How long can we live in luxury? Ruhrtriennale arts festival director Johan Simons is driven by questions of globalization and inquality in an event that offers visions for the future.
With the motto "Freude schöner Götterfunken" (Joy, beautiful divine sparks) taken from the famous poem by Friedrich Schiller and used by Ludwig van Beethoven in the choral finale of his Ninth Symphony, the Ruhrtriennale arts festival focuses on visions and utopian ideas.
Opening on August 18 and comprising the fields of music, music theater, theater, dance and art installations, the Ruhrtriennale is one of the world's major interdisciplinary arts festivals, with 700 artists from 30 countries participating.
It is the last of three years at the helm for festival director Johan Simons. The 70-year-old Dutch stage director and theater manager, who formerly headed the Munich Chamber Theater and will take over at the Bochum Theater in 2018, is outspoken in his skepticism about the current state of the world.
"Cracks are emerging in our cultural self-image," he said. "Our European, humanistic and enlightened world view isn't the only conceivable one. We are being confronted with aggressive alternative visions."
Also pointing to a moral issue, Simons questions "how long we can continue to live in this absurd luxury," as global economic structures ensure that the prosperity of some leads to the poverty of others. This, said Simons, makes it all the more important to present visionary ideas of the future in music, spoken word and the visual arts.
In his new position as director of the Bochum Theater, Johan Simons intends to build up an international ensemble
Taking the world's pulse
The highly experimental arts festival opens with a new production of Claude Debussy's opera "Pelléas and Mélisande" in the Jahrhunderthalle venue in Bochum. Composed in 1902 and called the first truly modern opera, it deals with issues people can identify with today, said Simons: loneliness, angst and a sense of being lost in the world.
Of the 41 productions in the current season lasting until September 30, 22 are new. A notable world premiere is scheduled for August 25: "Kein Licht" (No Light), a theater piece from 2011 by the Austrian Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek recently set to music by French composer Philippe Manoury.
Dealing with a world in the wake of a major catastrophe, it's a distopian vision of technology gone rampant. For the current production, Jellinek added a section dealing with US President Donald Trump and his nuclear and climate policies.
Intended as a "festival of common experiences," the Ruhrtriennale 2017 is intended to "promote an exchange of ideas about life and living together," said Simons.
The festival is remarkable for its 14 venues including former factories and mining facilities throughout the Ruhr region, once famous for coal mining and heavy industry.