See the sea – 10 years of the OZEANEUM in Stralsund – S.16
Exhibitions and aquariums exploring northern marine life
The OZEANEUM in the Hanseatic city of Stralsund on the north German coast is a place to look, learn and be amazed, now celebrating its 10th anniversary. Showcasing the sea in all its fragile and monstrous glory, the centre has welcomed over six million visitors since it opened and was declared European Museum of the Year in 2010. But it does more than look back – its aquariums reflect the contemporary state of the diverse and precious life in the sea.
By Iris Abel
Shining white against the sky, the curved façade of the OZEANEUM in Stralsund towers high over the main entrance – like a giant sail or the prow of a ship. The centre has been welcoming visitors on Stralsund’s harbour island for ten years now. Built at a cost of 60 million Euros, it received unprecedented media attention in Germany when it opened in July 2008 and has remained a special attraction in the Hanseatic city ever since.
Visitors can walk round the entire complex, consisting of four, four-storey buildings, accessible on three sides and offering a range of different views. A total of 50 aquariums of various sizes are contained in two of the buildings. Unlike in most museums, light is avoided here, as most of the aquarium inhabitants prefer the dark. The only part of the OZEANEUM that is flooded with light is the glass foyer, which connects the four buildings via stairs, bridges and lifts crossing all four floors. The OZEANEUM rests on a reed-coloured base where all its complex technology is housed, as well as research laboratories and huge water-treatment tanks.
Amazing sights in the light and the dark
The OZEANEUM offers five permanent exhibitions and two aquarium tours. Its thematic focus is the seas of the northern hemisphere, and especially the Baltic Sea. Colour-coded guides on the floor lead visitors through the rooms and around the various floors and provide orientation amongst the abundance of showcases, models, information panels and individual exhibits.
A ship as a biosphere
The OZEANEUM’s exhibitions and aquariums have been constantly extended since it opened, and this year was no exception. Just in time for the 10-year anniversary, the centre’s largest aquarium, the 2.6 million-litre ‘Open Atlantic’, was renovated and the original skeleton of a sperm whale removed to make way for the reconstruction of a cargo ship that sank in 1909.
At 11 metres long, almost six metres high and some five metres wide, a reconstruction of the wreck was designed and prepared by the art department at Babelsberg film studios (where film sets are usually made) and assembled in the OZEANEUM all in less than six months. The main challenge here was assembling the shipwreck in a relatively small space – the aquarium floor measures only 17 metres in diameter. Separated into numerous, narrow segments of maximum 2 to 3 metres’ length, the model of the wreck was lowered through narrow doors from the roof by a lift. All the parts were tempered before assembly. After a three-month renovation and reconstruction period, the OZENAEUM’s largest pool was ready to be refilled.
Throughout the centre, the exhibition concept is designed to appeal to even the youngest visitors, with child-friendly videos and information panels in all areas. A section titled ‘A Sea for Children’ welcomes little ones to stay a while and play, ask questions and experiment.
Save the whale!
The tour of the OZEANEUM’s exhibitions ends in a breathtakingly spectacular sight: Visitors leaving the exhibitions on each floor enter a hall some 20 m high where they come face-to face with the “1:1 giants of the sea”: models of a blue whale, a humpback whale, a sperm whale, a killer whale and a giant squid – all life-size and ranging from 5 to 24.5 metres long. Chief preparator Uwe Beese created this unique exhibition for the newly opened museum in close cooperation with the environmental protection organization Greenpeace.
The life-size models needed to be as light as possible – they weigh between 150 kg and 8 tons – and meet fire safety regulations (there is no sprinkler system in the hall). Several combinations of material were submitted to the TÜV product safety authorities for approval. The approved materials then used include steel and GRP, polystyrene, PU foam, special filler for the skin, fiberglass matting and polyester resin. All are CFC-free on Greenpeace’s insistence. Steelworkers, sculptors and painters worked on these impressive models for a whole year.
The high-ceilinged hall is bathed in a gentle, blue light; the ceiling shimmers lightly, like a watery surface. On the floor – on the bottom of the sea, so to speak – visitors can rest on loungers, surrounded by whale song and sound and light effects. Here, they can contemplate the beauty of these giant sea creatures, who are still very much endangered, as the audio-information stresses. It marks an overwhelming and moving end to the tour of the OZEANEUM which will surely leave no visitor cold.
