Maverick German theatre director Schlingensief dies

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Christoph Schlingensief, one of Germany's most provocative theatre directors, died of lung cancer on Saturday, organisers of the Ruhr Triennale festival said. He was 49.

Schlingensief, a director from Berlin's Volksbuhne theatre, was due to present his latest production "S.M.A.S.H." at the festival, but had cancelled the performances in July due to his illness.

He is best known for casting neo-Nazi skinhead amateur actors in his "Hamlet" production, burning an effigy of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and wearing a placard inscribed with "Kill Helmut Kohl".

Schlingensief, who would have been 50 this October, was known as the "terrible child" of German theatre and fearlessly attacked hot-button issues.

In Vienna, his TV show, "Auslaender raus!", or "Foreigners out!" denounced the rise of populism and racism, with a Big Brother send-up where real asylum seekers lived inside containers -- ressembling wagons that deported Jews -- and the public was invited to vote on candidates, who would not be voted off the show, but out of the country.

In 2004, his operatic production of "Parsifal" at the Bayreuth festival, which honours Richard Wagner, drew the ire of some critics, including one who said the setting looked more like a refugee camp than a medieval castle.

On his website, biographer Till Briegleb called Schlingensief the "chief protagonist of his own art," which is "a vehemently fought battle against hypocrisy using performance art, taboo violations and improvisation while stretching the limits."

© 2010 AFP

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