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Simone Aughterlony – Mein Seelenort: Ein Badezimmer in Friedrichshain - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Simone Aughterlony – My private retreat: a bathroom in Friedrichshain

Simone Aughterlony is planning a work of musical theatre that celebrates the versatility and diversity of water. Ideas for the choreographer’s creation come to them – where else? - in the bath.

The place where I feel the most at one with my private self is my bathtub in my flat in the Friedrichshain district of Berlin. My primary home is in Zurich, where my children are, but when I’m in Berlin I love my flat and the bathroom with its lovely tiles and especially the tub. I have this routine in the morning: running a bath for a ten-minute soak – no bath salts or bubble bath, just clear, hot water. It sets me up for the day. I lie there reflecting on projects and the like.

I usually have a bundle of projects on the go at any one time, mostly dealing with bodies, transformation, transitioning. In recent years I’ve been looking at water as a metaphor for transformation and exchange. I sat down with the composer Kai Kobayashi a while back to hash over what we might put together for the Munich Biennale. In early June we’ve got our world premiere of SHALL I BUILD A DAM there and a fortnight later we’re presenting it in the Tischlerei. The motto of the festival is »On the way«, so, like, the same themes of movement and transition. Kai and I are great respecters of the work of the Canadian cultural theorist Astrida Neimanis. Her book »Bodies of Water« is an eye-opener in matters of the human body, gender, culture and the natural world.

We humans like to think of ourselves as stable, solid entities, yet 80% of our body is water – not a great statement, admittedly. Things get interesting, though, when we look with a fresh eye at the categories we use to define ourselves. Water is continuously passing through our bodies. We absorb it, we pass it on.

The volume of water on and around our planet is fixed. The only thing that changes is its form, be it ice, rain or water vapour. Depending on factors such as temperature, weather and atmospheric pressure it can be bubbly, sluggish or even, in the deepest depths of the ocean, gel-like. Water is constantly subject to distribution – weather, climate, clouds; rivers, lakes, pipelines… Issues of sparsity and fair allocation arise as soon as we humans get involved.

Simone Aughterlony's works move on the border between dance, performance and art. SHALL I BUILD A DAM is a co-production with the Munich Biennale © Max Zerrahn

The longer we spend observing water for what it is, namely a commodity that is ever shifting its form, flowing and penetrating and connecting, the more blurred and fluid the categories become. Water is a dynamic substance and from water’s perspective all matter is dynamic. So SHALL I BUILD A DAM is our way of portraying the various »bodies of water«, in pipes, as ice and in other forms.

These manifestations of water are performed by two singers and five musicians from the »Ensemble KNM Berlin«, the Kammerorchester Neue Musik, which specialises in collaborating on works of new music at the moment of composition. Equipped with their instruments (accordion, double bass, viola, trombone and clarinet) they become presenters and performers of something that is not really dance, although it might be labelled as such.

The show is an invitation to re-consider our compartmentalised thinking. With the transformation of water in mind, we pose a string of questions: Where do bodies end and where does nature begin? When does culture latch on? If everything is in flux, what is female and what is male? Instead of cheering on a rigidly binary culture, we encourage people to accept all existence for what it is: i.e. fluid. Even the definable forms of water are only captured as snapshots in time; water is actually constantly morphing – and with it all things, creatures and entities that it passes through. We want to apply these understandings to us humans. It’s an attempt to deconstruct, even destabilise, anthropocentric ways of thinking.

The philosophical concepts underpinning these reflections are transformation, post-humanism and hydro-feminism. I’m fully aware that some people get the shivers when they hear this. They worry that this will mark the end of clear-cut distinctions, which are what make life so colourful. But that’s not what this is about. On the contrary, we love difference. But instead of celebrating classifications and defined states, we look at change, at transitory shifts. Everything is in flux. There’s no getting away from it. Building dams won’t help, be they real-life barriers or mental blockages.

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