Sunday, 25 March 2018 12:25

How can it be? Meeting Rilke

How can it be? Meeting Rilke Photo credits: © Felix Kubitza /

I had spotted the event ‘RM Rilke – wie ist es möglich, da zu sein?‘ (How is it possible to be here), a production by TheaterArche performed at Theater-Delphine in Vienna’, online. Apart from a few famous lines by the Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 - 1926) I knew little about him and took this opportunity to learn more about him - basically jumping in at the deep end as I am also fairly new to the world of theater.

When the performance started - a collage of scenes by Jakub Kavin, based on texts by Rainer Maria Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salome with Barbara Schandl as Lou Andreas-Salome, Bernhard Jammernegg as Rainer Maria Rilke and Jakub Kavin as Malte Laurids Brigge - I felt unsure. “I felt that it was all new to me and I was both uneasy and delighted. I hoped to be worthy of such exoticism but not to be tried too far.” - lines I had read in a novel earlier that day that suddenly resonated greatly.

You knew you’d be ‘in for a lot’ by reading the outline…

The program

The main theme of the evening would be excerpts from Rilke's diary novel 'The Records of Malte Laurids Brigge', spoken by Jakub Kavin. Consciousness and the search for the essence of life being the focus.  Observing inward as well as outward, the questioning of one’s own and foreign structures and actions as a central  topic: "Is it possible that one has not seen, recognized and said anything real and important yet?"

Bernhard Jammernegg would mainly recite texts from the collection ‘Letters to the young poet’. On the one hand, addressing Lou-Andreas-Salomé, analyzing the importance and difficulty of both, physical and spiritual love, and on the other hand addressing Malte, his young self. He encourages him to continue on his path as a human being and an artist.

Barbara Schandl would recite texts and excerpts from letters by Lou Andrea-Salomé ‘At school with Freud’ and ‘Exchange of letters’, her performance also inspired by two other women in Rilke's life. In the figure of pianist and musicologist Magda von Hattingsberg and parts also hinting at Rilke's mother.

The Third Duino Elegies by Rilke, to be performed by Rilke and Andreas-Salomé in a musical dialogue is listed as a further central theme.

A first scare

At first, when I saw the woman, wearing clothes of another epoch, playing the piano in the semi-dark at the front of the stage, the still unlit small stage on which a tall man dressed as an old woman climbed onto a step ladder to sit there sullenly, and a second man in a suit in the same fashion sitting down on the floor leaning against the wall on the side of the stage… I worried for a moment that it might be ‘too much’.

I also had a language problem so to speak. The play was in my native German – a language I had not written, thought in, dreamt in, for over 30 years and which is only slowly making its way back into my innermost thoughts and feelings. At first my thoughts could not decide whether they wanted to be on that notepad in German or in English, but I found Rilke was hard to translate especially with things on stage unfolding so quickly in most unforeseeable and gripping ways and finally scribbled in at times awkward German.

Austrian childhood memories

Fortunately I was reassured very early into the play with lines that literally hit right home - into my Austrian heart. Lines that talked about things pressed upon us already during childhood - like joy. Joy is given as such and has to be received as such. A concept, that now that I am writing it, makes me wonder if one has to have grown up in Austria to be able to relate to it. You were also ‘entitled’ to joy and took this entitlement seriously. Joys such as little metallic wind-up toys that you received as a gift and that you’d over-wind at first go and then possibly try to move that little grey wind-up mouse forward a bit, inconspicuously, with your foot.

Lines about friends’ and relatives’ visits - spoken with gentle yet bitter irony, almost accusingly. About how you would literally be ‘shown’ to them so that they could find you ‘drollig’ - a wonderful German word often used in relation to children, translating into something like ludicrous, but much softer, yet more humiliating.

And joy for somebody else? When would that have been appropriate?

An avalanche of impressions

The whole evening felt like you were immersed into one big tsunami of words, phrases, concepts, songs, moods, thoughts, mimic and gestures. Some beautiful, touching, some cruel, and many so deep and abstract, you found yourself wishing for more time to let them sink in.

But time there was not. You were caught up in this whirlwind spinning your senses this way and that - different people talking, about the same thing but from different perspectives, the actors changing roles, clothes, positions, facial expressions, the light accentuating certain moments with very bright or very dim light, the songs sung, the piano tunes played, adding layers and layers of meaning.

Just like Malte Laurids Brigge explained to us, faces have many facets to them: “To think, for instance, that I have never been aware before how many faces there are. There are quantities of human beings, but there are many more faces, for each person has several. There are people who wear the same face for years; naturally it wears out, it gets dirty, it splits at the folds, it stretches, like gloves one has worn on a journey. These are thrifty, simple people; they do not change their face, they never even have it cleaned. It is good enough, they say, and who can prove to them the contrary? The question of course arises, since they have several faces, what do they do with the others? They store them up. Their children will wear them. But sometimes, too, it happens that their dogs go out with them on. And why not? A face is a face.”Rainer Maria RilkeThe Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

In short ‘RM Rilke – wie ist es möglich, da zu sein?‘  is a feast for the mind, an overindulgence almost. In fact, I am still digesting all those impressions and will for some time. And just as soon as I’ll get the chance, I will gladly submit myself to another delicious onslaught of the senses. Because, as the play concluded - you don’t have to understand life.


You don’t have to understand Life’s nature

You don’t have to understand Life’s nature,
then it becomes a grand affair.
Let every day just of itself occur
like a child walks away from every hurt
and happens upon the gift of many flowers.
To collect and the blossoms spare,
that never enters the child’s mind.
She gently unties them from her hair,
where they were kept captive with such delight,
and the hands of the loving, youthful years
reach out to embrace the new.

The depth of the poet

Being fairly new to Rilke I was only able to offer my still rather ‘unpolished’ but honest views but can certainly recommend reading up on some of the striking pieces that were featured in the play: My mother, Girl’s lament, Love song, I'm so afraid of people’s words, Death experience, I am too alone in this world, yet not alone, You do not have to understand life. Or better even, catch a performance at the TheaterArche, on until April 17th.

The producer

The TheaterArche sees itself as an open theater, as a reflection of an open society, a theater that reflects the rapid social change in Vienna in the 21st century. The TheaterArche considers itself as an independent platform for artist networking and art production, across all social and cultural divides.

The venue

The Theater- Delphin has formed a partnership with TheaterArche, collaborating and sharing their venue with them.

The theater aims to use the performing arts to create space for equality, to reduce fear of contact in dialogue between disabled and non-disabled people. “Art that addresses social life can achieve change in society because it starts at a different level. Art is thus also a possibility to communicate and has a political character. Inclusive art shows different facets of the personality of each individual quite clearly and without performance-oriented fears. This clarity creates noticeable forces that bring us closer to the acceptance of a human being. Sensitization of one's own perception makes new perspectives visible.”

Photo credits: © Felix Kubitza /




Mary Anglberger

I’ve been travelling the world for over 20 years teaching English and am now taking time to follow my passion for photography and writing. I want to share all the things, events and people that have inspired and inspire me and spread those positive vibes all around.

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