Holger Ehlers, Show Creator (Interview)

An interview film by Asteris Kutulas (Deutsch/English subtitles) – October 2015

Bei „Apassionata“ arbeitete ich zunächst als Executive Producer (2010-14) und ab 2013 als Dramaturg und künstlerischer Berater zusammen mit dem Show-Creator Holger Ehlers, der seitdem alle „Apassionata“-Produktionen als künstlerischer Direktor (Buch, Komposition, Regie) verantwortet hat. Die ständige Weiterentwicklung, die die „Apassionata“ in den letzten Jahren durch Holger Ehlers auch mit meiner Hilfe erfahren hat – nämlich von einer Pferde-Nummern-Revue hin zu einer phantasmagorischen Family-Entertainment-Show von Weltformat –, machte sie zu einer immer ausgefeilteren und komplexeren Aufführungsform, die zugleich – und das ist das Beachtliche daran – immer publikumsaffiner wurde.
Parallel dazu kreierten wir zusammen mit Holger Ehlers zwischen 2014 und 2016 für ein revolutionäres „Theater-Projekt“ eine kongeniale Show mit dem Titel MONDWIND. Diese Show war wie dafür geschaffen, mein seit über zehn Jahren entwickeltes Konzept des „Liquiden Bühnenbilds“ (Liquid Staging) in einem Theater konkrete Gestalt annehmen zu lassen.
Im Stück MONDWIND erzeugen Musik und Sound als Klangerlebnis ein „emotionales Grundrauschen“, das ergänzt wird vom – wie ich es nennen würde – „Storyboard eines modernen Grimmschen Märchens“. Holger Ehlers benutzt als drittes Element seine eigene spezifische Bildwelt, um jene Wärme eines Zuhause zu erzeugen, in dem er seine Geschichten erzählen kann. Mein Konzept des „Liquiden Bühnenbilds“ vermag es schließlich, jenen emotionalen Raum der Illusion zu erschaffen, den dieses neue Genre braucht, um sich in idealer Art und Weise zu präsentieren.

Asteris Kutulas

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Asteris Kutulas interview with Holger Ehlers

Some answers/quotes by Holger Ehlers:

1 – What makes a horse show into a family show? That’s the fundamental question. Why is it more than a show for people who like horses? Why is it a show which tours big cities and captivates many people?

It works because two things are united here: the tradition of musical theatre, beginning with Monteverdi’s „L’Orfeo“, and the dressage training of horses at the royal courts, which began around the same time. The horses were no longer being trained just for war, but also for the entertainment of the nobility. The first operas were also written for the royal courts, and not for the common people. Horses and musical theatre thus have a parallel European tradition. The horses have different gaits, different rhythms – what we call „movements“. In this context, there is a close connection between what we call rhythm and the things which make „Opera Seria“ so special.

2 – In 2008 the „Sehnsucht“ show by Gert Hof combined a greater dramatic depth with orchestral music and phenomenal light effects. Light was suddenly more than just pointing a spotlight at a horse and making the ground glow green. This was pioneering. As was the introduction of actor-protagonists.

The next decisive show was APASSIONATA „Time for Dreams“ in 2011. That was the first time we engaged with video content for the dramaturgy of a show. The screen backdrop became a pivotal element, bringing together images and music. This was a new way of using the stage space. 

3 – When we talk about our inspiration, then this of course always magically stems from the horses. But we also need riders. Because they are supported by dancers and by the production team, they here appear as actors in a piece of great musical theatre. This gives us the three key elements to success: the great stage show in the arenas. The incredible „proximity“ created by the horses, which appeals to many people. The grand emotions of an opera. To bring together all three elements in a balanced form is not easy. Each time, it takes 18 months of work. And you are always close to the boundary where grand emotion can become excessive, and the pathos become farcical. It’s a balancing act.

4 – Apassionata is musical theatre. That is the big picture. The difference to a revue show. It’s the only way to convey the nature of the horse via music. The music does not „accompany“ the horse. The horse is in fact – in scare quotes – the „singer“, an „instrument“. The music assumes a different character. It no longer simply reaches „everything and everyone“, but instead transports the audience. This is of course a singular, unique experience. Nobody has ever pursued this approach as consistently as us. We now have the experience gained from 20 shows presented over the course of 13 years. And a team of highly experienced people with a background in rock and roll as well as theatre.

5 – With theatre, the space is inherently intimate. But APASSIONATA was born in the arena. And yet – if we appeal to the audience in the cool atmosphere of the arena, it’s because we create warmth. Because we are bringing back the „theatre“ to these big venues. We are using a very unique sort of melancholy – a kind that has almost faded into history – to transform an arena back into a small, beautiful municipal theatre. We take the time which theatre always allows itself, in an arena in which there is almost never time enough. And that’s where it gets exciting, because we are not performing theatre, and we are not performing an arena show – instead, we are performing APASSIONATA. We connect.

6 – If you ask yourself: what is Holger Ehlers? Then the cheery reply is: Holger Ehlers is the „pudding mold“. The APASSIONATA pudding mold. It is filled with sounds, good ideas, with the people from the creative team, with the actors. And then we steam the APASSIONATA pudding. 

Asteris Kutulas, 2016