Jakob von Gunten

© Andre Scollick

Fri 14.06.24, 19:00

A MusicDanceTheatre production by POUR ENSEMBLE 
based on Robert Walser’s novel of the same name

Idea & organisation: Ute Völker

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“Jakob von Gunten” is the latest production by the inclusive POUR ENSEMBLE, in which professional artists with and without disabilities from different disciplines in the performing arts work together as equals. The project is the only one of its kind in North Rhine-Westphalia and is currently being funded for three years by the state of NRW. “Jakob von Gunten” is created in collaboration with the Pina Bausch Centre under construction.

The inspiration and source text of the performance is Robert Walser’s diary novel Jakob von Gunten (1909). The story is told from the perspective of young Jakob, the son of a good family, who is sent to train as a servant at the ominous boys’ school “Institut Benjamenta”. Patience and obedience are at the core of the curriculum. The sole aim of the institution is to mould and subjugate the boys until they become what they are meant to be: “a lovely spherical zero”. Jacob sees this as an opportunity to renounce ambition, “to be and remain small”. On the other hand, he wants to become the best servant and is also an adventurer, a dancer and gambler who seeks freedom in humiliation. What characterises him is the ease with which he lives this contradiction. No doubts, no heaviness weigh him down – he goes through life as a cheerful and happy person. Even the hopelessness of his infatuation with an unattainable teacher does not change this... Dream and reality merge in his diary entries, which are full of irony and melancholy humour.

The story of a pupil at a servants’ school in imperial Germany as the plot for a contemporary theatre performance? This may at first glance seem contradictory. But there is a great deal of overlap with our world today. In his novel, Robert Walser expressed his deep unease with the emergence of a highly pressurised meritocracy. Today, the pressure to perform is no longer limited just to our professional lives, but has permeated almost all areas of existence. And perhaps we secretly long to be able to think like Jacob: “Oh, these thoughts, these strange longings, this searching, this reaching out for meaning. Let it dream, let it sleep. I'll just let things come. Let it come.”

The ensemble and director Jakob Fedler are not working with an existing stage adaptation of the novel, but are intuitively creating their own version, in which movement, music, text and acting flow into each other. Words become sounds, thoughts become gestures – and each player becomes Jakob von Gunten.

Idea & organisation: Ute Völker
Director: Jakob Fedler
Scenography: Oliver Kostecka
Cast: Tim Valerian Alberti, Dorothea Brandt, Linus Ebner, Gunda Gottschalk, Stefan Hellwinkel, Luise Kinner, Leo Nitas, Kenji Takagi, Lioba Ullrich, Ute Völker

Founded in 2015, the POUR ENSEMBLE is unique in NRW in that it is made up of an equal number of artists with and without disabilities. All the members of the ensemble have been working together in different constellations for several years across different productions. Their reputation now precedes them far beyond the Bergisch region. To find out more about the ensemble and read detailed biographies of all its members, click here.

Additional performances:
8 May 2024, Kinder & Jugendtheater Dortmund
11 June 2024, Prinz Regent Theater Bochum
14 June, former Schauspielhaus Wuppertal