Charlotte Engelkes

Charlotte Engelkes


Conception, music and direction by Heiner Goebbels

With Charlotte Engelkes, Marie Goyette, Yumiko Tanaka
Based on texts by Gertrude Stein
Light and stage Klaus Gruenberg
Costumes Florence von Gerkan
Sound Willi Bopp

Premiere Lausanne, Theatre Vidy, September 2000. Since then performed more then 50 times in Paris, London, Edinburgh, Frankfurt/Main, Berlin, Moscow, Huddersfield, New York, San Francisco, Hanover, Minneapolis, Rome, Singapur and Sydney



What a thrilling way to light the fuse of the Sydney Festival: a piece that deifies surprise, scoffs at expectation, and merges most art-forms and emotions. Much art seeks to tie life down. Heiner Goebbels undoes the knots and watches it take flight.

In Hashirigaki – Japanese for flowing writing, or rushing – the German composer/conceptualist/director has borrowed from such unlikely bedmates as Gertrude Stein’s eccentric novel The Making of Americans (1925), the Beach Boys’ innovative 1966 album Pet Sounds and Japanese folk music. Add a dazzling and surreal command of movement, sound, lighting, props and cyclorama projections and you have an entertainment like no other.

The main fuel is the spiralling repetitions of Stein’s dense, often difficult-to-read text. Ideas, for Stein, were fluid rather than contained, so that instead of trying to narrate and depict, she used words to conjure the ephemeral nature of thought and being. While, on the page, this may stretch many readers’ patience, it was amazingly invigorated by the witty and poetic articulation of Charlotte Engelkes, a very tall Swede, Marie Goyette, a medium-sized French Canadian, and Yumiko Tanaka, a very petite Japanese. The three women are variously actors, comediennes, mime artists, musicians and singers.

Stein’s words – like those of the Beach Boys – wear new clothes via the assorted accents, and the varying sizes of the performers is a source of visual incongruity and humour, just as it once was for John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett on television’s The Frost Report.

The humour is the main surprise in a show that created expectations of arty visual treats – although wondrous examples of these exist, too. Above all, Stein’s words become great comic labyrinths thanks to the deft timing and sometimes deadpan, sometimes light-hearted delivery of Engelkes and Goyette.

The piece itself evolves like a Stein spiel, with repetitions, evolutions and unexpected jumps. There are no monumental theatrical devices, just beautifully simple ideas and effects. A gong can become the wheel of a car; a bell can become a hot-air balloon; a Beach Boys pop song can unravel into a desperately sad piece of Japanese music (played by Tanaka), or the Japanese music can give way to Engelkes creating high comedy with that earliest of electronic instruments, the theremin, which generates pitch from the player’s movements between two aerials.

Goebbels may strive to generate the unexpected from the collision of his diverse sources, but links are to be found if you look for them.

The closing I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times epitomises the strange melancholy that haunts the show amid the wackiness, wit and wonder.

(John Shand)


From Ear to Eternity

Hashirigaki by Heiner Goebbels

The title of Heiner Goebbels’s music-theater piece, Hashirigaki, refers to a Japanese word for flowing, scripted writing. And like a pen rolling with effluence over paper, his production glides forward in fluid motion, celebrating flux. Each scene in this series of extended musical tableaux contains some moving cur-rent: Thick wavering lines project across the space, objects descend and swing overhead, performers sway back and forth or tread toward never found destinations. The stream of words and sound rarely abates, carrying one set of rhythms and images into the next. Even when contrasting elements abruptly collide, they quickly become re-absorbed into the production’s sumptuous textures.

Goebbels, a leading composer-director in Europe, explores relationships of image, sound, and text in this presentation by Theatre Vidy-Lausanne at BAM. But unlike a lot of cross-disciplinary performance today- – which often resists accrued meaning or refuses to allow fragmented components to add up – Goebbels’s work cultivates connections and looks for sensory and experiential depth. His compositions embody the fluctuations of con-sciousness, at all its speeds and in all its tones. We watch three versatile women (Charlotte Engelkes, Marie Goyette, and Yumiko Tanaka) of different heights and nationalities (Swedish, French Canadian, Japanese) perform his soundscapes; they range from traditional Japanese folk arrangements for the koto and samisen, to the theremin’s “pure” tones, to samples of Brian Wilson’s bouncy instru-mentals for Pet Sounds (the 1966 Beach Boys album). Relishing their various accents for hu-mor and charm, the women also recite selected passages from Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans a modernist epic describing the human family’s evolution over time.

