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Route 1 of the Spieltriebe 3 Festival – God is Beauty and two dance choreographies

Stop that man – so I can paint him!

by Heiko Ostendorf

Osnabrück, September 4th, 2009. Why put on a piece about an artist who nobody here – apart from maybe a few art historians – really knows? This question is however first raised in the play "God is Beauty" by Kristian Smeds in the staging by Jan-Christoph Gockel as part of the first route of the Spieltriebe 3-Festival in Osnabrück. The protagonist is called Vilho Lampi, whose pictures bring Vincent van Gogh to mind, but whose popularity outside of Finland leaves a lot to be desired. "None of us have read his biography" actor Laurenz Leky remarks from the stage . It's only available in Finnish.

But the question still remains. Why? The dramatists must have let themselves be captivated by Smed's power of language and appreciated the excursion to the ever increasing insanity of an artist. However, it is exactly the reading quality of the text that Gockel didn't trust – probably with good reason – and divides the role between  two actors. Alexander Jaschik mimes the rational part of Lampi, while Leky rants, rages and screams about the academic approach of art and rejects it in his other half. The result are dialogues that make the contradictory, art theoretical positions clear to the audience in an entertaining way but without losing the intimacy of a soliloquy.

Theory of art at the barracks cinema.
Gockel relaxes the staging over and over with brilliant ironic ideas. When Jaschik copies a picture by Lampi with finger-paint, he comments on it with the gentle voice of the American painter Bob Ross, who wanted to encourage amateurs in his eighties TV-show "The Joy of Painting" into believing that they were artistically gifted. In this way trivial meets high culture and modestly questions the value of (true) art.

Laurenz Leky, Alexander Jaschik, photo copyright: Klaus Fröhlich

As the Spieltriebe-Festival is mostly taking place in locations the theatre isn't familiar with, the stage directors have to deal with the rooms they have been given or at least rearrange them. Gockel is using the empty cinema of the former British barracks. The huge screen is the real challenge, not only for the actors but also as the foundation of the painting. It also shows video recordings when Lampi discovers the beauty of normal life and both actors follow a man who is mowing the lawn and beat him up, so they can calmly paint him. Thanks to the great performance of both actors this collage of play, stage direction and slapstick comedy works. Booming laughter, concern and thoughtfulness change with every second.

Nanine Linning presents her dancers in the cellar
The audience then proceeds on this route to the dark cellar of the former military grounds. The new Dutch choreographer of the Theatre Osnabrück, Nanine Linning, makes her debut at this festival. In eight small rooms with frighteningly low ceilings she has placed her dancers under the title of "Tableaux Vivants" in small scenes and installations. This has the feeling of a museum, as the audience can walk around without being led by stage direction. But the newfound freedom of the audience encourages exploring the individual pieces alone.

Photo copyright: Klaus Fröhlich

The dancer for example, who is continuously sprinkled with a clear, sticky mass is only fascinating when you are alone in the room with him. Only then do you notice his gentle head movements, his almost lifeless gaze and yet you cannot think your way into the situation of this obviously surrendered man, but nevertheless you can feel with him. The robot-like movements of the dancer in the room next door, which are controlled by doll limbs, are quickly dealt with by comparison. Only later does it become truly surreal when a dancer only appears in a flare of light with the help of mirrors, or when a trio imitating human bodies are projected on to the wall.

Childhood and ecstatic elements on the jump to route 3
From these living pictures the dancers travel to the next place of performance, and if you follow them you get onto the third route. In a gymnasium in another of the towns' empty barracks eleven dancers perform "Part one of two, Part two of one". Control or support? To begin with this seems to be the theme. Again and again, a woman crawling on all fours is carried a few meters back by two men. Then they hold her so that she can walk along the wall. Later on the whole ensemble lies on the floor, and a wave goes through them.

Now Linning shows that she can also handle a large setting. As if playing with building bricks she pulls the whole ensemble apart and allows smaller groups to form, puts everything back together and starts again from the beginning- and everything with the liveliness and ease of a child. Even seeming chaos doesn't shun her, through whom the planned, intended movements remain recognizable and poses the question of the meaning of a human in a group. The control, the direction finally wins in these ensemble scenes and grants the audience a short moment of dancing frenzy.


Gott ist Schönheit (God is Beauty)
by Kristian Smeds
German premiere
Translated from Finish to German by Eeva Bergroth and Martina Marti
Stage director: Jan-Christoph Gockel, stage design: Anabel Fröhlich, costume design: Dominique Muszynski, dramaturgy: Jürgen Popig. With: Alexander Jaschik, Laurenz Leky.

Read more on Kristian Smeds in the biographical overview.

Portrait of God is Beauty here.

Information on the theatrical landscape of Finland from a report by Jukka-Pekka Pajunen.

Biographical information on Jan-Christoph Gockel and Nanine Linning in an article about the festivals' creators.


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