The Dark Ages

Théâtre National

2h
DE / Bosnian / Serbian > FR / NL

23/05 – 20:00
24/05 – 20:00
25/05 – 20:00

What happens to people whose countries and beliefs collapse? On what foundations is Europe built? The Dark Ages is the second part of Milo Rau’s Europe trilogy. This time the Swiss director is focusing on European unification after the Second World War: from the fall of the Third Reich (1945) to the siege of Sarajevo (1995). Actors who hail from Germany, Russia, Serbia and Bosnia share their personal stories of being uprooted and dispersed, of leaving and arriving, of surrender and hope. The music is by Laibach, a Slovenian cult group who blend elements of socialist realism with pop culture. Just as in The Civil Wars, a show that made quite an impression at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in 2014, the biographical close-ups in The Dark Ages compose an intimate portrait of a continent that has been shattered on numerous occasions. A political psychoanalysis of our age.

Concept, text & direction
Milo Rau

Text & performance
Sanja Mitrović, Sudbin Musić, Vedrana Seksan, Valery Tscheplanowa, Manfred Zapatka

Dramaturgy
Stefan Bläske, Sebastian Huber

Set & costume design
Anton Lukas

Camera & video design
Marc Stephan

Music
Laibach

Dramaturgical assistants
Lucia Kramer, Rose Reiter

Direction assistant
Jakub Gawlik

Translation
Marija Karaklajić

Research
Stefan Bläske, Mirjam Knapp

Production management
Mascha Euchner-Martinez

Presentation
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre National de la Communauté française

Production
Residenztheater (Munich)

In cooperation with
Milo Rau/International Institute of Political Murder (IIPM)

Supported by
Pro Helvetia

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“Each man kills the thing he loves”
Conversation with Milo Rau

In The Dark Ages, as in the first part of your Europe trilogy entitled The Civil Wars, the focus is on the actors’ biographies. Why this private view of a political issue?
The format I’ve developed for the Europe trilogy is a matter of mundane simplicity and statics: world history told from the perspective of private experiences. The five performers talk about very personal and occasionally very dark times in their lives. But it’s not about their biographies as such. Anecdotes from their lives and their work provide examples of changes in Europe’s society over the past 25 years – and in the case of Manfred Zapatka, whose memories date back to 1945, even over the past 70 years. This means that five specific people are talking, but at the same time they’re figures who represent us all, who represent “Europe” and even man himself. And that’s also why I’ve made The Dark Ages a classic drama with five acts carrying allegorical titles such as “The Suppliants” or “Essay on evil”. You take a specific case, five specific, ultimately random lives. By giving it a strong form – the rotating stage, the fugue structure and the situation of the live shoot – they are turned into something universal.

The performers are from Germany, Russia, Bosnia and Serbia. What role does nationality play in The Dark Ages?
2015 sees the anniversaries of two historical ruptures: the end of the Second World War in 1945 and the genocide in Srebrenica in 1995. One stands for victory over Nazi Germany and with it the birth of post-nationalistic Europe, the second for the resurgence of nationalism following the collapse of the Eastern bloc. The plot of The Dark Ages unfolds starting from these two historical ruptures that criss-cross through and existentially determine all the actors’ biographies. What foundation is Europe built on? What does it mean to be Serbian, German, Bosnian or Russian? The powerful social themes of our time recur in all the actors’ biographies: being uprooted, flight, reconstruction, existential and ideological homelessness – and finally, in an almost ghostly way, the major tragic themes of the “evil ones” and impossible justice.

With the exception of Sudbin Music, all the narrators on stage are professional actors. And Music is also a practised performer as a human rights activist, author and politician. What role do the narrators’ careers play here? Can we still talk about “experts of the everyday” as we do with Rimini Protokoll?
As with The Civil Wars, what is special about this configuration is naturally that, as professional performers, the narrators are not only specialists in their own lives, but also in how you tell others about it. The Dark Ages is a play about telling as much as it is about what the so-called “big stories” do or have done with us – which is why one side of the stage is designed like a classic pulpit of the kind we saw in our research time and again. The performer Sanja Mitrovic perhaps has to deal with the stamp of the “evil Serb”, while Music and Seksan are exasperated at the political phoniness of the European cult of the victim when it comes to Bosnia. Zapatka’s story on the other hand gives expression to a widespread phantom pain, to the utopian emptiness of the German economic miracle. In short, we have a group of actors for whom their respective “nationality” is as defining as it is problematic – and who have become specialists of this kind of permanent existential crisis, each individually and in their own style.