Building on Stein’s always mutating lan-guage, Goebbels passes from entrancing percussion with finger cymbals to a harmonium solo to giddy pop. Rather than choreographing with the mechanized rigidity of, say, Robert Wilson – another director devoted to Stein’s formal rigors – Goebbels allows his perform-ers a degree of natural poise as they propel themselves through successive worlds. But the visual connections remain precise: A woman perceives a shadow cast on an up-stage screen and tries to align herself with it as it swells into a balloon and then morphs into a headless woman. After another dance in which the women sway in conical hoopskirts, three bells descend from the sky on ropes, mirroring the performers’ physiques and creating a new set of possibilities.

The environment seems always to be co-alescing into something greater or more complete. At Hashirigaki’s delightful zenith, Wilson’s “God Only Knows” vamps brightly as the women drag cardboard cutouts onstage; they create a little city moving in silhouette with skyscrapers, church steeples, buses, and houses with laundry lines. “Noise, continued noise, much noise,” they exclaim, “something someone is not hearing!” With such rich evocations of the world´s spectrum of noise, Goebbels makes listening to it pure pleasure, Hashirigaki revels in the omnipotent noise of consciousness; Compress Your Dreams, a short musical piece by Transmission Projects, is a search for silence. A large, glossy white platform, sloped at the edges, stands in the Gale Gates gallery’s center: a psychological tundra of ice and isolation. As the audience drifts in, a nameless young woman (played by the expres-sive Okwui Okpokwasili) gazes across the lonely expanse to the looped sounds of howling winds, which might also be heard as deep breaths. Inner and outer landscapes overlap more thoroughly when her doppelgänger (Anika Tromholt Kristensen) appears moments later, prompting self-interrogation through dialogue, songs, and mirroring-movement sequences.

Identically dressed in furlike coats, boots, and bucket-shaped hats, the women (or woman) inhabit their arctic environment as naturally as polar bears – and if polar bears could sing, they might very well produce the gentle croons of composer-performer Cynthia Hopkins. Her sound design provides the dreamier parts of the work’s title; she weaves feedback, speech samples from a live radio, digitally delayed loops of string and bow, and keyboard pulses into suggestive, resonant lay-ers. Her voice-overs are full of understated introspection, and her songs bring to mind Patti Smith with their musing fantasias – especially in the haunting final lyric for acoustic guitar (“A madman is a dreamer w ho doesn’t sleep”).

The abundance of musical monologues, ironically, fuels the protagonist’s anguish. If Goebbels shows us ecstatic figures reveling in the sonic boom of consciousness, here the mind’s noise oppresses the heroine, driving her quest for solace in silence. Unable to stop think-ing, remembering, and feeling, she finds herself curled in a fetal position on the ground. In mys-terious dialogue the woman occasionally al-ludes to an anonymous “him” who caused her recurring pain, and longs to release herself into the white expanse. Speaking text excerpted from Michael Baran’s Finnish play I ou Don’t Know What Love Is, the heroine intones, “I dream of the place of silence. the silence where you think you’re deaf.” When silence finally falls, on the heels of her meltdown somewhere near an imagined North Pole, the twin selves separate but long to be reunited. One sleeps restfully, while the other loses her footprints in the snow, hoping to wipe her life clean in quiet purity. Written by Kristensen, Compress Your Dreams sometimes labors with the text´s frosty ambiguitites and extremely sober performances, but Hopkins`s mind music reverberates far beyond the glacier´s edge.


NEW YORK TIMES, 21. March 2003

True Fluency In a Language Newly Made

Predictably, perhaps 20 minutes into “Hashirigaki,” Heiner Goebbels’s delectably mystifying theatrical tone poem, a couple of dozen people, evidently befuddled and impatient, left the Harvey Theater at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Wednesday night. Too bad for them.

Granted, the 90-minute work submerges an audience in an exotic pool of music, image and text that is certainly without the life raft of literal meaning that some theatergoers need to keep their interest afloat. But if you are willing to be seduced, the bewitching and breathtakingly eclectic spirit of the show, which runs through Sunday, can make you feel fluent in a new language.

