Dirty Debüt | S1-#4 sleep

Berlin, DE


Joseph Wegmann

plastic tarps, fog, LED, infrared heat lamps, tungsten halogen light, frankincense, fan, sound, darkness, silence

Joseph Wegmann works primarily with the mediums of light and performance.

He studied directing and design at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts from 2008-2012.

While in New York, he worked as a lighting and media designer in collaboration with various companies and developed work that sought to deconstruct narrative theatrical forms, telling stories instead through visuals, the sensorium and rhythm.

After receiving his BFA, he moved to Berlin where he assisted and worked with artists such as Ariel Efraim Ashbel and apparatus / Stefanie Wenner + Thorsten Eibeler. He developed showings at ET Berlin, including interactive events with Eleot Reich (band: VOLK) and solo performances with Minna Partanen.

Currently, he engages in artistic collaborations with: Ariel Efraim Ashbel and friends, Ligia Lewis, Dragana Bulut, Kareth Schaffer, and Minna Partanen.

wegmannjs.com | instagram.com/wegmannjs

By and with: Joseph Wegmann, Neda Sanai (composition), Christoph Buchegger, Mineralwasser Kollektiv: Kuba Borkowicz, Bernardo Chatillon, Jason Corff, Jorge de Hoyos, Ana Lessing Menjibar, Minna Partanen, Rhyannon Styles

Thank You: Ariel Efraim Ashbel, Christoph Buchegger, Dragana Bulut, Michael Krass, Erich Lott, Danilo Rosato, Marco Scalvini

Photos © Anna Agliardi, Marco Scalvini, Joseph Wegmann

Video © Diethild Meier

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Julia Plawgo

ZMORA is a compositional nightmare, aesthetical horror and musical terror.

Julia Plawgo works with dance and choreography as a survival strategy. She studied at HZT Berlin, works mainly with friends, and her favourite pop songs are Gypsy Woman She's Homeless by Crystal Waters and You Keep Me Hangin’ On by Kim Wilde.

By and with: Julia Plawgo

Photos © Anna Agliardi

Video © Diethild Meier

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The Big Sleep

Alisa Hecke & Julian Rauter

Leipzig-based Theatre makers Alisa Hecke and Julian Rauter present a preview of their current research project Erinnerungen für Morgen. Against the backdrop of global ecological change and increasing loss of biodiversity, they have been interviewing taxidermists and experts in the field of Natural History, gathering their stories and viewpoints in an audio-visual archive. For The Big Sleep they mount both (in-)animated bodies and display the motives, aesthetics and obsessions of a profession that presupposes death in order to create an illusion of life.

By and with: Martin Clausen, Alisa Hecke, Lydia Mäder, Julian Rauter, Angelika Waniek & Katrin Wiedemann.

With kind support by Naturkundemuseum Leipzig, Mauritinianum Altenburg, Sabrina Beutler, René Diebitz, Oliver Proske, Franz Thöricht & Andi Willmann

Photos © Anna Agliardi

Video © Diethild Meier

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"This is an invitation"

Netta Weiser

Netta Weiser is a choreographer and performer based in Berlin. She explores the relation between contemporary How to culture and art by creating games, discursive formats and fictitious manuals. The intersection between dance, DIY utopias and digital communities is at the core of her current artistic work.

By and with: Netta Weiser, Magnús Hallur Jónsson

Photos © Anna Agliardi

Video © Diethild Meier

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A Poetics of Dissociation But Like Casual?

Maxi Wallenhorst

Do performance-makers dream of durational sheep? I'm too tired to come up with a better version of this joke. But this was one of the questions the fourth edition of Dirty Debüt evoked for me by making Sleep its title: How do insanely busy people, like performing artists at the beginning of their professional career, relate to something they might only engage in on planes or in rare moments of self care?

