From 17 October to 11 November 2017, choreographers, directors and visual artists such as William Forsythe, Robert Wilson and Constanza Macras will be addressing the historic Appia stage. At the opening, we spoke with Héctor Solari, the curator of the project “Reconstructing the Future” at the Hellerau Festival Theatre in Dresden.

The Appia stage with a staging of Avatâra Ayuso / Photo: Adam Dreesen
The Appia stage with a staging of Avatâra Ayuso / Photo: Adam Dreesen

The Great Hall created in the Hellerau Festival Theatre in 1911 was the ideal space for twentieth century theatre. The project “Reconstructing the Future. Space Light Movement – Hellerau’s Utopia” interprets the stage of Adolphe Appia in a variety of ways, as well as Alexander von Salzmann’s shadowless room of lights and the approaches of the music pedagogue Émile Jaques-Dalcroze. In the following interview Héctor Solari, who studied architecture and art in Uruguay and Italy and has been working worldwide for many years as a video artist focusing on dance performances, speaks about Hellerau as a utopian space, about the ideas of the life reformers and the pioneers of the Bauhaus.

Mr. Solari, for a good ten years now you have been working as a video artist for the Hellerau Festival Theatre. What possibilities do you see in this building for modern theatre and modern dance?

I was impressed by the programme in Hellerau from the start. At the very latest when William Forsythe built up his company here, this place really became a paradise for me. What I also liked from the beginning was the openness – the experimental approach and the delight in risk-taking. What we also want to prove here and now with the Appia stage is how contemporary and visionary the building and the ideas actually are. When I enter the Great Hall, I am always overcome by how fantastic and multifaceted this space actually is.

The designs of the architectural reformer Heinrich Tessenow inscribed the approaches of the stage designer Adolphe Appia and the music pedagogue Émile Jaques-Dalcroze in the building. What role do the original life reform ideas of the founding fathers play in the current productions here?

The fact of the matter is that Tessenow, Appia and Dalcroze were on exactly the same wavelength. They decided together, for example, that the space wouldn’t have any columns. The idea was not accredited to anybody in particular. For the artists, this still holds true: all those who appear here say that this is the perfect stage for contemporary dance and contemporary theatre – and this after a hundred years.

Historical sketch of the Appia stage / Photo: Skizzen Appia Theatersammlung Bern
Historical sketch of the Appia stage / Photo: Skizzen Appia Theatersammlung Bern

When this place was founded in 1911, its programmatic orientation centred on the interaction between life, work and art – much like the holistic approach of the Bauhauslers. What does the day-to-day life in Hellerau involve?

From the moment the apartments for artists were set up and they could develop their works here on site for weeks, life, as well as a proximity to the original ideas, flourished here. The artists appreciate this; nobody really wants to stay anywhere else. It’s the same for me: whenever I leave the city and come to Hellerau, I feel as if I am arriving in a utopian place, where everything is possible. This also comes across to the artists staying here.

You have now curated the large-scale project “Reconstructing the Future” at the Hellerau Festival Theatre, which was supported among other things in the course of the programme “100 Years of Bauhaus”. How do the individual projects relate to the Bauhaus?

We see the programme as a prelude to the Bauhaus. In this respect, it was important for us to consider which of the artists – those who grew up with the ideas of Appia and Salzmann and were influenced by them – should be invited. They are all, in a sense, Appia’s children. Robert Wilson, for instance, refers directly to Appia’s light concepts, which he then further developed. Neither is it really possible to consider William Forsythe without Appia. These “children” have meanwhile grown up and have become artists in their own right, but they are directly connected to Appia. The new generation of choreographers from the independent scene or from England is exploring Appia from a completely fresh perspective. We asked these people, who are in their mid-twenties, what they want to do with the Appia stage.

The curator of the project “Reconstructing the future” Héctor Solari / Photo: Adam Dreesen
The curator of the project “Reconstructing the future” Héctor Solari / Photo: Adam Dreesen

What form did the specific engagement of young choreographers such as Avatâra Ayuso, Cindy Hammer or Anna Till take?

The Appia stage is split into many modular elements that can be combined in an infinite number of configurations. We built models of these modules in Lego brick-size and asked the artists to “build your own Appia stage”. In the summer we then erected the original stage and began to rehearse. Other artists, for example the musicians Lukas Ligeti and Simon Stockhausen, explored the space musically.

Other contributions, such as Constanza Macras’s, tend to bring to mind colourful soft toys which fall from the ceiling, rather than Appia’s use of forms.

Yes, she creates a wild story about Monte Verità, an early twentieth century artists’ colony in Ticino. In doing so, she builds a bridge between Hellerau, Monte Verità, and the reform movement. The central idea of my curatorial work was not to create an immediately identifiable reference to Appia and Salzmann, but rather to ask how many doors he  opened. And Constanza Macras is perfectly suited to this approach.

The keynote speech for the inauguration is being delivered by Daniel Libeskind. To what extent is he, one of the most influential contemporary architects, the project’s mentor?

I have always been a fan of Libekind’s architecture and I knew that he had also worked on set designs and as an urban planner. It was he who said that, “a space must also always be an expressive space”. A few years ago, when I was looking at his ideas in a little more depth, I came across his notion that one must construct the future out of the past. During my work as the curator of “Reconstructing the Future”, I suddenly remembered this quote and found that it struck at the very heart of what we are doing here. I also sent him the concept and asked him if he would like to deliver the keynote speech. He accepted my invitation without hesitation.

The Festspielhaus Hellerau in 2013 / Photo: Stephan Floß, 2013
The Festspielhaus Hellerau in 2013 / Photo: Stephan Floß, 2013

Which programme points would you recommend, and which contributions do you particularly like?

As curator, I naturally can’t name individual artists. I stand behind the entire programme. But while I was putting it together, I did think that it would be nice to offer something for an audience that is more familiar with Appia as well as something for those who know nothing about his stage. For me it was also important to offer a scientific supporting programme that, in part, ties in closely with actual choreographies. We show many facets – not only of the space, but also of the possibilities – that are inherent to contemporary dance today.

Many thanks for your time.

[CG 2017, Translations: RW]