The Japanese word hashirigaki refers both to a flowing, cursive script and to the idea of talking while walking; the word suggests a forward motion on the one hand and the attempt to capture a moment on the other. And though the show has no plot in the conventional sense, it does render abstractly – and with great beauty – this conflict between life’s evanescence and the natural human yearning to give it some kind of concrete meaning. And it does build to a kind of sweetly melancholy climax of resignation.

In this service, Mr. Goebbels has braided theatrical elements from several cultures and decades to create a pulsing, undulating stream of sounds and images. The most well-publicized of these are the show’s text, which comes from Gertrude Stein’s seminally modernist epic, “The Making of Americans” (which Stein completed in 1911 though it wasn’t published until 1925), and is delivered in fitful snippets by the show’s three performers; and part of the score, for which Mr. Goebbels has appropriated five songs written by Brian Wilson for the 1966 Beach Boys album, “Pet Sounds.”

These sources would seem so culturally disparate as to be random, but the coupling is crafty and meaningful. Stein’s mammoth novel is about four generations of a family, but what interests Mr. Goebbels is its passages of purposefully stylized prose, which employ limited vocabulary, uncustomary sentence structure and incantatory repetitions to create a sense of what the novelist and critic William H. Gass calls the “progressive present.” A typical example: “Certainly very many come together to see something, to hear something, to do something, to see some see something, to see some hear something, to hear some hear something, to feel something . . . “

Similarly, the music of the Beach Boys, with the insistent, lurching rhythms and droning harmonics that are redolent of the ocean, is equally suggestive of the existential paradox of moving forward and standing still.

But the Beach Boys and Gertrude Stein actually constitute only a small part of the overall aesthetic of “Hashirigaki.” The show is a hypnotic collage of effects, with Mr. Goebbels orchestrating the striking work of his designers. The set and lighting designer Klaus Grünberg, working largely against a concave backdrop, makes a series of lusciously evocative stage pictures punctuated by spectacular effects, like the Cy Twombly-esque scribbles of light that seem to fill up three dimensions on the stage.

Two-thirds of the way through, the performers seem to build an American town on the stage using cardboard cutouts, complete with an automobile, a church and a courthouse. Behind it, the backdrop shows a vast, vague mountainscape against the sky depicted in gloriously colored, modulating daylight. Weighted bells drop from the rafters on bungee cords and hang in the air, pendulously, like blimps. It’s intensely lovely.

The costumes of Florence von Gerkan – in one solo ballet, the dancer is swaddled in a silvery, cellophanelike cocoon – make especially humorous use of the size differences in the elegantly witty performers, one of whom is tiny (Yumiko Tanaka), one a half-foot taller (Marie Goyette) and one a half-foot taller again (Charlotte Engelkes). And the sound, by Willi Bopp, is as haunting as it is eclectic.

For one thing, the actresses are of different nationalities – Japanese, Canadian and Swedish, respectively – and their differently accented English becomes part of the score. For another, much of the show’s original music, by Mr. Goebbels, is in an Asian mode. And it is played by the performers on various instruments: stringed, like the traditional Japanese koto and samisen; electronic, like the theremin, the sound machine that specializes in spooky wah-wah effects; keyboarded, like the harmonium (a sort of pump organ); and percussive, from the hanging bells and an earthbound gong to finger cymbals and castanets.

It is also pertinent that Mr. Goebbels is not afraid of quietude. In this enthralling work of performance art, the language is heard.


Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival – Huddersfield Various venues.

[…] But the highlight of the festival was Heiner Goebbel´s wonderful, enchanting Hashirigaki, performed at the Lawrence Batley Theatre. You might know Goebbels from last year´s Surrogate Cities on ECM, and as the composer of radio sound art in Germany, but in a talk afterwards described himself modestly as a compiler of music: outtakes fromthe Beach Boys` Pet Sounds album set alongsiede Japanese folk music. The three theatre actress/singer/dancers – Marie Goyette, Charlotte Engelkes and Yumiko Tanaka – recited texts from Gertrude Stein´s The Making of Americans, in a well-enunciated and almost patronising delivery. Goebbels is a man of the theatre as much as a composer, and music and words were unified in a delightfully absurdist, make-believe world of play, owing as much to Teletubbies as any contemporary American drama. Balloons and bells decended from the ceiling, one of the players took an imaginary shoe-box dog for a walk, and a cardboard cutout bus ´driven´ ´by a nonchalant gum-chewing driver appeared on stage to take the three players on a journey. A darker tone was set for the closing scene, lit by a single garish light bulb, but as for the message I wouldn´t care the guess – maybe there wasn´t one. Lighting an sets were perfect. Unfogettable but sadly there was only one performance. You had to be there.

