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International Research Center »Interweaving Performance Cultures«

1. Point of departure

Processes of interweaving have a long history and can be found in and between different cultures. Today they have become discernable particularly in the international composition of theatre, opera, and dance ensembles as well as in the collaborations of artists from different cultures. Most notably, interweaving can be recognized in international theatre festivals: a worldwide phenomenon, they bring together productions from different parts of the world and present them to culturally diverse audiences.

All over the world, more and more new forms and types of interweaving are currently coming into being. While some of these interweaving practices make it explicit that a diversity of strands are being intertwined, others tap into the notion of localization to an extent that the performance as a whole is barely recognisable as the result of interweaving and appears “local” through and through. With the establishment of this Research Center, it became possible for the first time to investigate these manifold and very specific dynamics of cultural processes by developing the guiding concept of “Verflechtungen von Theaterkulturen/Interweaving Performance Cultures” and to probe its scope and its productiveness.

A significant point of departure was that these processes of interweaving inherently possess an explicitly political and social dimension—irrespective of the particular content or subject matter. Processes of interweaving can be detected where the contextualization, appropriation, or adaptation of theatrical elements comes to the fore. 

But where is the political dimension of processes of interweaving obvious? How did the familiarization with ‘Western theatre,’ for example, influence performative practices in other parts of the world? What hegemonic interests are involved in cultural policy? How do we have to rethink the economic power and administrative agendas of funding systems? In what way is it necessary to deconstruct classical traditions as ideological categories? 

These fundamental and challenging research questions are currently accompanied by developments that show how embodied local discourses inform or counter hegemonic or national constructions: Latin American artists and their performance practices as well as practitioners, communities, and societies from the African continent and its diasporas engage with the history of colonialism. Post-migrant artists create new conceptions/concepts of the performing arts from a multi-cultural perspective. In this way, processes of interweaving refer to practices of de-colonialization especially where they create environments for alternative historiographies. They apply and test future politics in culturally diversified societies, allowing for the aesthetic experience of successful interweaving, while at the same time addressing the question of how cultural identities are brought forth, stabilized, and destabilized. The aesthetic ultimately is the political. In this regard, theatre serves and should be explored as a cultural model. 

2. Conditions of outstanding research

Since August 2008, the Research Center has been devoted to processes of interweaving on a global scale. In September 2013, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) announced that the International Research Center “Interweaving Performance Cultures” would receive funding for another six years (the International Press Release can be accessed here). This federal funding enabled the Center to continue its research by inviting outstanding international researchers as Fellows to investigate phenomena in which different cultures meet in and through performance. The directors at that time, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Erika Fischer-LichteProf. Dr. Gabriele Brandstetter, and Dr. Christel Weiler, have been joined by Prof. Dr. Matthias Warstat. In the second phase of funding, the aim was to further delineate the guiding concept “Verflechtungen von Theaterkulturen / Interweaving Performance Cultures” and to probe its scope and its productiveness. For detailed information about the program of the Research Center in its second phase, please follow this link.

Each year up to twelve Fellows were invited to the Center as internationally renowned experts in their field. They came from more than thirty different countries from all five continents to work on new and emerging forms of interweaving. In addition to theatre and performance studies, the project also included ethnology and a variety of area studies, if the researchers were working on performances or specialized in the theatre of a specific region. 

Without imposing the pressures of teaching and administrative duties, the Research Center offered an ideal environment for unrestricted research. Over the years, as part of the research program, more than a hundred IRC Fellow research projects have been completed. Towards the end of the second funding phase, certain research areas emerged that we determined to be of high relevance. In the IRC Brochure "On Thematic Threads and Research Pratices 2008-2018", IRC Director Erika Fischer-Lichte sums up these striking thematic threads by examining their content in the context of the research field “interweaving performance cultures.”  

3. Fostering exchange and deeper understanding

At the same time, the Center pursued a working practice that was based on co-operation with numerous partners: other Käte Hamburger Centers; the Department for Theatre Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin as well as its local research institutions, such as the Dahlem Humanities Center, the Institute for Advanced Study, or the Forum Transregional Studies. Last but not least, a number of national and international institutions in the field of arts and culture, e.g. Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Academy of the Arts, Berliner Festspiele, or the German Center of the International Theatre Institute, served as additional partners. Long-standing co-operations with Berlin’s numerous theatres and operas greatly contributed to its success. The Center also managed to establish a number of international partnerships. The close contact to the International Center for Performance Studies, Tangier (Morocco), or the Shanghai Theatre Academy (China) further strengthened the university’s profile as an International Network University. 

With conferences and symposia, lectures, workshops, and other public events, the International Research Center “Interweaving Performance Cultures” appears to be a unique place in the worldwhere intellectual and artistic ideas can meet on a national and an international level. By focusing on dialogue, intellectual stimulation, critical support, and empathy, the Research Center has been contributing to Germany’s outstanding profile in the humanities.

Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung