He has put an Isis fighters mother in the Ghent Altarpiece and restaged a brutal murder. Now the Swiss director plans to get radical
When Milo Rau first saw the Ghent Altarpiece, one detail leapt out at him. While Hubert and Jan van Eycks 15th-century masterpiece is often admired for the ambitious scale of its Lamb of God scene, the Swiss theatre director zoomed in on Adams sunburnt hands. They are red because the model came directly from the fields to be painted, he says the morning after the premiere of his new Altarpiece-inspired production, Lam Gods. Its art as a collective process, made with common people.
It is a philosophy Rau is attempting to apply to an institution he has long decried as elitist and preoccupied with the classics: the city theatre. Starting this season, the 41-year-old is now the director of one of Belgiums foremost venues, NTGent, and has kicked things off with a community-oriented production. Lam Gods is the Dutch name of the Altarpiece, on display at St Bavos Cathedral near the theatre, and Rau brought 21st-century models to the stage to reinvent, through a video installation, the biblical figures and characters painted by the Van Eycks Ghentians from all walks of life.
I wanted to have a song for the common man, so everybody understands: this is my theatre, my city, Rau says. While he made a name for himself with provocative independent work that questioned reality, from re-enactments of international trials (The Congo Tribunal, The Last Days of the Ceausecus) to explorations of paedophilia (Five Easy Pieces) or the Rwandan genocide (Hate Radio), he felt as if hed come to a limit with his production company, the International Institute of Political Murder. And I thought: like Godard says, you can only criticise bad films by doing a better film.
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