In Munich, a Theater’s Ambitious New Era Starts Mid-Pandemic

In Munich, a Theater’s Ambitious New Era Starts Mid-Pandemic

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Masks were the only things worn by the otherwise naked performers in “Habitat/Munich,” a dance piece choreographed by Doris Uhlich on one of the theater’s smaller stages. A dozen Munich locals perform this hourlong work for an audience of 40. Supported by techno beats, the dancers explore distancing in the social context of performance.

The dancers’ gestures and movements alternate between lyrical and violent, and the result is both absorbing and difficult to watch. Bodies of various ages, shapes and sizes seem to be revealed in all their strength and vulnerability. Physical contact is forbidden. Locked in their individual routines, the dancers appear radically alone.

In the finale, they crawl into large plastic bags. The group of enclosed bodies convenes in the center of the stage for a collective embrace that feels more melancholy than cathartic.

Erwin Aljukic is among the “Habitat” dancers. An expressive performer with osteoporosis, he often dances around his wheelchair. Aljukic is a new ensemble member, seemingly evidence of Mundel’s commitment to making the theater an inclusive space for differently abled performers.

That sentiment is on display in “It’s Me Frank,” a main stage production starring Julia Häusermann, an engaging Swiss actress with Down syndrome. In this hourlong performance, Häusermann introduces herself, sings along to cheesy pop songs, dances and interacts with audience members. Yet despite her charisma, Nele Jahnke’s video- and music-heavy production feels slight, with hardly enough ideas to sustain its length.

The Kammerspiele’s final two premieres suggest continuity with the Lilienthal era, when foreign theater collectives and authors were often invited to work at the house. “The Assembly,” a co-production with the Canadian documentary theater group Porte Parole, is also the most overtly political among the premieres.

Sitting around a dinner table, actors reconstruct a political discussion this year in which four Munich residents debated a number of hot-button issues, with Annette Paulmann and Wiebke Puls as moderators.

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