How would these of all people manage to fall asleep in a theatre? The dynamics between sleep and stage – the complex relationship between inactivity and aliveness it entails – is unsurprisingly a central discourse of the dance / performance / theatre complex. While some scholars often pose this debate as a conflict between styles of performance and being an audience, namely full-on 80s performance mode presence and the ghostly absence of the 90s and 00s, others have tried to shift the attention to the more material conditions of this discourse: Is it only white men who get to capitalize on doing very little? And, to ask the other way around, how much are young performers paid to perform endless hours of supposedly casual passivity at the Venice biennial?

However, perhaps tired of these dichotomies, none of the performances that premiered at Dirty Debüt treated sleep as capital letter Negativity or capital letter Sleep, everyone's favourite death metaphor. What might or might not have connected the pieces was a less high-tone, yet at times not less uncanny, approach to sleep. Or merely passing by rather than approaching it, the lying around kind of passing by.

The entrance into the night splits the audience in two: Some of them are entering a cube in the centre of the stage, made of plastic curtains and fog – others are taking seats outside of it, to see from there what would unfold in the following. I am standing next to a friend I hadn't seen in forever, as slowly the drone sound intensifies, moving across the space. A fog machine hisses. This is dissociate by Joseph Wegmann. Driven by light and sound, the installation navigates an affective landscape, carrying me inside. While there are fragments of a club experience surfacing through a shattered beat, there is no space for mere escapism. Allusions to sirens, emergency lights find their way through the fog, the policing of the night is perceptible. A moment of warm red, faces suddenly look intimately close, then again more darkness, then – as the curtain falls – a group sculpture of mostly naked bodies, waving at us, smiling, or did I make this up?

“Were there people there”, was one of the questions Alice Chauchat asked during her poetic feedback session after the performances, and it made sense to me, that she didn't really attach a question mark to this question. The people that greeted me from behind the curtain were certainly ... people? The friend, with whom I touched elbows, she is probably to be counted among the category of ... people? But it is not impossible that a little bit of the people-ness of people gets absorbed by the fog. They were there, not very absent, but they were there, a split second before being people. I remember I've once heard my favourite life coach aka feminist theorist Lauren Berlant talk about dissociation. Sadly I wasn't in the moment enough to take good notes, but I think she was talking about something dissociate might have been onto, a poetics of dissociation, navigating the split second before recognizing something as something – the good kind of repressing, that makes an encounter possible.

As the second performance of the evening – ZMORA — begins, an opera songs blasts into the space. Julia Plawgo, choreographer and performer of the piece, displays her drag-race-worthy lip-sync skills and accompanies the grand expressions that move her face by seemingly disconnected circling movements of her arms. A change of song, lighting, genre follows, it's pop now and at some point two victory signs emerge from the dancing, lonely signifiers, almost uncanny in their isolation. Eventually, Plawgo takes a break and a sip of water and goes on to place some liquid right under her eyes, so that she can cry tears of blood. At the same time another red mass falls from her mouth, maybe some intestines, or a half-chewed organic energy bar, or a prop, or everything at once. In the end, Plawgo sings another song, is it her quote unquote real voice that is now amplified by a mic, covered in heavy guitar sound and headbanging.

This performance entertains an offhand, semi-awake relationship to its movement material, while never resorting to lazy distancing. Evoking the figure of the zmora, which is the Polish word for mare in English or Nachtalb in German, the piece shows bloody traces of horror and – in true genre fashion – they are never deadly serious .The moves have an animalistic quality to them, but like, casual? As if the dark posthuman everyone wants to make art about right now is to be found rather in folkloristic B-Movie splatter than in capital letter Sublime arthouse. The program labels the performance as a compositional nightmare – which is, of course, not true in the normative sense of nightmares being bad. But it might be true that this is what composition would have dreams about that keep it awake at night: Loosely related tracks of a choreography follow each other associatively, or dissociatively really, like in haunting.