(Andy Hamilton)

THE GUARDIAN, 21.12.2001

The year in classical music

Perhaps by now we should have learned to be grateful for small mercies. The collapse that has so frequently been predicted for the classical-music world failed to materialise for one more year at least, though the aftershocks of September 11 are already having an effect on funding. Even the record industry remained largely intact, though one distinctive label, Nimbus, went to the wall, and some of the major companies have been streamlining their outputs so that there are regular reports of high-calibre performers finding themselves without a recording contract.

That’s not to say, though, that it has been a vintage year for British music. There have been few great changes in the fortunes of London orchestras; the LSO has continued to produce work of the highest calibre with Colin Davis as its chief conductor, and is benefiting from having its home at the acoustically remodelled Barbican, where there is a real sense of enterprise and imagination about the artistic planning. The Philharmonia and the London Philharmonic are still struggling to preserve their distinctive profile on the South Bank, which, in the year the Festival Hall celebrated its 50th anniversary, seems more bereft of creative ideas and guiding management than at any time in its existence.

It has been a good year for the regional orchestras: the Bournemouth Symphony has found itself a sensible new chief conductor in Marin Alsop, the City of Birmingham Symphony and Sakari Oramo are at last settling into a fruitful partnership, and now have Julian Anderson as composer-in-association, while after only a few months the Hallé in Manchester is starting to reap the benefits of having secured Mark Elder as its music director.

Not much excitement in opera, either. While the Royal Opera seems to be marking time until the arrival of Antonio Pappano next autumn, it came up with two classy new productions: Nikolaus Lehnoff’s staging of Hennze’s Boulevard Solitude, and David McVicar’s Rigoletto, as well as a Parsifal – conducted by Simon Rattle, who this summer finally signed his contract at the Berlin Philharmonic – that was by all accounts first rate musically but uninspired dramatically. But the visit of the Kirov Opera to Covent Garden for a Verdi season in July was a disappointment, musically indifferent and theatrically more or less inept.

English National Opera had a mixed year, with new shows ranging from the abject (a Marriage of Figaro that should have been aborted in rehearsals) through the controversial (Calixto Bieto’s staging of Don Giovanni, which outraged many but was full of fresh and – literally – penetrating ideas) to the first rate (McVicar’s Rape of Lucretia and Tim Albery’s staging of Prokofiev’s War and Peace, a white elephant of a piece that nevertheless showed the company at its best). ENO was also the one major opera company to manage a premiere in 2001 – David Sawer’s From Morning to Midnight, which in the event was something of a disappointment from such a promising composer.

It was a less than remarkable year for new music: Aldeburgh presented the British premiere of Alexander Goehr’s operatic double bill, Kantan and Damask Drum, but did it no service by clothing it in a production of utter fatuousness. Goehr was also one of the composers favoured with a Proms commission, which were generally unremarkable; out of the 20-odd new works it is hard to identify one that is likely to be heard often again.

So the indelible memories to take away from the year are relatively few – just three, in fact. Krystian Zimerman’s Brahms and Beethoven piano recital at the Festival Hall in June was final proof, if it were still needed, that Zimerman merits a place among the greatest pianists of all time. The arrival of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim at the end of the Proms for two concerts finally galvanised what had been an underwhelming season with playing of the highest class. Best of all for me, though, was Heiner Goebbels’s latest theatre piece, Hashirigaki, a highlight of an Edinburgh festival otherwise full of operas in concert performance; Goebbels brings together Gertrude Stein and the Beach Boys in a magical synthesis that, like all the greatest art, is utterly unclassifiable.

(Andrew Clements)

THE GUARDIAN, 28.08.2001


Rating *****

If the release of the Beach Boys’ 1966 album Pet Sounds was one of the seismic events of your musical youth, and if you think that God Only Knows is still the greatest pop song ever written, then Heiner Goebbels’s new theatre piece will be 80 minutes of pure, unadulterated delight.

