Why Dresden?

Change is in the air at no fewer than three of the major theatrical venues in the city as new directors have taken over at the Semperoper, the Hellerau Festival Hall and the Staatsschauspiel theatre. In these three interviews, we ask them their opinion of Dresden and about their plans.

Interviews by Peter Laudenbach; Illustrations: Studio Pong

Peter Theiler, director of the Semperoper

Dresden Magazine: Why Dresden?

Peter Theiler: Because the city has a very special aura and a long tradition of fostering the arts that stretches back for centuries. Dresden has a proud history, even though we must not forget the dark period of the Third Reich, to the tune of which this city also marched. Through thick and thin, it has remained an artistically enlightened city with a confident people who cherish and preserve their musical and theatrical tradition. As a theatre director, I could not wish for a better place to ply my trade.

Dresden Magazine: Which of your projects during your first season are you looking forward to the most?

Peter Theiler: We won’t be publishing our programme until next spring. But I am very happy that I will be working with the Staatskapelle orchestra and with Christian Thielemann. And I can also reveal that I am a big fan of the French grand opera, which I am sure the Dresden audiences will be exposed to in the near future, even though it is not yet part of the core repertoire.

Dresden Magazine: The Semperoper is a place that exudes history. Is its long tradition more of a burden or a delight for you?

Peter Theiler: For more than 150 years – since the time of Carl Maria von Weber and Richard Wagner and including the great conductors of the 20th century – musical theatre of great significance has been staged here. I don’t see this illustrious history as any kind of burden. It is a magnificent heritage and I relish the challenge of building on this tradition. The history of the Semperoper includes directors such as Ruth Berghaus and Peter Konwitschny. I had the privilege of assisting Ruth Berghaus when I first embarked on my career, and the experience I gained with her has stood me in good stead. Peter Konwitschny is a director who absolutely belongs to the Semperoper and will also work here again.

Dresden Magazine: Dresden needs opera because …

Peter Theiler: … it is a city of music and the arts. For me, opera is musical theatre – we are telling stories that are of social and political relevance and concern the problems of our civilisation. I can assure you that this is very stimulating and exciting!

Peter Theiler, born 1956 in Basel. From 1991, Theiler was the director of the French theatre festival Perspectives. Chief director and set designer of the opera at the Nationaltheater Mannheim, director of the theatre in Biel Solothurn. Director of the Gelsenkirchen Musiktheater im Revier and director of the Staatsstheater Nürnberg. Joined the Semperoper at the start of 2018/19 season. (http://www.semperoper.de)

Carena Schlewitt, director of the Festspielen Hellerau

Dresden Magazine: Why Dresden?

Carena Schlewitt: Because the Festspielhaus Hellerau is one of the most important production venues in Germany for the independent, international scene in the contemporary arts: dance, theatre, performance, music. I think my origin also plays a role, having grown up in East Germany. What is the situation in Eastern Europe today, especially in such a historic city as Dresden? And where does Dresden stand in relationship to Europe and the rest of the world?

Dresden Magazine: Which of your projects during your first season are you looking forward to the most?

Carena Schlewitt: I am looking forward to the many new beginnings, to collaborating with artists from all over the world, with the independent arts scene in Germany and Dresden, with the arts faculties at institutes of higher learning, with the great museums and with other partners whom I have yet to meet. And I look forward to getting to know the Dresdeners as an audience!

Dresden Magazine: What makes the Festspielhaus Hellerau such a stimulating venue?

Carena Schlewitt: The Festspielhaus has a varied history. It was built in the early 20th century and was originally conceived as a venue for the performing arts with an additional educational remit. In the Third Reich, it was used as a police barracks, and after 1945, as a sports and gymnastics hall by the Soviet Army. With the demise of the German Democratic Republic, many people were determined to restore it as a venue for the arts. I am interested in the locations and spaces in which art takes place. And I am interested in Dresden as a ‘shape-shifting hologram’, which is how the author Peter Richter described it in his monologue on the city. History and the present come together here in a juxtaposed way that poses questions about the future of urban community.

Dresden Magazine: What do you feel is missing in Dresden?

Carena Schlewitt: A museum of contemporary fine art, which would be a counterpart to the splendid Dresden State Art Collections, to the German Hygiene Museum with its thought-provoking exhibitions and to the Military History Museum which was redesigned by Daniel Libeskind.

Dresden Magazine: What are the must-see sights of Dresden?

Carena Schlewitt: Perhaps a visitor should try seeing the city from the many different perspectives afforded by its bridges.

Dresden Magazine: Dresden needs the Festspielhaus Hellerau because …

Carena Schlewitt: .. it is a unique place where visitors can experience art forms the like of which they cannot find anywhere else. What makes such arts venues special is the immediacy of the experience and of the exchange of ideas. This is where people come together.

Carena Schlewitt, born in Leipzig in 1961, Carena Schlewitt has been artistic director of Kaserne Basel, and of the Basel International Theatre Festival. She worked in the Academy of Arts from 1985 to 1993. From 2003 to 2008, she was theatre curator and deputy artistic director at the Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin. She joins the Hellerau Festival at the start of the 2018/19 season. (http://www.hellerau.org)

Joachim Klement, director of the Staatsschauspiel

Dresden Magazine: Why Dresden?

Joachim Klement: Because it is an attractive challenge to manage a theatre in this very exciting city. Because the Staatsschauspiel has an excellent reputation and, after many years as general director at a large multi-genre theatre, I am looking forward to focusing fully on drama again.

Dresden Magazine: Dresden is a baroque city with a rich cultural history. Is its long tradition more of a burden or a delight for you?

Joachim Klement: As Gustav Mahler said: “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” And I think he was right. For me, tradition is always the starting point and, in the best case, a jumping-off point for tomorrow. Otherwise, working in the arts would make no sense.

Dresden Magazine: Which of your projects during your first season are you looking forward to the most?

Joachim Klement: Quite a few, actually! I am most excited about the beginning. We opened with our first premieres on the weekend of the Bundestag elections. Questions surrounding the state of our democracy have a particular urgency in these days.

Dresden Magazine: What should any visitor to Dresden make a definite point of seeing or experiencing?

Joachim Klement: The cultural richness of this city with the State Art Collections, the Semper Opera House and the Staatsschauspiel theatre. But also the Festival Hall at Hellerau and Dresden Neustadt, an immensely vibrant district with many cultural offerings. And then there is the Elbe with its grassy embankments and the vineyards… Visitors should taste the local wine – it’s worth it!

Dresden Magazine: Which of the stage productions in your first season is absolutely unmissable?

Joachim Klement: Seriously? All of them. But there is one performance that everyone who works at the theatre is determined to be part of, namely Circus Sarrasani by and starring Rainald Grebe. A piece of local history and ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’, as the subtitle would have it. What more could you ask for?

Dresden Magazine: Dresden needs theatre because ….

Joachim Klement: … every big city needs cosmopolitan spaces. As Alexander Kluge once put it, theatres are places for experimentation. The theatre is a laboratory of social imagination. Here, the debate about how we want to live our lives can move on beyond ideology.

Joachim Klement, born in 1961. After working as a theatrical producer at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg and at the Nationaltheater Mannheim, he moved to the Bremen Theatre in 1999 to become their chief dramaturge and deputy general director. In 2006, he took on the same roles at the Dusseldorf playhouse. From 2010, he was general director at the Brunswick State Theatre. He has taken up his position at the Staatsschauspiel for the 2017/18 season. (http://www.staatsschauspieldresden.de)

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