crossing the stage on a beautiful recorded music. It brought a very alive rhythm all-through the evening.
> (more about Platonov, please click here)
> (Press Reviews, please click here)
Many others works wit Burkhard followed. Some for which I had less to do, and some for which my participation was more required.
One of the works which remains very nicely in my memories, is « Cafe Umberto »,
This play that we presented in September 2005, tells the story of a man who was the owner of a little coffee place in the waiting hall of the Job Center somewhere in a German town. Umberto was famous in the Job Center for his delicious « cafe latte », the best in town!.
Although he was not dumb, Umberto never spoke a word; the perfect role for me.
So I could enjoy being all the evening long on stage observing all the characters acting around
me, without having to speak one word.
During this work, I realised how much I found interesting to explore and develop the art of trying to express many deep emotions using the minimum of material as words, face expressions, movements or acting, trying to, « tell a lot with little… ».
> (more about Cafe Umberto, please click here)
> (Press Reviews, pease click here)
This was the last season for Burkhard at the Dusseldorfer Schauspielhaus. Then he moved to the National Theatre of Manheim. Many of his actors ensemble will follow and I will have the pleasure to discover this new german town and its public.
At this time, in 2006, Burkhard offer a me to work permanently with his new theatre ensemble in Mannheim. What an honour!. I was very touch by this offer, and one part of myself was really very tempted. Getting the chance to really learn what is the work of an actor, developing a beautiful collaboration more intensively, working with great artist who with I got along very well, what a beautiful present.
But this would have meant that I should then stop to work with the Pina Bausch Tanztheatre company as guest dancer for the repertory, and also should stop my work in Japan where I was used to travel twice or three times a year and work there about there months a year.
It is not possible to have everything at the same time and the choice was as difficult as when I had to decide to stay permanent dancer with Pina, or try to become a freelance dancer and choreographer.
I noticed that I was not ready for that even if my desire to work more intensively with Burkhard and with spoken theatre was really very strong. So feeling a little silly, I tried to explain myself in the hope that we will at least keep on our collaboration as it was till now… No need to tell that during the years that followed, sometimes I asked myself if I did not made a mistake. But the most important, Burkhard answered me that he could understand well my choice, and our friendship did not get disturb from my negative answer to his great invitation, although it is true that if I would have accepted, we will have share much more with one another, and the friendship will have gain a lot from it..
During the first years of his Mannheim period, Burkhard offered me little opportunities to meet and work with the actors of his ensemble, but it was only short interventions.
In 2013, Burkhard calls me and ask me if I would like to work with him on his first directing for an opera.
That remembered me of Yoshi Oida, who many years before, after some years of working together on theatre directing, asked me: « Jean, do you like opera? ». My answer to Yoshi was: « well, I do not know much about it and there are, in operas works, many moments that I found very beautiful, but this way of expression and of acting feels to me not natural, so I am not a big fan »..
The work that Burkhard had to realise for the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf, was the directing of Wagner opera`s « Tannhäuser ».
The opera from Wagner tells the story of Tannhäuser, a minstrel, who left his friends and his love, because he has been seduced by Venus. Losing his interest in the profane pleasures, he decide to return back to his homeland and is warmly received. But, during a minstrel contest in which the singers had to improvise about their idea of love, Tannhäuser create a blasphemous scandal and he is banned out of his homeland.
He has to go to Rome to ask for his redemption to the Pope. His redemption is refused and the story ends in a dramatic way with the dead of his first love Elisabeth, followed by Tannhäuser himself who die full of remorse.
For Burkhard, as he tells himself tells, the important thematic in this story is guilt. In Wagner´s libretto, Tannhäuser fault was to have been seduced by Venus and spend a part of his life enjoying sex and other carnal pleasures.
Nowadays, in our modern society, such a thing is not anymore considered as an horrible crime. So his question was, what should have done someone so horrible that the Pope would not even accept to give this person his redemption ?
The idea of Burkhard´s directing was to transpose the story of Tannhäuser to Germany in the after-second war time, during the reconstruction of the german V.th. republic. Tannhäuser´s friends were then young convinced nazis, and Tannhäuser himself follow the group even if he was not so convinced. The idea of this directing was to raise the question about the state of the guilt feeling about what happened at nazi time, now in the german fifth republic?
When Burkhard explained to me his idea and some details he had in mind, I told him that this idea was very interesting, but will certainly create a little scandal.
He was of course conscious of this but, « why not ?.
The work went very well, and the result was beautiful. Burkhard`s ideas and Florian Eti´s stage scenery were great.
The show was opening on a very strong scene. A huge stage-bright box like a giant aquarium was rolling up from the back to the front stage with inside some naked persons which will walk on place and die from gas represented by a white smoke invading the aquarium… No doubt about what it was going to tell about.
The first went on as we imagined, as a good scandal. All ready by the shocking opening scene, some voices in the public were to be heard, and as the next scene started, some persons began to stand up and leave.
The public who was contesting this directing, respected the artists performing and did their best not to disturb the musicians and the singers. Also the applause at the end were warm for the performing artists, but when the « black » appeared, we received strong « Booh! » and many aggressive reactions. On the other side, some part of the public did appreciate our work and ideas and we hear some « Bravo! » in the middle of the loud negative reactions.
Well that was to except, and I do not think that any of us was disappointed. What was not expected, and very disappointing, was that two days later, the director of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein will make a public announcement in the press to declare that consequence of the complains that he received from certain people from the public he was forced to cancel the coming performances and reduce the presentations of this programm to a performance without stage scenery, and without costume.