For those without direct access to that particular bag of nostalgia, it must still represent a quite remarkable achievement. Hashirigaki is a fusion of extraordinarily diverse cultural elements – the Beach Boys’ songs, Japanese folk music and Gertrude Stein’s mammoth novel The Making of Americans – brought together with Goebbels’s characteristic alchemy.

The whole thing is presented by three women who act, sing, dance and play in a ravishing visual setting that holds the audience enchanted from the first surreal image to the last.

The piece was brought to Edinburgh for just two performances by Thétre Vidy-Lausanne, which presented the world premiere last year. The Japanese title is elusive – with connotations of running, rushing and writing fluently, it’s the first word of a famous kabuki drama, and seems to encapsulate the way in which Goebbels makes his allusive mix cohere.

His starting point was not, in fact, Pet Sounds itself, but a set of CDs that emerged more recently, detailing the sessions and out-takes that went into the making of the classic LP.

The unearthly singing of the Beach Boys is never heard in Hashirigaki, but the backing tracks haunt the sculpted soundscape, in which the theremin, an early electronic instrument used on Pet Sounds and then immortalised by the same band on Good Vibrations, plays an important role.

The yearning opening of God Only Knows launches a series of Stein’s typically opaque fables, delivered with wonderful deadpan seriousness; Don’t Talk becomes a song-and-dance number as the women don outrageous wigs and turn themselves into a Ronettes-style trio; I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times is the essence of the lingering, intensely poetic epilogue.

The Japanese folk numbers provide the cool counterweight but, as remarkable koto player Yumiko Tanaka shows, that soundworld can metamorphose into a fine replica of bluegrass music in an instance. Cultural boundaries – between east and west, popular culture and high art – are dissolved.

Everything becomes part of a unique dramatic world, in which the array of arresting gestures and movements – akin to Robert Wilson’s theatre, but with gentle, affectionate wit replacing his tendentiousness – knits everything together. The three performers (Tanaka, Swedish singer and dancer Charlotte Engelkes and Canadian pianist Marie Goyette) are extraordinary in their versatility and poise, and have been signed up to bring the show to London’s Barbican before too long. Book as soon as the dates are announced, because Hashirigaki is an unclassifiable, unforgettable experience – the stuff that masterpieces are made of. King’s Theatre

(Andrew Clements)

RZECZPOSPOLITA (Warsaw) 9.10.04

Pure satisfaction

“Hashirigaki” – despite of it’s title, being an expression used in Japanese kabuki theater, meaning quick writing or rush – was a performance celebrated with dignity, slowed down in a magical way. The rush was left behind the theater’s door.

The Swiss director Heiner Goebbels showed us the theatrical perfection in beautiful, static scenes, completed with music played by three performers and their singing. There was hardly any plot in the performance. We could see several études, composed in a very interesting way. In these études one could see and hear some pieces of Gertrude Stein’s “The Making of Americans”, the Beach Boys’ album “Pet Sounds” and Japanese folk music. They were mostly what we could call “tableaux vivants” (live paintings) – the spectator was charmed by the performers’ movements and gestures, by the images painted with colorful lights.

The three performers were being carefully chosen – the long-legged, red-haired Charlotta Engelkes from Sweden, dark-haired Marie Goyette from Canada and Yumiko Tanaki from Japan. As the differences in height between the actresses reached up to twenty centimetres, they created a sort of a triangle while standing besides each other. All three showed us amazing versatility: concerning choreography – in their synchronous movement; concerning music – in playing various instruments, including the oriental ones; the vocal one – astonishing timbre and purity of their voices.

Heiner Goebbels is not only a theater director, but also a composer. His performance was being composed like a symphony. The silent surrealistic scenes, cold and distanced, were contrasted with the warmth of music and lyric mood of short aphorisms being said. All together worked with Swiss precision.

It’s so good to see there are still people, who want to give others the pure artistic satisfaction. Totally unpretentious, which is so different from what we observe in all the trendy theater productions, which are trying to shock the spectator showing him all the anomalies and dirt of everyday life, which are being hidden under the mask of saving the world. This is the delight of watching performances like “Hashirigaki” which lets us live with dignity by giving us hope.