The third performance of the night, The Big Sleep by Alisa Hecke and Julian Rauter starred a skinned dead cat, that entered the stage in a bucket. The person carrying it takes a seat at a table, turns on a working light and goes on to make a sketch of the body, then to apply its skin to a model of a cat. This skillful paradox – the live taxidermy – is an anchor of the performance, the precise, but also surprisingly ordinary task of preserving something from withering in time, at least for the moment of a rest of a human life. Meanwhile at the centre of the stage – that is filled with stuffed animals, a boar even, a white rabbit, too – three performers are presenting a text, that is derived from interviews with taxidermists. Among the highly reflective things we hear these interviewees say about their work via the performance is an impression about the people who want them to perform a taxidermy on their pets, say, a cat.

These pet-owners, the performers keep telling us, are disavowing their animals' death, they want it to be less ordinary, more like the romantic titular Big Sleep. The problem is that it is not very much the cat, that materializes as stuffed animal, but a cat, as a cat is the only cat a taxidermist can prepare. The singularity seems to get lost in the difference of taking a nap and death. The performance is a multi-layered investigation into these distinctions: between the liveness of a stage and and the being alive of an animal, between performative embodiment and disembodiment, between the red eyes a white rabbit has in the reality of a laboratory versus the black eyes the taxidermist chooses to make it look more natural.

The last performance "This is an Invitation", finally, is claiming to help us fall asleep. The piece begins, in true workshop fashion, with an atmospheric soundscape played from a phone (the mini-jack cable that connects it to the sound system has long become a true icon of so many somatic practices). A performer reads, in his most soothing ASMR voice, the instructions for a choreography by Boris Charmatz, Levée. Another performer, Netta Weiser herself, is performing these movements, either as demonstration or practice or perhaps both. These texts and movements are adapted from video tutorials that were produced in the context of the Tempelhofer Feld participatory mega-dance-event at the Volksbühne opening in the Fall of 2017, though they were translated into English and toned town to a more narcotic sound. Also – if I'm not mistaken – what in the videos is done by one single person, talking and dancing, is here distributed onto two performers, further dispensing the conceptual integrity of Levée.

In inserting it into a more pop context, the performance lulls some of the choreographic intensity, some of the institutional vibe of the original piece. Its practice becomes visible in a different light, in the dim light of what could be a Mitte Yoga studio instead of daylight. But unlike an actual Yoga, sleeping or dancing tutorial, the effectiveness and purposefulness of this unit remains dubious. What is it for, what is it against? An experiment in layering conceptualism with pragmatism with conceptualism, it dares to be in a limbo about its goals.

As someone who has to get up early regularly plus a phone addiction, the night time might still be the right time to see performances, but it's often too late for me – and I think I'm not the only one – to stay awake-awake for feedback formats and Q&A. The sometimes more institutional, sometimes more personal desire for clarification of these after hours often doesn't match with the energy level that is there. Alice Chauchat's feedback format however, that combines yoga mats and blankets with some banana coconut soup, has a different approach to recapping what happened. Softly guiding the audience throughout an hour or so, her poetic questions about the audience's perception of the performances almost rather blur the memory of them. They reframe the evening from the perspective of lying awake at night, but together, not alone. People are visibly tired, not paying attention or too much, they are giggling or annoyed. As always! But giggling is actually okay in this moment. Sometimes, for better or for worse, people are talking in that style of monologuing I remember from post-childhood / pre-teenage sleepovers.

As this lullaby of a night came to an end, so did the first season of Dirty Debüt. As I lie on the mat, or maybe in my bed the hangover day after, I think about how insanely difficult it is unter the conditions of the Freie Szene to consciously produce and then also to show work, that is not fully awake yet, that is still open for hitting the snooze button a couple of times, didn't have coffee yet. This might only be a so-so metaphor, and it might be a trivial thought that is wrapped in it. But I feel like, in a time where more and more people might be determined to get more sleep in their lives, rough sketches, small forms, short pieces are a such good problem to have.

All of this was happening and sometimes not happening in Berlin 2018 / 2019. Strange how little Berlin – everyone's least favorite and most talked about topic – had played a role over the course of the four editions. While a truly metropolitan city might in fact never sleep, it could be the case that Berlin is always half-asleep? Like me at the bar circa four hours later, like the virtuosos of dissociation who are staring into the abyss of nicely coloured furniture, like everyone who is too exhausted to properly work, care, fuck, or relax (and does or doesn't do so anyways).

