Half-time at the Hamburg Lessingtage at the Thalia Theater. Despite some Corona-related cancellations, two events took place over the weekend – one of which was the traditional festival speech.
by Peter Helling
"I cannot tell about life, at least not in its most raw and naked, its most animalistic and thus perhaps its most beautiful form, if I have not presented it for the time being in its ugliest grimace." And that’s what Nino Haratischwili does. The bestselling author with Georgian roots doesn’t give a speech, she tells her story.
A story that happened in August 2008, when Russian soldiers invaded the country of her birth, Georgia. At the opening of the Summer Olympics in Beijing, of all places. In the midst of this chaos, she is dragged by her aunt Keti to a party in a basement bar in Tbilisi. And Nino? Defends herself at first: "What celebration? We were in the middle of the war. Which madman celebrated please in those days? I was incredibly angry."
Impressive festival speech by Nino Haratischwili
"The last feast" is the title of her festival speech. How on that evening 13 years ago the most diverse people unpacked, became visible, told personal stories, frightening, even barbaric: the ugly face of life precisely. Being human in itself. There were positive reactions from the audience: "I liked it very much, because it went against the tide, you expect a speech where theses are put forward. But this storytelling, this art of telling stories from which so much emerges, from which one finds a direction in life, is very impressive."
It is noticeably quiet in the rows of spectators this morning. A word hangs in the room, to which also Senator for Culture Carsten Brosda refers in his opening speech: the word "war" – the current threat on the Ukrainian border.
Lessingtage 2022 looks more naked and vulnerable than it has in a long time
Anyone who tells of the ugly in this way can also put the beautiful into words in a completely kitsch-free way; you simply believe Nino Haratischwili: "Maybe I should tell about how beautiful it is when the sea licks our feet, or tell about the smell of a baby, that most peaceful scent of all scents, about cherry-glued mouths, about laughter, lots of laughter, about autumn leaves, about rib-widening conversations with friends, with people who know you so well that it hurts at times, about the wind that you defiantly hold your hand out to from a rolled-down window."
This year’s Lessing Days seem more naked, more vulnerable than they have in a long time. Rarely has theater been so close to reality, rarely has its appeal been more urgent: "Look, stay empathetic!". Like on Friday, when Madame Nielsen, the performer and author from Denmark, transformed the Thalia in Gaubstrabe into an ark. This radical lady in a man’s body, tall, gaunt, in a velvet dress – behind her a fulminant string quartet with identical blond wigs – is maddening reality by simulating the apocalypse.
At the end of the speech: life in all its beauty
In the face of man-made climate change, it calls on its audience to dare nothing less than revolution in thought and action. She flaunts her ascetic-thin body. "The World Savior Is called her evening, he comes close to you, is encroaching, aggressive, sometimes vicious.
Nino Haratischwili puts it more gently, but means something similar: "And yet, without me realizing it, we were all celebrating life, yes, celebrating life, by admitting our fear of losing it." And then life turns the corner in all its beauty: when Nino Haratischwili introduces the musician next to her on stage as Keti Klimiaschwili: the very Aunt Keti who took her to the impossible, the "last feast" 13 years ago, that became the celebration of a lifetime: "By the way, that’s Keti with her voice restored and her daughter."
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