Chicago: A centre of (theatre) architecture S.26
An OISTAT conference-delegate reports
From 10 to 12 October, USITT, the American association of stage engineers, welcomed the architects of OISTAT to its annual congress – in Chicago, the US city with outstanding architecture on almost every corner. Participants learnt much about the city and visited some of its many interesting theatres. A report by the German OISTAT delegate.
By Reinhold Daberto
More than any other city in the States, after New York – or perhaps ahead of it? – Chicago is rich in architectural treasures. These alone are guaranteed to fascinate any architect, who will almost certainly have studied them during training. To some extent, they are German history, too: German architects who were exiled or emigrated set up new firms here in Chicago. Mies van der Rohe is one example, whose Seagram Building made architectural history.
With prospects as enticing as this, no wonder that a large number signed up to participate in the congress. It coincided, moreover, with a meeting of ASTD, the American Society of Theater Consultants, to which the OISTAT architectural commission was invited. It went without saying that we would attend – it was a once in a lifetime chance. USITT was the perfect host. Our visit to Chicago was thoughtfully planned; Gregg Cook, principal of the 137-year-old architectural firm Holabird and Root, active in the city’s founding, was our coordinator and guide. His sense of mission to bring to life the spirit of the age – as a local witness, albeit through the history of his firm – was palpable.
On the first evening, Gregg Cook informed us about the development of Chicago from its beginnings around 1830 up to the 20th century. At its founding in 1830, Chicago had only 4,200 residents; by 1850 the number had already risen to 100,000. A major fire in 1871 rendered many thousands homeless but released creative as well as destructive energy. By 1880 the population of the ‘reborn’ city had grown to 500,000. In 1890, it reached one million.
These developments converged in one outstanding event. The ‘World’s Columbian Exposition 1893’ was the first time the city reviewed its own settlement history. It was prepared in only two years, during which time all the exhibition buildings were built on a found pier on the floodplains of Lake Michigan – ground that had to be reclaimed from the water.
On the second day, Robert Long gave us a crash course in Chicago’s theatre history. Theatre in Chicago was pure business. Everyone wanted to be entertained: the working classes in the vaudeville theatres, the finance elite in the operas. House capacities swelled: to 2,200 in the Chicago Theater and 4,000 in 1889’s Auditorium Building by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. The latter liked to be regarded as the author of the maxim ‘form follows function’, but in fact he was more radical: A building is a machine, man is a machine who controls a body with his mind, and so on. The Auditorium Building also contained a hotel and offices.
The first theatre we visited was the Goodman Theater on Dearborn Street. A twin theatre, like its counterpart in Frankfurt am Main, it houses the Albert Theater and the Owen Theater. While the Albert is a gallery theatre seating 800, the Owen serves as a court theatre in the style of London’s original Cottesloe, now Dorfman Theatre.
After a stroll to Lakeshore East New Urban Community, an award-winning landscaped park in between the skyscrapers (which are not as overwhelming as the ones in New York, being more spaced out), the next stop was the Joan and Irving Harris Theater for Music and Dance. This basement space, somehow created during the construction of an underground car park, houses a one-gallery theatre that has a rather gloomy feel.
Behind it, things are more cheerful. Here, the Millenium Park laid out by Frank Gehry in 2004 contains the fantastic, curving-roofed Jay Pritzker Pavilion. This outdoor music venue is a permanent structure with room for an orchestra and a choir and capacity for up to 4000 listeners. Offering rain-protected seating, it opens on to the park with giant sliding windows. Concerts here, of course, are acoustically amplified. The ‘roof’ made of bent poles makes it cohesive.
Next, we visited the above-mentioned Auditorium Building by Adler and Sullivan, and the rest of the day was devoted to the Steppenwolf Theater in north Chicago. This has its origins in the high school theater of the mid-1970s, first performed in the North Shore Unitarian Church in Deerfield. Jeff Perry, Terry Kinney and Gary Sinise, and a changing cast of ensemble members and playwrights over the years, swung their way through various interim locations to a new construction built in 1991, which is still the home of the privately funded theatre today.