About Sleep

Kristen Flade

Sleep. Some seek it for their beauty. Some to escape. Some think it a waste of their time. Some fight it so as to squeeze more into a day. Some stop it with pills. Some invite it with pills. Some have it promised in a lullaby. Sleep, like the little death it is, comes across as something that cannot be avoided. And that you cannot be blamed for, say when you fall asleep during a lecture, a meeting, or nod off in an overheated room. Sleep also complicates, yes hinders responsibility, say if you were to kill someone while sleepwalking you may not be held accountable. You are somehow not when sleep is.

Dirty Debüt in Sophiensæle comes to a close with this fourth iteration, after three rounds of showcasing work by emerging artists on the topics of #URINE, #CLEAN and #SNICKERS, the last two of which I attended. The variety of works selected and shown has been impressive and allowed the audiences to discover vastly different ways with which young performers and collectives approached the spatial setup of their pieces, the ways with which to engage audiences, the ‘genre’ of pieces, the atmospheres and attitudes that appeared and were discussed in a feedback forum each time after the performances had finished. In a context such as culture-saturated Berlin, the forum that Dirty Debüt has established means a supportive space for trial and error, for daring experiments, for transgressions and playful formats in between, for curiosity, joy and lots of resonances. For the last programme, #SLEEP, I join the duo of authors, Lea Langenfelder and Max Wallenhorst, to report about the evening, another textual, discursive layer embedded into the practice of support that the organisers cultivated. #SLEEP, like the other evenings, shows four selected performances, and gives a glimpse into different trainings and mind-sets, schools and interests, tastes and attitudes, allowing with that to delve one last time into that what performance today, here in Berlin, may be, is, will be.

DISSOCIATE by Joseph Wegmann. The programme lists plastic tarps, fog, LED, infrared heat lamps, tungsten halogen light, frankincense, fan, sound, darkness, silence. The space I look onto from my cosy corner up on the terrace-like sitting arrangement is mostly dark. Neon light blinks frequently, but at irregular intervals. People walk into the Kantine space and are being welcomed into a cube created of plastic tarps that fills the stage. Fog wanders through its open cracks and the open ceiling. There is a steadily buzzing sound, sharp and deep. The whole somewhat uncanny atmosphere makes me feel a little uneasy, disoriented. Sitting outside, I wonder what it takes and feels to be inside the cube, how difficult it may be to breathe, how exciting it may be to be in this foggy mass. The rhythmic sound intensifies. It is almost as if a living organism is getting irritated, hesitating somehow, is waiting, unhappy. The sounds and lights create an irregular pulse slowing down. Soon, there are reverb sounds, and then a quicker and much lower bass penetrating the space. That suggestion of life, of the certainty that is a pulse, a rhythmic steadiness, it escapes with every instance of delay for that next drop of sound. Torment begins where rhythm ends. And as if underwater, the delayed perception I have due to the relative darkness and the walls of fog and plastic evokes in me a feeling of dissociated detachment. Joseph Wegmann described in his proposal long periods of insomnia that he went through, and his installation is for me a strong and eerily fitting image of how torturous this must feel, the detachment, the dissociation, the fogginess of exhaustion. A new quality of sound emerges, a sort of humanoid robotic choir. Silence. The space turns hopeful and somehow dramatic with a red crescendo shining down from the ceiling inside of the cube. Outside of it, behind this obscure membrane, on an elevated pedestal to the left, scantily dressed bodies appear to arrange themselves in a tableau of sorts. I immediately think of an altar for this foggy mass and think that the smell of frankincense will have worked that thought into me earlier. Blue light, red light, strobe. A haze of no relating it seems from the outside, and I wonder again how differently it may feel to be inside the cube, inside this foggier world. The tableau of bodies on the left tunes in and out, there are fragments of narrative coherency that escape as if only a lull from chaotic sound. The cube disintegrates. What was a plastic obstacle remains a better permeable, yet likewise obscuring membrane of fog and sound through which the performers depart.

