Brutal inspirations

INTERVIEW. The summer's last open-air theatre piece will be a doozy. Collaborators Sebastian Nübling and Iver Thuwis confront the intrinsic violence of men's bodies in Fallen, which opens Sep 11 at the Maxim Gorki Theater.

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Photo by Esra Rotthoff

Director Sebastian Nübling and choreographer Ives Thuwis come together to create Fallen, the summer’s last open-air show, dealing with the intrinsic violence of men’s bodies.

It is not the first time that Nübling, who’s been collecting invitations to prestigious festivals since he was named young director of the year by the magazine Theater heute in 2002, and Thuwis, whose 2009 piece Noch 5 Minuten was rewarded with the Faust theatre prize for directing, have worked together. Last time, they made a stage out of tonnes of sand and let 14 young people struggle with it (Sand, Schauspielhaus Zürich, 2011). With their new project, showing with English surtitles in front of the Gorki Theater, sand is back, this time hosting 10 actors dealing with violence.

Did you base this work on real cases of violence? 

SEBASTIAN NÜBLING: We are not quoting one case in particular, but got intrigued by a few hard-to-explain phenomena of extreme brutality that happened in Germany in the past few years – like that man violently beaten up in the subway in Munich in 2008 because he asked two young men to stop smoking. How can you describe that, or can you explain that? Especially if you don’t interpret it as a single case but as a social phenomenon.

So you see this phenomenon as something new? 

IVES THUWIS: It is not necessarily about an increasing number of violent cases, but what we can observe is indeed a new type of violence, without grounds: it is not about robbing or avenging; it is violence for itself. 

SN: This is what makes those cases so special: the motive is not immediately understandable, there is neither material motivation nor a personal relationship between the victim and the offender, just an emotive explosion of aggression. In our work we don’t mean to reproduce those cases but we reflect the phenomenon of men’s violence with the abstract method of non-verbal dance and theatre.

Why do you focus on men?

SN: Well, only men participate in this particular form of violence. I don’t know of any case that would imply a woman. That being said, we focus on the body’s energy and image. This constant need to upgrade your body is also something new, it was different when I was young. Now it seems important to have a muscular, defined body. It is not just an ideal of beauty, it is also about strength – and what do you want to do with this strength?

How do you work together with the actors? 

SN: First we talked a lot about violence – what kind of violence did we experience, how did we react, what did that arouse or provoke? Now we work a lot with tasks: we invent some tasks and try to give the actors enough space to create a situation out of them with the help of their own ideas, thoughts and experiences.

What kind of tasks?

SN: We worked for example on the idea of pumping up the body – and from there we developed a sequence of movements. It started with a thought about this whole fitness studio culture and muscle constructions. We tried out repetitive processes as solos and observed what happens when you keep a repetitive movement going, and when the body starts to be tired. What kind of energy is contained in the body when it is alone or interacting with another person or with a group of 10.

IT: We try out different constellations – how the men interact together when you place one person against one group, one group against one person, two persons against each other, two against one… or, what is much more abstract: how can you get under your own skin?

Has anything in particular come out of it?

SN: Of course, all the time. For example, at the moment, we observe almost self-aggressive movement patterns. The predisposition to endure a movement that hurts or is exhausting, because you have to maintain it for a long time. It’s like working out: it also creates those situations where people are alone and literally torturing themselves. Obviously people want it somehow, or they wouldn’t do it.

IT: And we are interested at how people look at that. 

SN: Yes, we create this ‘looking’ situation as well. The stage is covered with sand and people are sitting all around, it is kind of an arena situation, so it is a lot about watching and being watched – everyone sees everything, you see what is happening in the arena and you see what the others are looking at.

What made the two of you come back to sand as a material? 

IT: We really felt like working with sand again – it creates a frictional area that you have to fight against, it is not easy but that is what makes it interesting. It opens many possibilities that are not there with the normal ground. You cannot bury yourself or just fall or plunk on a normal ground. 

SN: It is interesting as a counterproductive material, it pulls the movement out instead of raising and helping it as a traditional dance floor would do. And it is perfect to deal with violence: it is a material that resists by itself and provokes aggressiveness as well. Anyone who’s played beach volleyball knows what I’m talking about!

Fallen: Sep 11-13, 16-17, 19-21, 24-25, 28-29, 20:30, open-air stage by the Maxim Gorki Theater, Am Festungsgraben 2, Mitte, S+U-Bhf Friedrichstr.

Originally published in issue #130, September 2014.