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Prospective Genealogies: Einar Schleef's Choric Theatre1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2009


Since the 1980s, a growing number of performances in Europe have created new forms of choric theatre in search of altered concepts of the political. In Germany, one of its pioneers was the GDR-born director Einar Schleef (1944–2001). The article explores his oeuvre, from his first choric production Mothers (1986), a classical drama project, to his last production, Betrayed People (2000), which focused on the problem of revolution in Germany. Schleef's genealogical project reintroduced the chorus as a repressed figure that develops a spectral potentiality. Through a detailed analysis of Schleef's approach to performing history, the article examines how choric theatre initiates theatrical processes of cultural remembrance and creates a relation to the past that becomes generative of the future.

Copyright © International Federation for Theatre Research 2009

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2 See Seven Easy Pieces (2005) at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.

3 See e.g. Make Me Stop Smoking (2006).

4 Foucault, Michel, ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’, in The Foucault Reader, ed. Rabinow, Paul (New York: Pantheon 1984), pp. 76101Google Scholar, here pp. 80–1 and 83.

5 Foucault, ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’, pp. 93 and 87.

6 See Erika Fischer-Lichte, Doris Kolesch and Christel Weiler, eds., Transformationen. Theater der 90er Jahre (Berlin: Theater der Zeit, 1999); or the special issue of Theater der Zeit, 4 (2006).

7 See Erika Fischer-Lichte, ‘The Rebirth of Tragedy out of the Chorus’, in idem, Theatre, Sacrifice, Ritual: Exploring Forms of Political Theatre (London and New York: Routledge, 2005), pp. 240–52; Matthias Dreyer, ‘Griechische Tragödien als chorisches Theater bei Einar Schleef, Theatercombinat und Theodoros Terzopoulos’, in Ernst Osterkamp, ed., Wissensästhetik (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2008); for a closer look on Schleef's Mütter see Miriam Dreysse Passos de Carvalho, Szene vor dem Palast. Die Theatralisierung des Chores im Theater Einar Schleefs (Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 1999).

8 Nietzsche, Friedrich, ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life’, in idem, Untimely Meditations, tr. Hollingdale, R.J., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 60CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Bernhard Waldenfels, Topografie des Fremden. Studien zur Phänomenologie des Fremden I (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1997), 51.

10 Petra Kohse, Tageszeitung, 2 June 2000.

11 Koselleck, Reinhart, ‘Vom Sinn und Unsinn der Geschichte’, in and Jörn Rüsen, eds., Historische Sinnbildung (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1997), pp. 7997Google Scholar, here pp. 86 ff.

12 Regarding the concept of historical energy see Rokem, Freddie, Performing History: Theatrical Representations of the Past in Contemporary Theatre (Iowa City: Iowa University Press, 2000)Google Scholar.

13 See e.g. Gebhardt, Bruno, ed., Handbuch der Deutschen Geschichte, Vol. 4.1 (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1973), p. 161Google Scholar.

14 See Schleef, Droge Faust Parsifal (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1997), p. 12.

15 See Christina Schmidt, ‘Proszenium, Orchestra und Orchester. Zur Topographie fragiler Theaterorte’ available at, accessed 24 November 2008.

16 Nietzsche,’On the Uses and Disadvantages of History’, p. 64.

17 The notion of burying the past is another recurrent motif in Schleef, e.g. in Wessis in Weimar at the Berliner Ensemble (1993) which quoted Heine: ‘The old and evil songs, / The dreams so evil and bad, / Let us bury them now. . .’