(Janusz R. Kowalczyk)


[…] There is one second where they don’t know anything from each other, one moment only, then they meet each other’s gaze, on a narrow path in front of a wall with two doors opening and closing: three women play many women, for example the woman with the market basket, the woman with the potted plant, the woman with the tuba, the woman with the surfing board. They appear, and they go away. These women are like an accessory sound that already disappears when we just noticed it. But their steps, strengthened by the electronic, produce a constant rhythm; it is the rhythm of the passage, and it is comforting. Because even though none of these women can be stopped, one knows it: the next will come soon.

The poet and sound magician Heiner Goebbels composed with Hashirigaki his first “musical”. The title comes from the Japanese language, from the kabuki play “Dead in Amijima” of Chikamatsu, and means on the one hand “to hurry” and on the other hand “to write fluidly, to sketch”; one could also say: on the one hand “passage”, on the other hand “sound composition”, as one knows it by Goebbels, this handyman of the modern world sound space, that pulls everything that resounds and collides in its cosmos, makes it appear and quickly disappear again. A maniac of the “way through” who pricks up his ears in all directions, without getting lost. The passage follows its own laws, an element brings the other, and one can hardly remember that it’s already the end.

Last year during the week of the Berlin radio game, Heiner Goebbels told a lot about himself, without speaking of himself. He talked about Jean-Luc Godard and the sound track of “La Nouvelle Vague”; the whole movie is on CD, and one can hear that Godard composes its world in the same way as Goebbels. During his conference, Goebbels kept his finger on the tape recorder, forward, reverse, one afternoon with two minutes of movie: a cello, voices, a car door closing itself, some dogs barking, a woman shouting; one could call that “atmosphere”. Goebbels said: “The problem is always: how to avoid the impact [the fall or the raid]? I find it terrible, when one has an idea, that he can finally not assure it. That’s why I try and find several reasons for every composition, for every subject”. The method for making this is called Hashirigaki.

During the first German performance of Hashirigaki, at the Schauspielhaus of Hamburg, one must definitely admit that he is completely impressed. It is as if Goebbels this time had polished its passage until the maximal burst, and this without moving back from the handicraft as soon as the scene of Klaus Grünberg bends itself toward a horizon illuminated by an astounding beauty, it looks like the kit of makeup of Bob Wilson. An extra-beautiful green with luminous projections in extra-beautiful spirals, extra-beautiful women in extra-beautiful costumes, constantly swapped with others just as extra-beautiful: crinolines, chrysalis envelopes, metallic grey overalls of spacewomen, it will certainly be in vogue.

One can only defend himself against this eyes attack by closing his lids. And here comes again the familiar Hashirigaki tonality, for which one makes pilgrimage to Goebbels’ performances: ringing of bells, songs, electronic chirping of birds, some Japanese sounds far away, a woman’s scream. The sound machine suffocates, a woman disappears, and the next one is already ready. Charlotte Engelkes, Marie Goyette, and Yumiko Tanaka remain oddly lonely, not really a trio, but rather three points of a shape, each for oneself, with a lot of good taste and no closeness.

Goebbels seems to have told himself that if it must be a musical, then it can be also somewhat smoothed. Even when he calls in Gertrud Stein and her novel “The Making of Americans”, continual repetitions don’t give any freedom to the signification, but to the rhythm and the sound of the words. There is not much to tell in that, there is more to hum. But the aesthetic of the wanted extra-beautiful suffocates the pop music that is otherwise quite like at home. Anyway, it doesn’t take long until the beautiful music of the Beach Boys resounds, without voice, purely instrumental : “God only knows what I’ll be without you”. In fact, the evening becomes suddenly light and it takes off. Passages of big cardboard cities decorate the stage: skyscrapers, a cathedral, a factory. A cardboard bus silhouette is carried across the stage, and if you take a precise look at it, you can see that some women are looking out of the window; just a second during which one doesn’t know yet anything about them.

“Come close, close your eyes and be still. Don’t talk, take my hand, and listen to my heart… beat. Listen. Listen. Listen. “Here come the Beach Boys again. They said everything about Hashirigaki.

(Ralph Hammerthaler)


A theatre for the eyes, ears and nose

Texts of Gertrud Stein and music by Brian Wilson: ” Hashirigaki ” filled the audience with enthusiasm.

“We make a thing, then we make another one”. The texts of Gertrud Stein are compositions in prose. What is fascinating is not the sense, but definitely the rhythm of the language – created also by repetitions. The books of Stein must be read loudly. Heiner Goebbels makes that it achieves itself. “The Making of Americans” is the basis of his musical play “Hashirigaki”, the first performance of which was played on Thursday at the Deutsche Schauspielhaus.

