The Victory over the sun
"Der Sieg über die Sonne", directed by Sven Holm, is the latest work from Berlin opera company Novoflot running through October 20.
Composed of five sprawling pieces, Der Sieg is based on the controversial 1913 opera from a group of Russian futurists that included the painter Kasimir Malewitsch, considered one of the first practitioners of nonobjective art. Rejecting existing artistic conventions and logic, they called for a new world where the boundaries between subject and object, or the natural and the mechanical, no longer matter. A world without that old Western symbol of rationality, the sun.
Most of the original music was lost, which is helpful because this isn't really an opera as such. It's an assemblage of sounds and bodies and textual fragments and images. According to the company, spectators "have the choice of seeing one piece or all, three in 24 hours or four in five days, two of them twice, or half of one once."
Got that? Good.
If you like your theatre, well, in a theatre, then Part IV: Im Zehnten Land is for you. The performance is on the deck of Radialsystem V, outside overlooking the Spree, so rug up. A lovely old wooden piano on the stage contrasts with the gleaming silver mats that the audience sit on, and the use of fluorescent orange in the stage design (Elisa Limberg with special guest Emanuel Tschumi) conjures images of emergency services and temporary shelters. Bodies lie on the deck, clothed (by Anke Gänz and Elisa Limberg) in assorted odds and ends. Is this what the future will look like?
They wake slowly, as bewildered as we are, looking around and trying to understand what's happening. Elements and sequences occur throughout the piece without any obvious connection from one to the next – abandon all hope, ye who enter here and are expecting a story. Throughout, the Spree glitters in the background, complete with the occasional cheering party boat.
The conversation between four middle-aged ladies about the differences between mechanical and non-mechanical animals, as if discussing the latest knitting trends, is a highlight, as is the drum solo that meanders about the stage. But the clincher comes when you realise that that boat out on the river, which the two performers onstage are looking at, is carrying the rest of the cast (not to mention the excellently monikered First Pan-Russian Congress of the Singers of the Future). They make camp – literally – on the other side of the river, and the curtain call is done over a distance of about a football field. You can't help but get a tingle of pleasure from that.
Part III: das 35. Jahrhundert takes place in front of the Volksbühne Pavilion. A man (Ernst Surberg) inside the building scratches and mixes furiously, occasionally ranting through the glass window. A strong-man (Patrik Baboumian, who won the Germany’s Strongest Man competition in 2011) wrestles with assorted weights and mechanical pieces scattered on the ground.
There is no ticket required for the piece and it's a good thing: you may want to leave after five minutes, especially if you've forgotten to bring a good coat. But it's worth staying to notice the subtle variations that creep into what is basically a series of repeated sequences. Each time, different parts of the fragmented text stand out – radikale Ablehnung… menschliche Fackel…andere Stimmen… das Schwein…! There is no overall meaning but that doesn’t stop you from trying to put the jigsaw puzzle together.
When you get bored, just watch the other people. Some parts are loud, which draws a healthy mix of curious passers-by and those who've actually come for the show.
It’s bizarre, fun and very cold. The Futurists would have approved.
Der Sieg über die Sonne | Through October 20, see www.novoflot.de for details