Theater der Welt 2023 Incubation Pod. Dreaming worlds

29 June – 16 July

Germany’s most important international theater festival returned to the Frankfurt Rhine-Main region after almost 40 years and showcased fascinating theater, dance, performance and installation art formats from 29 June to 16 July, 2023.

The 16th edition of the festival took place from 29 June to 16 July 2023 in Frankfurt and Offenbach – initiated, organised and implemented by the three Frankfurt cultural institutions Künstler*innenhaus Mousonturm, Museum Angewandte Kunst and Schauspiel Frankfurt, as well as the Amt für Kulturmangement der Stadt Offenbach (Offenbach Council Office for Cultural Management) as associated partner. Program director and Japanese festival organizer Chiaki Soma’s curatorial concept responded to current events in Europe and the world.

Premieres, guest performances, innovative, experimental, small fine, large loud, thoughtful, stirring images and experiences were brought to Offenbach and Frankfurt with Theater der Welt 2023. Participative city projects with participants from Frankfurt and Offenbach provided a special kind of connection between the two cities, the participants and the spectators.

For Theater der Welt, the Museum Angewandte Kunst – one of the festival’s central meeting points – was transformed into an Incubation Pod, a kind of giant incubation capsule. Here you could experience interactive installations, virtual realities, performances, workshops, and talks that each drew on aspects of the idea of incubationism in their own individual ways, stimulating thoughts and dreams. On two weekends, the museum stayed open late into the night in order to offer extended, somnambulant visits to the various artistic environments inhabiting the Incubation Pod.

Theater der Welt Festival program

Program at the Museum Angewandte Kunst

Sister or He Buried the Body
Trajal Harrell
Zurich | Athens

© Orpheas Emirzas

This seated solo by the internationally renowned choreographer Trajal Harrell presents links between two seemingly distant dance cultures: voguing, a dance style that emerged from the underground Harlem ballroom scene during the 1980s, and butoh, a dance form conceived in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s. Harrell focuses on the body as a vessel for memories, the past, and figures from (dance) history. He creates a speculative re-ordering of contemporary dance in which previously neglected historical currents converge. By weaving together different concepts of time and transcultural references, Sister or He Buried the Body makes the rich layers of contemporary dance vividly apparent.

Saodat Ismailova
Tashkent | Paris

© Carlos Casas

According to Central Asian legend, one day a young woman vanished and turned into the planet Venus, the bright morning star that continues to this day to make women’s wishes come true. In a breath-taking video installation, Saodat Ismailova knits together images, text, and sound into a polyphonic experience of time and matriarchal history. Where intimate personal recollections coincide with collective historical memory, Zukhra touches on themes that include grief, the dissolution of boundaries and the history of women’s liberation in Central Asia. Resting on traditional Uzbek mattresses, we see a woman sleeping, hear her heartbeat and sounds from her past. This emblematic image of the sleeper, the dreamer, which gradually disappears opens a journey through the artistic dream worlds of the Incubation Pod.

Palu Ángel Taizōkai
London | Berlin

© Keiken

This interactive installation, specially designed by the artist collective Keiken for the Incubation Pod, combines two immersive, meditative works which invite visitors to delve into speculative forms of existence and to explore new realms of perception and consciousness.
Bet(a) Bodies are artificial meta-wombs that visitors can wear and that emit sound frequencies and vibrations across the body. Those sounds stem from animal species such as bats, dolphins, crickets, and frogs, which communicate via ultrasound. As a kind of empathy device, the Bet(a) Bodies activate animal, instinctual and emotional parts of the brain.
The new VR work Taizōkai uses 360° glasses and bone sound conduction to dream up landscapes of a “protopian” world – a better future world that is not striving to be perfect.

Echo’s Chamber – World premiere
Boogaert/VanderSchoot (BvdS)

© Boogaerdt/VanderSchoot

Bodies vibrate and produce sound. Even when they seem to be silent. Far removed from the empty echo chambers where people are fed by algorithms with only what they already want to know and hear, Boogaerdt/VanderSchoot (BVDS) explore Echo’s Chamber as an open, poetic, mythological meeting space and portal. Here a creature grows from an underground fungal tissue that is neither man nor woman, neither animal nor vegetable: Pan, Actaeon, Dionysus, Osiris, or the Green Man – a creature that has always been here, yet is constantly in the process of evolving. With an immersive installation and performance specially devised for the Incubation Pod, BVDS, accompanied by virtual guards, stage an eavesdropping world that transcends superficial perceptions.