In this coproduction (among others with the Theater Vidy-Lausanne), three women are at the centre of it. The Japanese Yumiko Tanaka, the Franco-Canadian Marie Goyette, and the Swedish Charlotte Engelkes – who belongs to the troupe of the Schauspielhaus since this season. Goebbels constructed around the artists a theatrical world of light, music, language, sounds and movements. “We live, love, dream… “We build cardboard cities and make them fly up to the sky. Bells of cow hang over grounds of rope, ring in a gloomy way, turn into balloons and float. Goebbels is a magician. His art is a theatre for the senses. For the eyes and the ears and, after a small explosion, even for the nose.

Blue, green, yellow, red colours of a powerful beauty, the light designer Klaus Grünberg convenes them by magic on the semi-circle of the stage, traces of light looking like spirals of writing that seize the actresses and let them disappear. Then the three women are back again, each of them with an instrument case. They produce a western oriental sound coming out from vibrations of traditional Japanese music and rhythms of the Beach Boys.

Among other things, “Hashirigaki” means “to hurry”. It may have been the literary style of Stein, but for the production of Goebbels, the word is misleading. We don’t hurry, we hover, hold by the hand of these three expressive women who walk toward the art on a stuffed ground -through the language of Gertrud Stein and the music of Brian Wilson, through the time and the space and through our consciousness. “Some come together to see something, to hear something “. To be together, to see something, to hear something. One moment of happiness!

(Friede Karl)

IL MANIFESTO, 13.10.2000

The sound adventure

“Hashirigaki”, the last creation of Heiner Goebbels

Pay attention to the sounds. The noise-sounds: a kind of twigs rustles (sweet percussion). Pay attention to the Beach Boys song-sounds. To the swing and cool rhythm of Gertrude Stein, with added vocal games that we will define of lovely: there is that chattering, that grace, that subtle melancholy. Pay attention to the light touches of Japanese traditional music spaced out, in a rhythmic scansion, by luminous castanets clattering (lightning) and everything appears on a magnificent “Pollockian” cyclorama. A solo of jazz exquisitely played by the musician-singer-actress Charlotte Engelkes whose hands engender languor and spasms through an electrical generator of sounds. Hung on very thin threads some bells dangle, while the cyclorama colour is ice blue like the “appearance” screen of an iMac or an iBook computer, and the three muses -besides Charlotte, Marie Goyette and Yumiko Tanaka are on stage- ring those bells running from one to the other. More of the Beach Boys songs and more of the repetitive cantilena of Gertrude on a pastel sunset backdrop.

ln such theatricality and visual invention, at the pleasant and innocent threshold of “Bob Wilson magic world”, it is the sound, the light and unrestrained sound adventure, that leads the magnificently foolish story of Hashirigaki, last production of Heiner Goebbels, which was played for the first time in Lausanne at the end of September and as first Italian performance at the Teatro Nazionale during the RomaEuropa Festival. Foolish. Amazing. Charming. With a continuous interlacing of theatrical and musical situations, because the music doesn’t keep silent “off stage”: one can hear short melodious phrases that imitate and shatter the Beach Boys tunes, and then percussive flashes and faint electronic whistling arrive. This empty horror tormenting the author just like a pleasant virus is evident. Happy inheritance if, like here, it helps to preserve this very light dance character of the action.

So it’s not just a way of talking when today people are saying that Heiner Goebbels is the most interesting composer among those of the “post-post-avant-garde” generation. He offers through a drastic interpretation the criterion of using a plurality of idioms in all fields. He doesn’t play the game of “contamination”, thinking that one is thus lying on the dialogue sofa among melodrama, jazz, rock and twentieth century to make stupid patchworks which are skilfully dedicated to the Great Restoration. Historically talking, we can find in his music ethnic references, hard rock and underground rock, free jazz, complete improvisation, radiodrama, theatre, European and American neo-avant-garde, music of films, pop music. References? Much more than that. There are in his productions all these idioms in the abundance of their communicative message, a rigorous mixture from which another language comes out. Bewitching.