ZMORA by Julia Plawgo is introduced in the programme leaflet as “a compositional nightmare, aesthetical horror and musical terror”. Divided in three parts, the performance takes place on an emptied stage that a female performer enters from the back. Dressed in black and white, long hair tailing the sides of her face, she centres herself, faces us. The first part sets a dramatic tone: slow repetitive movements of her body – vertical swimming in waves of sound, a growing and mowing as if fighting a steady mill of resistance, a bird flying without moving – are paired with lip-syncing to Maria Callas’ voice singing Manon Lescaut’s heart-wrenching aria “Sola, perduta, abbandonata”. Alone, lost, abandoned. The morbidly self-centred and vain attitude that the character of Manon performs in her aria sets a compelling soundscape for the performer’s lip-synching and movements of disciplined yet flailing beauty, symmetric, strong, concise. A moment lost in time, a last grand gesture, a nod to love by a deserted woman. It occurs to me that here, too, an approximation is dared, an almost too big gesture performed and paired with an almost too big shoe to fill, yet already ironised ‘ideal’ that seems almost comically out of reach. In that sense, the performance performs and exposes a space in between, on both the narrative and the aesthetic level, and insists on exactly this discrepancy, it acknowledges a potential ‘too much’, and makes palpable a feeling of being overwhelmed and overcome, but accepting of this challenge, this normalcy. Lip-synching as the thing to do until surely one’s own voice will sound and resonate, will be heard. This first part then remains for me a powerful and thoughtful reflection about the proverbial ‘fake it until you make it’, the beginning of something new, a new job, a new day, a new attempt at becoming. The second set is a slow cover version of “Self Control” … and indeed, slowly, every so slowly: “I live among the creatures of the night …” and Julia Plawgo bends backwards, moves in smooth waves, disintegrates and grows out of as well as into what feels to me a hybrid, fleshy being and “I’m living in the forest of my dream …”. She comes to a standing position as the music slows more and more, stretching time, unfolding time as duration. There is with every note that further slows down the rhythm a growing assumption that something will return, drop down like a drop of water, and ascertain itself as an incalculable, hesitant presence. As if she were waiting for our response, maybe? She is facing us, looking at us, slowly chewing on something in her mouth, standing in a bright neon light. Slowly, her hands move over her face, her eyes, and bloody tears appear. And more of that. And her mouth opens, fleshy, chewy bits and pieces flow out of her, drop down. A third song. She holds a microphone and we can hear her actual voice. A punk core yell-fest with “all of the people inside me …”. It is a fast-paced chaotic goodbye that seems to let her expand into the whole space of the stage. Strobe. Her hair is wild, as if an extension of her anger and fury and rage.

THE BIG SLEEP by Alisa Hecke and Julian Rauter. The programme leaflet contextualises the performance as a “preview of their current research project” in which “they mount both (in-)animated bodies and display the motives, aesthetics and obsessions of a profession that presupposes death in order to create an illusion of life”. In strong contrast to the earlier performances, the stage here is filled with very many objects (inanimate, that is a boar and rabbits and birds stuffed and mounted), living human bodies (one female taxidermist, and three performers dressed in remarkably orange shirts) and a cat in between being a carcass and becoming cat again (prepared live during the 20 minute long performance). “Das Tier ist tot. Das Tier ist weg.” (The animal is dead. The animal is gone.) One of the first lines to be spoken by one of the performers who have their lines transmitted to them via headphones and then speak unrehearsed, sometimes seemingly surprised and even amused, sometimes with a small delay while standing, or moving slowly through the assembled dead/gone animals on stage. Later, one of the performers caresses the white rabbit about which we learn that they are most difficult to prepare due to the amount of pink skin visible. The words that we hear are segments of interviews with taxidermists, namely the one who sits on stage at a table preparing the dead cat. “Sobald der Hund (or in this case: the cat) tot ist, ist der Hund tot. Ich kann nur so tun, als wäre er noch da.” – The animal is dead, I can only pretend that it is still alive. I love the facticity and seriousness such banal yet deeply profound contemplations are being presented with. The comic effect it has for me. How also here, a facet of representation and performance is laid bare that revolves around approximation and the potential for emancipating oneself from an ‘ideal’, from a realism or always already impossible ‘authenticity’. It may be precisely for this openness that I am moved by the way the performers are delivering their lines – detachedly, with a mostly monotone voice, with clearly marked artificiality that remains respectful to the seriousness of a profession and its motivation. Nothing is real here, and everything is utterly real (if dead, but what is death if not real). Taxidermy, I realise during the performance, may then have a lot to do with acting/performing on stage, the way of representing/presenting a character. An echo of a ‘real thing’, and, paradoxically, much more real because it surrounds me here and now. Both the representation in acting and in preparing dead animals to appear alive and in situ again, necessitate and make impossible the ‘real thing’ to exist and to be perceived. Instead, what is created is a singularity, a singular event, something precious. “Die Endlichkeit macht wertvoll, das drohende Verschwinden.”

