THERE always has been a lot of art to encounter in West Berlin, but this month the city is trying harder than ever to maintain its place on the cultural map. With the motto of ``Encountering Art -- Art of Encounter,'' the organizers of the 36th annual Berlin Festival Weeks (Sept. 1-28) are hosting a broad array of East bloc theaters, artists, musicians, and writers. Many of these are appearing in the West for the first time.
Although this is primarily a cultural festival, the organizers also hope to improve the East-West dialogue. They believe they can help bridge the political divide by bringing together artists and audiences who would otherwise never meet.
Of the East bloc artists now in West Berlin, Tadeusz Kantor -- a Polish painter, sculptor, and theater producer -- is the most striking. In addition to exhibits of Mr. Kantor's paintings, sculptures, and drawings, the festival features Kantor's trilogy, ``Theater of the Dead.''
Since 1955, Kantor has been the guiding force of the avant-garde Cricot 2 theater troupe. The company does not dip into superficial staging or glittery perfection. What the theater-goer sees on stage in each Kantor production is not a finished performance, but a picture of unbounded dream energy. And each is just as self-understood, believable, disturbing (or joyous) as dreams can be.
Each part of Kantor's trilogy is distinct, yet all three parts share similarities in structure, staging, and rhythm. ``The Dead Class'' unfolds as a play of the memory. The set is sparse: a dim room with a wooden school bench in one corner, where scenes of death and dying pass back and forth. In ``Wielopole, Wielopole,'' the classroom is replaced by a cottage, but the death dream continues. Wielopole is the name of Kantor's birthplace. In this play, family history mirrors Polish history. ``Let the Artists Die,'' like ``The Dead Class,'' is staged in a dim room. Kantor, who says the title should not be taken literally, is the main character this time.
Kantor stands on the stage throughout each performance -- a puppeteer without stings leading to his marionettes, the actors. Without Kantor's participation, the theater does not function. He is the memory bank and the center of energy for each production.
Whatever one calls it -- performance, collage, environment -- this theater has an undeniable form. Kantor himself has said ``I'm not sure it is theater. I'm not an actor. I am just the number one viewer. Through me the audience understands more.''
Kantor's productions can be seen Sept. 2-11.
Festival-goers are also being treated to a rich cross-section of artistic works from the Soviet Union.
Four companies represent the theater world of the Soviet capital at the festival.
The Majkowski Theater, which was known until World War II as the ``Revolution Theater,'' performs Tolstoy's ``Fruits of Enlightenment'' Sept. 13 and 14, and Nikolai Leskow's ``Lady MacBeth from the District of Mzensk'' Sept. 15 and 16.
Studio theaters are very popular in Moscow and almost every theater maintains one as a workshop. The Studio Theater of the Mossowjet Theater meets in a former movie theater in Moscow. A permanent stage does not exist. The actors attract a very young audience and can experiment and develop concepts.
The world-famous Obraszow Puppet Theater, directed by founder Sergej Obraszow, performs ``Puppets about Puppets'' Sept. 18 and 20 at Berlin's Art Academy. During the 1920s, when Mr. Obraszow was a young actor, puppets were his hobby. Out of his love for puppets sprang forth the world's largest puppet theater, with 250 workers and performers. In Berlin, Obraszow appears only with his wife, who accompanies him on the piano.
The festival's musical offerings pay special attention to the works of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who was born 80 years ago this Sept. 25. Many of his works are being performed: Symphonies Nos. 8 and 10, the First Suite for Jazz Orchestra, and String Quartets Nos. 1, 2, 7, 8, 14, and 15.
Moscow's chamber music ensembles and quartets are also well represented. The Pekarski Percussion Ensemble made its Western debut Sept. 5, performing works of young Moscow composers. On Sept. 8 and 9 the Solo Ensemble of Moscow's Bolshoi Theater links avant-garde music of the 1920s with more contemporary modern works. And the four-woman Gnessin Quartet and the Borodin Quartet perform as well.
Under the title of ``Literature from Moscow,'' the festival presents three Russian authors. Each will read from his works. World-reknown poet, Jewgenij Jewtuschenko, whose published poems have sold in record quantity, reads Sept. 10. Andrej Woznesenski, whose poetry readings have filled soccer stadiums throughout Europe, reads form his new lyrics Sept 21. His central idea is modern man's relationship to technical progress. The theme of his most recent work is Chernobyl. Andrej Bitow, known through his novel ``Puschkinhaus,'' will read on Sept. 19 from his Georgian Diary.
``Art from Moscow'' is also on display, featuring the work of Natalja Nesterowa, Tatjana Nasarenko, and Iwan Lubejnikow, three painters who emerged from the Moscow art scene in the 1970s. Their pictures are dominated by private scenes, surreal dream sequences, and comments on Russian tradition. This is the first time these three artists have ever been exhibited together in a large exhibit in the West.