Theatre and research
Day two of our sightseeing programme started with a morning session in which our US colleague Bruce Sagan spoke about the development of Chicago’s downtown cultural and theater district and its later transformation into a residential and office district. Our sightseeing tour started at a part of the University of Chicago: the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. Its various rehearsal stages for music and dance are arranged within a vertical tower. Among the performance spaces is a concert hall seating 1,500, and the main area is taken up by the Jentes Family Courtyard Theatre seating approx. 500, which recalls the Globe and the Swan. In addition, there is the Yards Theater, a space that can be varied by means of nine seating towers on air cushions. Both the Reva and David Logan Center and the drama school of DePaul University have fully equipped set-building workshops – unlike German drama schools.
Looking at the new theatre buildings here, it seems that architects are seeking the ideal space for one of two venue types: either a performance space that is variable but still oriented towards the Globe Theatre; or the prototypical Black Box. Flexible venues are converted with each new production – at regular intervals, then, ranging from twelve to three months. The mechanical effort this takes is tremendous. All the systems we viewed during the congress involve huge feats of logistics. Nothing works at the push of a button here.
But another thing that our sightseeing showed us was that theatres, past and present, always have a positive effect on their urban surroundings. Out-of-town districts become desirable places to live if they have a theatre in them; they attract restaurants and businesses. Theatre is an identity creator, a cultural and social anchor within the neighbourhood – even far out on the periphery, in the suburbs that might otherwise become totally anonymous.
Protest paid off – S. 41
New premises for the Ernst Busch drama school in Berlin
On 26 October the Ernst Busch drama school celebrated the inauguration of its new premises, on the former grounds of East Berlin’s central theatre workshops, near Nordbahnhof station. The wooden stage tower housing two studios, designed by O&O Baukunst architects, stands as a striking tribute to the site’s theatrical heritage and unites the school’s previously scattered departments under one roof.
By Karin Winkelsesser
Shining like a beacon, visible from afar – the architectural firm O&O Baukunst wanted the new premises of the Ernst Busch drama school to be a cultural ‘thorn in the side’ of the development that has transformed the neighbourhood around Nordbahnhof station in recent years. Exclusive lofts, hotels and office blocks have gradually displaced the old housing, and the local population with it. Only a few parts of the East Berlin theatre workshops that once stood here remained. As a monument to this theatrical past, the architects stacked the drama school’s new studios within a stage tower of wooden slats against a transparent background.
The drama school, or Hochschule für Schauspielkunst Ernst Busch as it is officially named, was the first of its kind when it was founded by Max Reinhardt in 1905 and is now Germany’s leading academy for the dramatic arts. Subjects taught include acting, directing, choreography and puppet theatre. Recently, a master course in dramaturgy was introduced. As the school grew over the years, sections and departments opened in different parts of the city. The new premises now unite them all under one roof and have met general approval, though some observers are puzzled by the appearance of the constituent elements’ walls. They were left in a visibly ‘raw’ state above the 2.30m mark, and alterations also left visible. Showing us around, the project’s manager, architect Tobias Ahlers, admitted he is often asked: “When will it be finished?”
Making history visible
Fighting for its new home with incredible tenacity and creative verve, the school managed to turn around what threatened to be another inglorious chapter in the story of Berlin’s rebuilding. It finally achieved its goal after a total of 21 years, two architectural competitions and various location searches. A winning tender was announced in 2009, to cost a projected 33 million Euros, but scrapped again in 2012 because it threatened to exceed the budget limit by 1.4 million!
Outraged students took matters into their own hands. Occupying the grounds of East Berlin’s central theatre workshops, they camped on site and took classes in the open air. With the backing of prominent graduates of the school and other arts-makers, they eventually persuaded the Berlin Senate to act. Construction was approved in 2013, to begin in 2014. The bankruptcy of the company contracted to build the shell – here, the cheapest offer was taken without adequate references –, extra costs incurred for ventilation and air conditioning, and delays in construction led to a total cost of 44 million Euros and completion being delayed by a year.
The production line
Standing at the end of a long, ground-floor corridor, we look down what is fondly known as the ‘production line’ (German: Arbeitsstraße). The ‘refined’ floor is made of polished, slightly shiny concrete, which has both an elegant appearance and a workshop character. Indeed, this is where the workshops are located for realizing the students’ ideas: the props and furniture stores, and the carpenters’, lighting, and metalworkers’ workshops are in a row on the right side. High-ceilinged rooms with large windows, they offer congenial working conditions. A high gate with a loading ramp for deliveries leads outside. Inside, the workshops are connected by equally high doors, allowing materials to be moved to the lift. The puppet store, wardrobe directors’ and costumers’ rooms line the left side of the ‘production line’. The attachments for hanging up the puppets were designed and built by the student puppeteers themselves.