In the trailer for the play, your actors quote Shakespeare. Why is that?
Does “evil” exist, and if it does, is there justice when something evil happens to us? These are central questions in The Dark Ages. What is special about Hamlet is that it was almost uncanny how scenes from Shakespeare’s play almost recurred as authentic memories for our actors during rehearsals. Music actually held his father’s skull in his hand, while on her Heiner Müller tour Tscheplanova in a way “spoke” to the video footage of her recently deceased mentor Dimiter Gotscheff. Similarly for me Hamlet is the embodiment of not being able to let go. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Hamlet wants justice for his father, but no one wants to know about his story. He should calm down, he should integrate, but he can’t let go of the past, like all our actors. The Dark Ages is a play about homelessness, about a continuously delayed, ultimately impossible arrival in the “New Europe”, about not being able to forget.

The music in The Dark Ages is by the Slovenian band Laibach. How did this collaboration come about?
It’s interesting that this band has also depicted the history of Yugoslavia and Europe in the course of their career. Even before the transition they toured Europe and the Eastern bloc, released very critical albums about the EU project and reflected on questions of identity and statehood in almost all their projects – once even forming a state themselves! But it’s especially interesting that Laibach have never appeared as model citizens or as a quasi-posthuman art product like Kraftwerk, a band that is comparable to them in terms of cult factor, but always in the role of classic “old European” sufferers. Their soundtrack for The Dark Ages follows the principle of Wagnerian overpowering, in the greatest possible antithesis to the intimacy of the staging: similarly it is a malicious and melancholic anthem to the actors’ stories, in which the collective nightmare of the happily uniting Europe becomes palpable as it is built on the ruins of the Second World War and the mass graves of the Yugoslav civil war. So it is only logical that the leitmotif of the soundtrack referencing Europe’s various historical eras and styles for The Dark Ages is based on a Shakespearean quote adapted by Oscar Wilde: “Each man kills the thing he loves”. The old man must die out so that the new one can live, was how it went in fascism and communism. And the same applies to the New Europe as well. It’s just stupid that we all belong to the old collection.

The Dark Ages is the second part of Milo Rau’s Europe Trilogy, an intimate look at the soul of a uniting Europe. The first part The Civil Wars(2014) focused on western Europe and the question of the origins of social decomposition and extremism. The third part, Empire (premiere December 2015, Schaubühne Berlin) takes the effects of Europe’s economic policy in Africa as its starting point.

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Milo Rau (b. 1977) is from Bern, Switzerland. He undertook sociology, German and Roman studies in Paris, Zurich, and Berlin under Tzvetan Todorov and Pierre Bourdieu, among others. His first reporting trip was in 1997, when he travelled to Chiapas, Cuba. From 2000, he worked as a writer for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung , and from 2003, as a director and writer at home and abroad. In 2007, Rau founded the theatre and film production company International Institute of Political Murder, which he has been running ever since. His theatrical works and films have been presented at some of the biggest national and international festivals, including the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Berliner Theatertreffen, Festival d’Avignon, Zürcher Theater Spektakel, Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival Groningen, Festival TransAmériques, Wiener Festwochen, and the Radikal Jung Festival, where he was awarded the critics’ prize for direction. Alongside his work for stage and film, Milo Rau lectures on direction, cultural theory, and social sculpture at universities and colleges. His productions, campaigns, and films (including Montana , The Last Hours of Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu , Hate Radio , City of Change , Breivik’s Statement , The Moscow Trials , The Zurich Trials , The Civil Wars , and The Dark Ages ) have toured more than 20 countries around the world. In 2014, Rau received the Swiss Theatre Prize, the Hörspielpreis der Kriegsblinden (for Hate Radio ), the Special Jury Price at the German Film Festival (for The Moscow Trials ), and the Grand Jury Prize at the German Theatre Triennale’s Festival Politik im Freien Theater (for The Civil Wars ). Rau’s philosophical essay ‘What is to be done? Critique of Postmodern Reason’ (2013) became a bestseller and was awarded Best Political Book of 2013 by the German daily newspaper Die Tageszeitung , while his play The Civil Wars was selected as one of the five best plays of 2014 by the Swiss State Television commission of experts. La Libre Belgique recently named Milo Rau “Europe’s most sought after director”, with the German weekly Der Freitag calling him “the most controversial theatre director of his generation”.

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