Not a cocktail music then. A new music that is described, just from habit as formed by so many different types. Goebbels did assimilate the “types”, he frequents them with passion but the extremist and colloquial action (colloquial because extremist, extremist because colloquial) of his sound creation transforms them. Nevertheless they are recognisable. Even literal. As in this Hashirigaki. A show where the manipulation of sound fragments concerns the reading (very musical) of some pages of “The Making of Americans” of Gertrude Stein, Japanese traditional music (often modulated and transformed), the songs of the Beach Boys Pet sound album (in a delicious game of nostalgia and rewriting for a neo-Dadaist musical). Theatre. Dance. Video. Three women, three artists of the theatrical multiplicity that are the main characters. Of a beautiful score. Because this is the feeling: in Hashirigaki, the listening forms the point of involvement, of pleasant crisis, of stimulating break with the theatrical conventions.

(Mario Gamba)

LA STAMPA, 11.10.2000

The cheerful lightness of “Hashirigaki”

“This work was conceived in such an ingenious way, so fascinating and so in advance compared to the rest, that the only immediate reaction is to be dumbstruck, with a grimace of amazement and a “Bravo” shouted with a choked voice”.

That is what can be read on the pages of the Times about Hashirigaki, the musical show of Heiner Goebbels, played tonight at the Teatro Nazionale as part of the RomaEuropa Festival. Freely inspired by “The Making of Americans” of Gertrude Stein, by her taste for questions without answer, by Japan for the shapes, by the painting and the brain waves of Rimbaud, Hashirigaki is a miscellany of styles and diverse materials from pop to avant-garde, endowed with a strong theatrical print which almost enables us “to see with the ears”.

After having collaborated with masters of the improvisation such as Don Cherry and Arto Lindsay, Goebbels art tackles innovative solutions in the world of the European contemporary music. The German producer imagines other connections between the body and its double, between the person and the space, and he smiles in front of incredible musical elements, in front of the miracle of ephemeral mirages. Hashirigaki is a really beautiful show, the brightness of which comes from the lightness of the work.

(Rossella Fabiani)

THE GUARDIAN, 21.11.02


Heiner Goebbels’ music-theatre piece Hashirigaki is a virtuosic mix of cultures, sounds, and images. It fuses excerpts from Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans with songs from the Beach Boys album, Pet Sounds; and it is staged for three female performers who are simultaneously musicians, dancers and actors. That combination suggests some kind of commentary on American culture, or a metaphor for contemporary multiculturalism. Yet, in reality, Hashirigaki is much less about social or political meaning than the creation of a compelling but elusive theatrical world. The show is full of magical musical and visual moments.

Seeing The Beach Boys’ I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times sung in European and Japanese accents, played by a theremin and a collection of bells, and accompanied by the original backing track, is a thrilling and weird experience. Yet this unexpected meeting of cultures emerges completely naturally within the context of the rest of the 75-minute show. In one sequence, the three performers, Charlotte Engelkes, Marie Goyette, and Yumiko Tanaka, transform a suite of Japanese and western instruments into a miniature cardboard city: an organ becomes a skyscraper, and Tanaka’s costume turns her into a tower block.

After a passage of ritualised violence, in which Tanaka furiously beats a metal disc, the action morphs seamlessly into a version of another Beach Boys track, Don’t Talk. Every aspect of the production inhabits the same allusive universe: from Stein’s repetitive texts to Florence von Gerkan’s suggestive costumes, which transform the performers into everything from giant, luminous eggs to boiler-suited workers. The theatrical range encompassed by Engelkes, Goyette, and Tanaka is stunning. They make Stein’s texts sound genial and conversational, their actions and movements are brilliantly coordinated, and Tanaka’s mastery of a variety of Japanese instruments is spellbinding.

From all of this diversity, Goebbels creates an inexplicable but coherent theatrical grammar, one that includes humour and emotion. In one section, Engelkes and Goyette move in an undulating wave across the apron of the stage, as they recite a text that muses on the niceties of language and pronunciation. After a long silence, a shout of Mexico! in a Spanish accent is bizarrely, but genuinely, funny. Their version of Caroline No is strange and moving, as they accompany their vocals with a delicate embellishment of finger cymbals and exotic percussion.

But the most powerful sounds in Hashirigaki are those of the theremin: noises of this ethereal, electronic instrument encapsulate the mysterious world of the whole show.

(Tom Service)

Video: Revista Enclave