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RICHARD SIEGAL / BALLET OF DIFFERENCE AM SCHAUSPIEL KöLN

ROUGHHOUSE

DADA HURRAY!
Richard Siegal’s rousing dance-speech-potpourri in Cologne

Choreography and opera direction go frequently hand in hand these days. And so it’s no surprise that Munich’s most bustling dance-man, Richard Siegal, too has recently tried to gain a foothold in musical theatre. But for Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” in Gelsenkirchen he had to mobilise such an enormous ensemble that any conceptual approach came up short. Siegal learned the right lesson from it. His new piece “Roughhouse” is radically downsized and organised as a coproduction between the Ballet of Difference (BoD) and the Schauspiel Köln that temporarily resides at the Mühlheim Carlswerk. Text, direction and choreography are by Siegal himself, the Cologne premiere he confided to a mixed collective of nine: four BoD dancers and five actors clamber about in an approximately one and a half hour long Dada spectacle, its nonsense machinery now and again thwarted by acts of extreme violence.

The brute scenes with which Siegal bombards the slapstick-zone are not without reason reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s cinematic blood-frenzies. The medial dissolution of borders in the present time is the leitmotif of an evening that digs into everything that flickers across our TV and Internet channels, from talkshows to terror attacks. A camera captures the event’s details, on occasion zooming in on the bottom of a performer to just a moment later document the attack of a guerilla-squad in breaking-news-style. Siegal creates a world that follows the law of levelling: racism, civil war, atomic bomb, homicide, feminism, sex addiction, joking – all the same. Every speech act only serves as a trigger for a more or less thinned out communication meandering between comical “bang” and psychedelic iteration loop, fabricating monologues in series – fired off by nine mouths like rifle shots. And yet a battlefield is nowhere to be seen. Because the verbal militancy is cushioned with gym mats, on which one can splendidly tussle and show-fight. Not only the title “Roughhouse” hints at such infantile and demonstrative quarrels. But Siegal also points out very precisely how global conflicts are boiled down to consumer-friendly and easily digestable messages. Real outrage? Almost definitely the divorce battle of the Beckers or the separation of Fischer & Silbereisen will gain more clicks than France’s Macron-malaise or the hunger crisis in Yemen. Richard Siegal’s text-dance-collage succeeds effortlessly at pointing this out on the one hand and being simultaneously entertaining. In that, the author can rely on rousing performers whose various cultures of origin seem almost no consequence. The dancers shine verbally, the actors shine in terms of motor skills, and so “Roughhouse” becomes indeed an interdisciplinary event: a successful bridge between Terpsichore, Thalia and back.

As if to substantiate this federation, in the last third Siegal seeks out dominion of both muses. He piles up extracts from the ‘Oresteia’ on meager speech bubbles, slams high tragedy over infantile three word sentences, which sum up the standards of today. Of course humanity is still ruled by hate and the thirst for revenge. But now their gods have abdicated, vanished in favour of omniscient data agencies, replaced by hybrids from Wikipedia.
The only thing that can still help is escape into the esoteric. And o the ‘Roughhouse’ crew finally risks a telepathic experiment – final Dada homage and meaningless punchline to a thoroughly meaningful evening.
Dorion Weickmann, Süddeutsche Zeitung 27.12.2018

SCHAUSPIEL KÖLN: RICHARD SIEGAL DECONSTRUCTS LANGUAGE
What if language couldn’t be trusted at all? Because people are hypocritical and they lie, because they use their speech to pretend to be what they aren’t and to marginalise those they consider threatening. For his latest piece ”Roughhouse”, which just premiered at Schauspiel Köln, the US-American choreographer Richard Siegal has dared to tackle language. The choreographer has written a piece that imitates, satirises and rejects modes of speaking, that in one moment wants politically correct respect and in the next the freedom to penetrate every last taboo, to say every controversial word. From a mass of quotes, coded language and jargon, Siegal has sampled a textual plane in which the present betrays itself in all its fragmentation. His repertoire ranges from catchwords like ‘me too’, victim-shock-antidiscrimination-speech-poses to varieties of hate speech. The result is a Roughhouse – a wild game in which people take it to the limit.

But choreographer Siegal regains movement from his own text. The dancers of his ‘Ballet of Difference’ and a few just as talented (in terms of body language) performers of the Cologne ensemble, allow the speech acts to seize their bodies. And so they sometimes scuffle on thick gym mats which stand in as the stage design. They play revolutionary and terrorist, attacker and victim, excluding majority and helpless minority. And when words entirely fail them and they can only stutter out syllables like robots with out of control software, there also the movements make for perfect piecework.

However this acted and danced critique of language and our times remains hermetic. Siegal hasn’t created any characters with whom the audience could identify themselves. There are, admittedly, funny moments, but these are also highbrow. With the result that this theatre of the body is weirdly non-sensual. Siegal withholds moments of pure beauty where the audience might enjoy the art of the dancers. Even the high language of the stage doesn’t have a chance. Aeschylus is being declaimed but the declaimer is constantly lacking for words. ‘The Oresteia’ had been stolen, she says, Europe’s cultural treasure simply looted.

From a deep scepticism towards language and the present day, Siegal has created an exhausting evening. And sometimes one wished he’d stayed with dance, the pure language of bodies. Yet, the total deformation of communication that the choreographer conducts in Roughhouse is just a further twist in the manipulation of language that is to be experienced every day. It is not a pleasure to witness this crisis on stage, but it is high time.
Dorothee Krings, Rheinische Post 21.12.2018

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