Growing up directly under the shadow of the iron curtain between the West (provided we agree that East Austria is Western) and the Eastern bloc nations (Hungary) – the manned look-out tower stood at the bottom of the garden at the edge of the cornfield - Michael Gissenwehrer cultivated an early interest in East/West relations. Michael graduated from Vienna University with a PhD in Theatre and studied in Taiwan and the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing completing theses on the training of Beijing Opera and Chinese propaganda theatre . He has taught at Bayreuth and Mainz Universities as well as Vienna and currently holds a position at Munich University as Professor of Theatre Research with particular focus on performative traditions and events in different cultures in terms of theatre buildings and performance space in Greek, Roman, Renaissance theatre as well as Shakespeare. Alongside this historical approach, Michael is currently involved in research on contemporary German, English and Chinese drama.
The Olympic Ceremonies offer excellent material for the study of how theatre cultures are entwined as well as of each culture’s method of self-representation. They are one unified performance with cyclical interruptions that are nonetheless picked up and continued at different sites. The competitive nature of the cities applying to host the Games forces changes on these festivities according to the own theatrical means. Thus, the concept of a global performance is enriched and a model for the following host city is provided.
My focus lies not only on (stereo)typical forms of ritual and entertainment. I will also look at the entire range of bodily expressions including culturally specific ones and those that are deeply imprinted with borrowed techniques. The earliest Olympic Ceremonies were principally known to be military-like formations, decorative choreography and mass dances. Increasingly, there has been a concrete shift from a dramaturgy relying on set pieces towards the representation of a story requiring monumental props. The human body—diminished by the dimensions of the stadium, though supported by projections, light, and the use of real horses, tableaux carts and even cars—still has a unique function to fulfil in these ceremonies. The human body is the story-teller, entertainer, representative—immersed in its own cultural techniques or re-created as a new being formed out of the various international artists and event companies available. In the Olympic Ceremonies, the human body is a frame of reference as well as an opposing pole to the bodies of the competitors.