Rehearsing and studying
Going up to the first floor via the stairwells, which were built into the old building and likewise made of exposed concrete, we see a sign saying: “Thank you, statics”. Yes, everything here is exceedingly robust and conveys a sense of stability. The first floor houses the classrooms, small rehearsal stages for work alone or in small groups, plus wardrobes and three larger rehearsal stages. These are equipped with transverse beams, curtains and spotlights. There is even a fencing room.
Soundproofing was an important factor throughout the premises. The planners at Müller BBM explained: “The curtains allow the acoustics in the rehearsal rooms to be adjusted according to the individual rehearsal situation. To ensure soundproofing, the ceilings were fitted with low coordinated floating screeds and self-supporting plasterboard subquadrants, so that students jumping or shouting during classes do not disturb the activities going on in adjacent rooms.” For theory classes, there are two seminar rooms, one large and one smaller. Ahlers draws our attention to the impressive height of the ceilings. This was once the painting hall. Unfortunately, the original, freely suspended ceiling could not be kept. More space is clearly devoted to rehearsing and building, reflecting the importance the school attaches to practical work. But the nerve-centre of this drama laboratory is nevertheless a space for the mind: A generously laid-out library with large windows and glass panels facing the corridor, creating a comfortable environment in which to read and explore, which is obviously popular with the students. Here, too, good soundproofing ensures the library does not let in noises from the corridor despite its transparency.
Studios for rehearsals and performances
The architects “pushed in” the tower with its two studios into the old building like a “wooden box”, says Ahlers. The concrete stairwell clad in wooden boarding wraps itself around the studios; even the emergency staircases for the technicians lead into the stairwell – the principle of transparency following function. The stairwell lets in plenty of light; the wooden slats are backed by a layer of polycarbonate through which the outside is vaguely recognizable.
The school’s stage equipment was selected by close consultation with the users. Some wishes had to be curtailed to save costs. Still, an all-round work gallery with two cross-bridges running over the studio stage offers ample flexibility for installing various devices, lighting systems and audio-video technology. Underneath, there are all-round curtain tracks and steel section brackets for mounting spotlights or similar devices. Under the ceiling there are seven length-wise horizontally movable backdrop trolleys, each of which carries a tubular shaft hoist with a 350 kg capacity, which can be used for up to four mobile scenery hoists. The studio stage is equipped with individually tailored lighting systems and audio-video technology.
Right now, everyone is glad that the building is open, even if work still needs to be done here and there. But soon it will be wall-to-wall work of a different kind – and students making their own drama!
What lies ahead for Tanztheater Wuppertal? – S. 80
New pieces in striking sets
When new artistic director Adolphe Binder’s contract was terminated without notice in July, the process of renewal that had begun at the internationally renowned Tanztheater Wuppertal, founded by Pina Bausch, seemed to stagnate. But two new pieces created in 2018 on Binder’s initiative, ‘Since She’ and ‘Neues Stück II’, have contributed some fresh aesthetic and scenic ideas to life at the Wuppertal dance-theatre.
By Thomas Hahn
It’s not always easy to usher in a new era. Following the death of the Wuppertal Tanztheater’s famous founder ten years ago, a turbulent time began for the ensemble, which had to find its feet anew. To mark a break with the past and ring in the new, the theatre, which is still state subsidized, hired Adolphe Binder as new artistic director. She took up her post in May 2017 with the mission to break new ground with the ensemble. For the first time in its history, she invited guest choreographers to create new pieces with the performers, most of whom had worked with Pina Bausch personally. It was clear that this would open new avenues, in terms of both content and aesthetics.
For the collaboration project, Binder chose two international artists who are currently blazing a trail on the international scene. One is Dimitris Papaionannou, acclaimed for his pieces Still Life and The Great Tamer (BTR 5/2017). Anyone with a passing interest in dance theatre will have come across his physical theatre, reflecting the roots of contemporary society in Greek mythology. In May 2018, the dance-theatre star from Athens had the honour of officially ringing in the new era with his new piece (Neues Stück I). This was followed in June by Neues Stück II, a production by Alan Lucien Øyen, a young Norwegian whose blend of choreography and drama perfectly suits the Wuppertal troupe. Binder discovered the talented Øyen during her tenure as artistic director of GöteborgsOperans Danskompani. At the same time, the ensemble was rejuvenated by the addition of many young performers with a gift for combining choreography and drama, be they from Germany, Canada, Russia or the United States. This continues a recent tradition of keeping the ensemble young and so ensuring that dance-theatre as a branch of the arts retains its international appeal.