Performing Acupuncture – European premiere
Aya Momose

© Shun Sato

What do we desire or imagine when acupuncture needles enter our bodies? In the Incubation Pod, Aya Momose presents a tactile therapy performance in which bodies become the stage. While bodily proximity and touch became taboo in some parts of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, in this performance the Japanese artist risks direct contact through acupuncture needles, exploring the boundaries between the conscious and the unconscious, pain and pleasure, treatment and sensuality.

Jokanaan – European premiere
Aya Momose

© ToLoLo studio

The severed head of John the Baptist is lying on a silver platter, but Salome ecstatically begs him to look at her. In her video installation Jokanaan, Aya Momose reworks this famous opera scene: while a man moves his mouth and body along to the intense opera soundtrack, his movements are digitized using motion-capture techniques and transferred to the computer-generated fantasy figure of a woman. The juxtaposition of these two bodies and their gestures creates the illusion of a tense love affair. But where are the emotions located?

Social Dance
Aya Momose

© Aya Momose

A woman is lying in bed, talking to her ex-partner. She is upset. We cannot hear any words: their conversation is conducted in sign language. It is an emotional and moving scene. There are gaps in communication, and misunderstandings. Aya Momose’s documentary video work concentrates on the personal experiences and forms of language of a Deaf dancer. It focusses on the hands as a mouthpiece and mirror of our innermost thoughts and feelings. By conveying intimacy, trust, and acceptance, they can strengthen relationships.

Prometheus Unbound – European premiere
Meiro Koizumi

© Meiro Koizumi

Human avatars, their bodies, whispers, dreams, and nightmares fill the virtual space that visitors of the Incubation Pod can explore with VR glasses. Only a few fragments of the ancient tragedy Prometheus Unbound have survived. Whether Prometheus is reconciled with Zeus, whether and how he is eventually freed, remains uncertain. In Part Two of his Prometheus Trilogy, artist Meiro Koizumi reconceives these ancient fragments into an interactive performance for the pandemic present. We hear the voices of young migrant workers who were stuck in Japan during the Covid19 pandemic, trapped in the unknown. It is these present-day human paradoxes that Prometheus Unbound enables us to experience as an “unfettered dream” in virtual and physical space.

Prometheus the Fire-bringer – European premiere
Meiro Koizumi | Yokohama

© Meiro Koizumi, Annet Gelink Gallery (Amsterdam), MUJIN-TO Production (Tokyo), Arts Commons Tokyo

With the help of technology, humans are penetrating ever deeper into the secrets of the body. Tracing elements of the ancient Prometheus myth, artist Meiro Koizumi uses cutting-edge media technologies to explore the boundaries of the experiential. His latest performative installation invites visitors to enter small incubation cocoons where they embark on a journey into an infinite forest – a return to the earth. Guided by the voice of a child, one visitor at a time is immersed in a virtual reality where their sense of touch and perception of their bodies will ultimately change. With Prometheus the Fire-Bringer, Koizumi completes the final chapter of his neo-futuristic Prometheus VR Trilogy, creating a mythical future in which humans, technology, and nature dissolve into one another.

Die Werkstatt
El Warcha

© Nao Maltese I Pragma Studio

Die Werkstatt (The Workshop) is a variable, walk-through and performative installation constructed out of found and recycled materials by the Tunisian artists’ collective El Warcha (Arabic for “the workshop”). Part of the Incubation Pod, this space is particularly aimed at young people and functions as an imaginative playground, meeting point and place to relax. A flexible recreation area that invites all visitors to spend time and redesign the museum space in a playful and if necessary – using drills and other materials at hand – to collectively create an environment that will evolve and grow as visitors come by. In the evenings, the playground is transformed into a dreamscape where people can linger and which will also accommodate talks with festival artists.