The complains were that some persons of the public declared having been « so shocked » by what they saw, that they did need some psychological support in the following days to get along with the shock…
This is the most unbelievable thing that I ever heard in all my live. Well, I can imagine that something else happened, like maybe some complain coming from high level as from some people feeling directly concern by what has been showed and which could bring the director of this opera in an unsure position about keeping his job if nothing was done about this situation…?
In what it concerns me, I was proud to work with someone as Burkhard who had the courage of his ideas and stand strongly behind his artistic freedom. I all ready did appreciated very much his honest engagement and love for his art which was theatre, and this « Tannhäuser story » brought me even more respect for him.
> (Press Reviews, and more about « Tannhäuser », please click here)
The last two play that I worked with Burkhard as he was director of the National Theatre of Mannheim were written by Roland Schimmelpfennig. It is at this occasion that I discovered this writer and he became one of my favourites.
The first work was for the play « An und Aus » in January 2016. As quite often, Burkhard called me and ask me:
- « Hey Jean, do you have sometime for me ? ».
- « with pleasure Burkhard, when would you like me to come? »,
- « can you make it for tomorrow..? »
Well I am kidding a little, and of course it was never going this way for productions in which I had to do a lot of choreography, but sometimes during a directing in which I was not planed, Burkhard got the spontaneous idea that I maybe could help for a scene and then he called me this way. While I am writing this, I have a big smile remembering it.
So, back to « An und Aus ». This piece is telling in quite surrealistic form the story of some people watching from the hotel room in which they are, how outside through the windows water level is rising up till they have the feeling to be in a submarine.
Never in the book is any reference to a tsunami, or to the Fukushima drama in Japan, but, to me it seemed quickly clear that Roland Schimmelpfennig found a very clever way to express in his own way and style what people in Japan experimented when this incredible thing happened.
I can remember, like certainly all of us, how I felt when I saw life on TV what was happening, and how this quiet and big wave was sweeping away all what was on its way.
I was myself in Japan one months after this event, and I can remember that the atmosphere among the Japanese people was kind of surrealist. After that something so unbelievable happened, they all were still under strong shock.
So even if my intervention in this directing of Burkhard has been very small, it left me a very strong impression, as a play to read, and as a play to watch. As always, Burkhard ideas and directing, Florian Eti´s stage scenery, and the actors were great.
> (Press Reviews and more about «An und Aus», please click here)
The second work of Roland Schimmelpfennig that I had the pleasure to work with Burkhard came a few months later in January 2017. This time Burkhard informed me in advance, and I could take part of the work from the beginning till the end, which is of course the best way how to enjoy the birth of a new staging.
Reading this new play « Das Große Feuer » confirmed my opinion about Roland Schimmelpfennig; he was a great writer !.
This story tells about two little twins villages who were separated by a little tiny river. Those two village live in peace and in good harmony till one of them start to get some difficulties through diverse natural catastrophes. As for « An und Aus », a very clever art to tell about an actual thematic without no more specific details relating to any place or people in our reality.
This work gave me also the opportunity to meet and work with a fantastic great actress, Nicole Heesters. It is always fascinating to see masters in action. Through my work with Burkhard, I met many very impressive actors, and I learned a lot from observing them. Nicole belongs to what I could call, the very experimented « Grande Madame du Théatre ». Her talent and her stage experience is quite enormous, and her attitude towards the work is a delight; always positive and open to try all various possibilities till we find the one that we feel will be the most interesting.
> (Press Reviews, please click here)
This was my last work for the National Theatre of Mannheim because Burkhard became director of the Theatre of Suttgart which I think, in the carrier of a Theatre director, is one of the most interesting and prestigious position in Germany. So my theatre world moved to the town of Suttgart.
My next work with Burkhard was « Die Empörten » written by Teresa Walser. This piece should have its first in Salzburg (Austria) for the Festival of Theatre during the summer 2019. We started the work in Stuttgart and I could meet the new actors ensemble. I knew many members from Mannheim Ensemble because they moved together with Burkhard to Stuttgart, I could meet some news persons, and I had the pleasure to work again with Mathias Lea who was twenty years before member of the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus at the time when I used to work with Burkhard on « Dancer in the Dark », and « Platonov ».
A few weeks later we kept on the work in Salzburg for the last stage rehearsals. Unfortunately my work did consist only in proposing my everyday bodywork to the actors. Because of some delay in the rehearsals program, there was not time enough to think in adding choreography for this piece; what a pity!.
In February 2020, Burkhard proposed me to « come and help » for the work of « Weltwärts ».
A very strong piece about an organised farewell to life in a family….
Once again, I could have the opportunity to admire one actress, in fact two actresses. Both were twelve years old and of course not professional. They shared the same role and both impressed me really very much. They played the role of the daughter of the main character. The mother was in the terminal phase of a bad sickness and the play was representing the last diner with her daughter and the rest of the family … A pretty hard thematic, specially for such young girls, but they mastered the role with an impressive control. Even long text, deep and serious, which normally would be in the mouth of an adult did not disturb their stage presence; respect !.
My part of work in Welwärts was very small, but I was very happy to be back in Stuttgart and be able to propose my training to the actors. I also could see a great play « Vögel » which tells about the very delicate problem between Israel folk and Palestinian folk. The piece is written by Wajdi Mouawad and was performed by one third of the cast , actors from the Suttgart Schauspiel, one third Israelian actors and actrice, and one third Palestinian actors.
This stage was also a work from Burkhard and the evening was just fantastic and impressive. Also representing a beautiful example of an international artistic collaboration.
The Humans are maybe not the problem, but the politicians are driving the world sick…
(if you wan to read more about «Weltwärts»)