THIS IS AN INVITATION by Netta Weiser promises in its proposal reaching sleep in and through the performance of different relaxation techniques: “The aim is to reclaim our right as spectators to fall asleep during a performance. We wish to empower sporadic acts of falling asleep at the theater and promote sleep as a legitimate and even preferable way to experience a performance.” This amusing and deeply political suggestion of collective sleep marks the end of Dirty Debüt’s #SLEEP and I have to smile about the ironic gesture in the programming itself: No lullaby is promised, but an invitation to refuse, to emancipate oneself from the collective order of attention and alertness that live performance seems to demand and give, as if inevitably. On the left of the stage, a man is sitting on a chair, in front of him a microphone. Sometimes, his reading voice is almost a whisper, but mostly a calm and steady tone that reminds me of ASMR videos that always make me aware of how differently people find relaxation. He is reading instructions from Boris Charmatz’ collective choreographies. I focus on the body of the dancer who appears in an on-going and responsive dialogue with his spoken words, attentive and alert to the apparent task of (re-)enacting them. A male voice ordering and choreographing a female body. Initially, she follows the instructions as minutely as possible, and maybe there is in this initial slow phase and pace an invitation for the participants to observe and to themselves re-enact to get there, reach relaxation and sleep. In later moments of the performance, the pace of his slow speech and her increasingly fast movements drift further apart. He stays in his tempo, while her body seems to follow its own rules, capacities, shapes more and quicker, in an almost erratic and dynamic way breaking out of the order to perform, acknowledging, here too, what always remains a dancer’s/performer’s/actor’s approximating yet emancipating interpretation of specific instructions/texts, insisting instead on being its own thing in between. Uncontrollably and very much so perfectly controlled, her whole body shakes, and wakes, clearly resisting his spoken lullaby.

The whole evening of Dirty Debüt’s #SLEEP had for me much to do with rhythm, and the different paces that living organisms go through together and alone in the course of their days, and nights. It was remarkable how slowing down (as if in preparation for going to bed) appeared as an aesthetic arc of sorts that also emerged during the feedback session. #SLEEP’s performances dissected the impossible, implausible, confusing and absurd correlations of relating to something – or someone – that is somehow not: Not within reach, not there yet, not for you, not quite, not now, not here. That the performances do so as performance is an intriguing comment on their own ephemeral state of constant flux, an organism that is never asleep.

With this self-reflective stance, #SLEEP exposes with four very different approaches what performance demands of those who create it, those who participate in it, those who organise it. At the same time, we were offered glimpses of both hope and disenchantment into four particular worlds and the promises and futures they carry. Let’s hope that the future will see more of Dirty Debüt.


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DRAMATURG> Joshua Wicke

JURY Alexander Kirchner, Björn Pätz, Sandra Umathum, Joshua Wicke

AUTHORS/strong> Kristin Flade, Max*i Wallenhorst




TECHN Emese Csornai

PRODUCTION björn & björn

A production by björn & björn in coproduction with SOPHIENSÆLE.

Funded by the German Capital Cultural Fund (HKF).

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