„As influential as Lars von Trier‘s Dogma films“: This was 2019!

What is surely the maddest year in IIPM’s history is coming to a close: from Madrid to Mosul, from Ghent to Zurich, from Sao Paulo to Moscow and from Matera to Taiwan, our productions went on the road and we organised initiatives, made films and debated with the public and the press. Art led to argument, and out of argument grew solidarity: reporting on our “Orestes in Mosul”, chosen as the “play of the year” in a number of countries, filled “whole magazines” (Süddeutsche Zeitung). The New York Times even placed the Jesus from our “New Gospel” on its front page and the Catholic Church decided to provide financial backing for the “Houses of Dignity” founded during filming in the refugee camps in southern Italy.


Amongst others in England and the Netherlands, and in Spain, Italy and  France, our productions of “The Repetition” and “Orestes in Mosul” made critics’ best-of lists for 2019 and garnered numerous awards, and in Amsterdam and Sao Paulo whole festivals were dedicated to our work. After some 200 shows in 25 countries over almost five years, the world tour of “Five Easy Pieces” has reached its scheduled end at Christmas at NTGent, while in the northern Brazilian Amazon, work has begun on “Antigone in the Amazon” – the conclusion of Milo Rau’s globally debated “Trilogy of Ancient Myths”, following “Orestes in Mosul” and “The New Gospel”.


At the end of last year, the new NTGent opened with Milo Rau’s “Lam Gods” – “a piece of theatre history,” according to Le Soir. In 2019, monographic shows in Amsterdam and Sao Paulo were dedicated to an extensive review of the work of the “legendary theatremaker” (Time Out) Milo Rau, and the multilingual series “Golden Books”, thus far comprising four volumes, was launched jointly with the publisher Verbrecher Verlag. Rau, who this year received the European Theatre Award in St. Petersburg and an honorary doctorate by Lund University Malmö, published an overview of his theatrical aesthetic for the first time, under the title “Das geschichtliche Gefühl” (Alexander Verlag). The book, which is currently being translated into Italian and French, was a sales success and in Germany could even be purchased at railway station kiosks. As the current holder of the Munster poetics lectureship, Rau continued to elaborate his concept of “Global Realism” in the lecture series “The Reconquest of the Future”, which began in October 2019. The series is to be published by the Rowohlt Verlag under the same title next year.


It was an extraordinary year in the area of theatre as well. In 2019, “The Repetition” – the first piece produced by Milo Rau in accordance with the “Ghent Manifesto” – toured five continents. The production, which among other distinctions received the award of the French critics’ association and the Italian Premio UBU as the year’s “best foreign play” and was chosen by the New York Times already 2018 as among the “ten best plays in Europe”, turned up 2019 on critics’ year-end best-of lists including in The Guardian. This was true also for “Orestes in Mosul”: from Belgrade to Zurich, from Madrid to Rome, the “masterpiece” (Süddeutsche Zeitung) produced last spring in the former capital of the Islamic State sparked heated debate among audiences and critics. The weekly magazines of the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Tages-Anzeiger put the play on their covers, and the German journal “Theater Heute” devoted a cover story to the project not just once but twice, while the New York Times, ARTE and De Standaard even accompanied Milo Rau to Mosul. A report written on the project earned the German reporters’ award, and the piece has so far appeared on “best-of 2019” lists in critics’ surveys in countries including Spain, France, Italy and the Netherlands.
The most shining poll results came from the Dutch-language critics, who collectively singled out Milo Rau for “Best Play” (Orestes in Mosul), “Best Theatre Company” (NTGent), “Best Festival” (the Brandhaarden Festival, which in 2019 was devoted to the plays of Milo Rau) and “Most Dedicated Work”. In Switzerland, the author and director made it onto the list of “the greatest theatremakers of the 21st century“, Belgian television even dedicated a – thoroughly critical – film to the director at the end of the year: “The Adoration“.


“The Ghent company is as influential for current theatre as Lars von Trier’s ‘Dogma’ pictures once were for film” – this was how a German critic described the influence of the dramatic and theoretical work of Milo Rau on the occasion of the German premiere of “Orestes in Mosul”. The greatest international attention and the most sustained debate of the past year, however, was generated by Rau’s film production of “New Gospel” in Matera in southern Italy. Alongside Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Jesus (Enrique Irazoqui) and Mel Gibson’s Saint Mary (Maia Morgenstern), the monumental remake included a black Jesus for the first time in a European film, played by the Cameroonian activist Yvan Sagnet. Over one hundred performers from all strata of Italian society, from African refugees to leading politicians, took part in the filming, with newspapers and television networks from around the world reporting. The parallel “Revolt of Dignity” campaign led to the founding of self-governed refugee accommodations – which meanwhile have gained the recognition and financial support of the Catholic Church itself.


All of this made 2019 at once the most global and most sustainable year in IIPM’s history. The experiment of a “municipal theatre of the future” led to NTGent being filled to almost 90 per cent of capacity, a company record. At the same time, IIPM and NTGent productions toured all continents, with accompanying workshops from Hong Kong to Münster to Paris and from Sao Paulo to London to Palermo deepening the debate around a “Global Realism” that transcends notions of nation and race. The series “Histoire(s) du théâtre” by Milo Rau, which began with “The Repetition”, was continued with a second chapter by Faustin Linyekula at the last Festival d’Avignon. The third chapter will be written in the upcoming season by Angelica Liddell of Spain: an equally playful and radical “(hi)story” of a theatre by and for all.