A conversation with Nicole Beutler and Felix Ritter

author: Luc Verhaegh

Choreographer Nicole Beutler and dramaturge Felix Ritter discuss their inspirations for 3: The Garden, which examines the distinction between nature and culture. 3: The Garden is on from 15 to 19 March in Frascati 1.

Filosophy about nature
NB: “I went to a humanist grammar school, so I’m used to returning to ancient sources. For this production I took another look at the pre-Socratic natural philosophers – especially Pythagoras, Parmenides and Anaxagora. The natural philosophers were trying to capture the workings of the world in language. For example, they tried to describe the sound of the universe, a specific sound that can bring about an ultimate world.”

FR: “They tried to create a vocabulary for describing immeasurable qualities. And modern science still has trouble encapsulating these indescribable, immeasurable things.”

NB: “What we set out to do was find nature in theatre. The moment you put something on stage, it is by definition a reproduction, and therefore culture. So that’s the first challenge right there. How can you engage with nature on stage? We arrived back at humanity, so in this case we are nature. How natural are we in our natural habitat? And what is our natural habitat? Another conclusion we came to was that nature is that which is uncontrollable – and that includes something like a computer virus, or a nuclear plant.”

Monte Veritä
NB: “We also looked at the history of Monte Veritä, a place in Switzerland where a group of artists gathered in the 1910s and 20s. The question that we tried to answer in this context was: what criteria do people apply when looking for a location for a utopian artistic community? The urban and industrial developments of the time drew them to creating its opposite. Women cast off their corsets and wore togas instead – which again references the Greeks of course. They were vegetarian, they were often unclothed and they gardened together – they broke every code of urban social life. But at the same time, and this is the paradox, this communal quest for nature was also a very advanced form of civilization. Later it became a tourist attraction – with a hotel. Well, they managed to keep it going for five years anyway.”

FR: “The universal question of the age was: do we need a new human? Would that enable us to better deal with society, with life itself? Perhaps to return to nature is to become a new human. It is in any case a very broad and interesting question, as well as a dangerous one. The problem with humanity in modern times is that everything revolves around being better or different, while I believe it is really much more about being who we are. And of course it was also a dangerous question at the time because the communists and the fascists weren’t talking about reality at all.”

Romanticism
NB: “Romanticism has always been important to my work. It is the counterpart to the Enlightenment, which assumed that humans are capable of understanding everything rationally. The Romantic movement produced an awareness of the inexplicable. This is something I’m also trying to do. I don’t know if it always works, but I’m always attempting in my work to break conventional patterns of thinking and watching. Always remain alert and responsive. The notion of the sublime also emerged from Romanticism. Standing before it, the abyss is both magnificent and terrifying – its immense beauty is evident, but so too is your own insignificance in relation to the whole. You see this represented in Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer by Caspar David Friedrich. You can’t make the natural and the sublime – it has to happen. But as for beauty? That you can make.”

Rousseau
NB: “When we got to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose Emile, ou De l’Education was an important inspiration for us, the focus quickly turned to humanity’s animal nature. In Emile Rousseau asserts that people should grow up without civilisation for the first fifteen years. He believed that humankind’s own nature should be sufficient. Handke’s play Kaspar Hauser and Herzog’s film about it Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle [showing continuously in the Frascati lounge, LV] deals with this subject.
And what function does language have? Humans are the only animal that uses language to share attention. A chimpanzee might be able to communicate the presence of fire to his own kind, but when confronted with something of great beauty, he is unable to share the experience. Humans, on the other hand, are inclined to do so. And this is a quality that suits theatre very well.”

Einstürzende Neubauten
NB: “One contemporary inspiration for this project was the song The Garden by Einstürzende Neubauten. It’s so simple, yet so very effective. Blixa Bargeld sings, ‘You can find me in the garden, if you want to.’ It’s talking about so many things. It’s about theatre, and it’s about a longing for that garden. You need to want see the garden. You need to really feel like it. And we tried to make a garden in this piece.”

FR: “Another interesting thing is that we figured out that blackbirds are singing ‘I am here’ all the time – all day long. Everyone knows already, but the blackbird just keeps on singing. The blackbird simply carries on because he finds it so beautiful himself. And that is precisely what nature is! Because we find it beautiful, we carry on.”

Luc Verhaegh, 15 March 2010