Each of the new contributors has an entirely distinctive signature, both personality-wise and in terms of formats and scenic approaches. The only thing they have in common is that they both employ a combination of old incumbents and new-generation performers on the stage, who complement each other wonderfully in both ‘new pieces’ (as the German Neue Stücke translates).
Two tributes to Pina
The titles of both new productions contain hidden tributes to Pina Bausch – Øyen’s especially because he opted for the plain ‘New Piece’ label, just as Pina used to do, until the premiere. Not only that, Øyen paid his respect to Bausch by his choice of format for the piece, which at three-and-a-half hours with one interval celebrates dance-theatre in true Wuppertal style. Otherwise known for his contemporary choice of subject mater and aesthetics, as well as for his use of live video art, here Øyen employs an unusually realistic, historicizing stage set. A home interior with floorboards, armchairs, old wallpaper and scuffed doors, dressers, lamps and curtains, it looks like a setting for an Ibsen play. It is the kind of realism that would suit Nora or the The Wild Duck.
Papaioannou’s Since She also contains a tribute to Pina Bausch in the title. Thinking it on, it seems to be saying: since she … left us. That is the crux of the matter; although Bausch passed away ten years ago, her spirit continues to float over the theatre. The opening and closing scenes feature chairs as the main protagonists, like in Café Müller, which was premiered exactly 40 years to the day before Papaioannou’s debut in Wuppertal. First the dancers cross the stage on a mobile bridge made of seating, then the café chairs are piled up on the body of one of the dancers to form a pyramid which inevitably collapses in the end.
Landscape of mats
What look like slates or slabs of rock are in fact soft and undulating mats with a foam filling. The starting point for creating the rocky setting was one standardized mat format. By varying it and piling several units up on top of each other, formations evoking untamed nature are created. It is easy to imagine the craggy landscapes that provided the inspiration for Papaioannou’s models. The structure, symbolism, force and dimensions of the set recall the era of great stage designers like Peter Pabst.
Stage designer Tina Tzoka piled up the mats into five towers, which partly interconnect and form a landscape. Each dark grey mat is two metres long and made of flame-retardant foam, type VP-50 FR, between 0.9 and 1.6 metres wide. The mats are of varying thicknesses, from 10 to 22cm. Various widths and depths were combined, resulting in a total of 28 different formats, with a wide range of volumes and weights. The smallest is only 0.18m³ while the largest and therefore heaviest unit is 0.7m³. There is only one model of each of these formats, and eleven of the most frequently occurring medium-sized units (1.2m wide and only 14 cm high).
Five towers and a frame
The five towers, from left to right, consist of 24, 28, 12, 21 and 22 mats. As they are not self-supporting, they are held together at the back by a hidden frame. This supporting structure is 3m high and 4.5m deep and reached from above by a 2.8m-high ladder. With the support of the frame, the performers can climb up and down the mat-rock formations. They can place a tree on the top and go on a sledge ride in an upturned table back down. The mats stay in place.
Papaioannou loves to make figures appear from a material or disappear into it. In contrast to the piles of mats, the frame is made of standard-sized elements, measuring 50cm and 100cm. This ensures it can be compactly stored and transported, which is important for going on tour.
Both Papaioannou’s and Øyen’s ‘new piece’ are already touring, currently showing at Sadler’s Wells in London and on the schedule at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris. Every time the stage set for Neues Stück II is packed for transport, it looks like a conventional house removal, as it consists chiefly of furniture plus a few movable walls. Papaioannou’s abstract elements, in contrast, only make sense as a set when they are completely assembled.
It is the first time that two full-length pieces have been created simultaneously in Wuppertal. It seemed to herald the start of a new era. But the future has once again been cast into doubt. Binder has gone and Bettina Wagner-Bergelt, previously associate director of the Bavarian State Ballet, has been appointed as her provisional successor. Her tenure is projected to last only two seasons.