Sophiensaele’s ‘Leisure & Pleasure’ Festival Celebrates Recreation and Rest

by Olivia Ladanyi // May 11, 2023

Sophiensæle’s festival ‘Leisure & Pleasure’ opens on May 25th and, in an ode to its subject matter, will leisurely stretch out over a six-week period. The performing arts space sets out to “take its time” celebrating the potentials and dimensions of these two inherently joyful yet political themes through a series of international guest performances, local productions and site-specific works. In what is the last season under the artistic direction of Franziska Werner, the festival explores the connection between pleasure and activism, conjuring a collective life beyond work and questioning art’s ability to heal societal exhaustion. The programme will interrogate who holds access to leisure, pleasure and recreation, stimulating reflection on whether they are fundamentally luxuries, privileges or basic human rights.

The festival programme brings together artists whose work is rooted in the idea that “the political, emancipative potential of leisure and pleasure is by no means exhausted.” ‘Leisure & Pleasure’, curated by Dr. Joy Kristin Kalu, Alexander Kirchner, Lena Kollender, Mateusz Szymanówka and Franziska Werner, intends to celebrate time-wasting and ecstasy; explore the erotic power of community and kink; and offer spaces for care, meditation and healing, all while bringing the rave, dark room and gym into the theatre space. Through every performance and event, joy and recreation are reimagined as a powerful source of resistance.

Six men dancing the pantsula and clapping

Jeremy Nedd and Impilo Mapantsula: ‘The Ecstatic,’ dance performance // Photo by Philip Frowein, courtesy of the artist and Sophiensaele

May’s programme of events energetically kicks off with Jeremy Nedd and Impilo Mapantsula’s ‘The Ecstatic’, a performance that combines the pantsula—a high-speed dance that emerged in Johannesburg during Apartheid—with the praise break of the African-American Pentecostal Church. This powerful yet cathartic study of movement explores communal ecstasy and how breaks can be transcendental moments. Alongside the performances is a pantsula dance workshop for all levels and ages. Another of the opening month’s highlights is ‘Fiebre,’ in which three dancers sensually writhe around in a sticky substance, exploring eroticism and sensuality in a fictional landscape where desire and disgust co-exist.

Woman performer in a sticky substance with a red light

Tamara Alegre, Lydia Ö Diakité, Marie Ursin, Elie Autin, Nunu Flashdem, Marga Alfeirão: ‘Fiebre,’ dance performance at Les Urbaines Festival // Photo by Nelly Rodriguez, courtesy of the artist and Sophiensaele

The festival’s June programme begins with the launch of the second issue of queer-feminist rave collective Lecken’s zine, ‘Queer Social Reproduction,’ accompanied by an evening programme and an all-night rave. Another highlight is Freddie Wulf’s ‘We Are All Made Of Stars,’ in which he will perform in a bathtub using an endoscopic camera and lip-syncing to a live sound score by Alicia Jane Turner, exploring the themes of (trans*) embodiment, wellbeing and self-perception through close-up textures of body, water and plants. The following week, crip-queer theatre project Criptonite will present their performance ‘Pleasure,’ where the audience is invited to descend into the underworld and celebrate the intersection of pain, pleasure and kink.

A man feeds a woman with a cluster of marshmallows

Criptonite: ‘Pleasure,’ performance // Photo by Jean-Marc Thurmes, courtesy of the artist and Sophiensaele

In a cosy installation with collective co-writing and reading sessions and group meditations, Sickness Affinity Group invites us to share sick, sleepy and caring crip time with them. Continuing on the same trajectory, Angela Alves will create a space for collective rest in a calm, low-stimulus environment. Alves’ ‘Rest Rebellion’ offers a training camp to educate visitors on the transformative nature of resting in a bid to resist capitalism and its exploitation of the human body.

Angela Alves: ‘Rest Rebellion’, 2022, installation view at ‘Grenzgänge Festival’ // Photo by Sara Mack, courtesy of the artist and Sophiensaele

Two topless people, one with their arms around the other

Liz Rosenfeld, An*dre Neely: ‘Ruins’ // Photo by Richard Hancock, courtesy of the artist and Sophiensaele

On the pleasure end of the spectrum, in immersive live work ‘Ruins,’ Liz Rosenfeld and An*dre Neely will transform the basement of Sophiensæle into a dark room where people are invited to move through, cruise and lounge together. The festival programme ends with the same energy that it began with—with Tishkau & Hampe’s fitness workout ‘Colonastics’ and Double Much’s ‘Coiling Against The Sun,’ where Berlin-based dancers perform the skip-rope jumping game Double Dutch, exploring its connection to club culture and playful, non-productive art-making.

A person in a wig doing a fitness workout

Tishkau & Hampe: ‘Colonastics’ // Photo by Joana Tischkau, courtesy of the artist and Sophiensaele

A man jumping rope, playing the game Double Dutch

Double Much: ‘Coiling Against The Sun’ // Photo by Nasheeka Nadsreal, courtesy of the artist and Sophiensaele

Throughout the festival, Sophiensæle’s backyard will be transformed into a garden for relaxation and their Kantine space will house both artistic and activist collectives. Sophienstraßenfest will take place on June 10th, when Sophiensæle will spill out into its surrounding streets, celebrating the Kiez, its residents and their stories. Neighborhood choirs will sing in the courtyards of Sophienstraße and, in the evening, there will be a dinner where local residents and guests are invited to bring their own seating and dishes to create “the longest dinner table in Berlin.” The festival culminates in a lavish party on July 1st, waving goodbye to Franziska Werner after 12 years and celebrating Sophiensæle: “a place of community, gathering and celebration.” The Sæle, its courtyards and bars will be open to everyone, with an artistic programme, drinks, snacks and a dance floor.

Additional Info


‘Leisure & Pleasure’
Festival: May. 25–July 1, 2023
Sophienstraße 18, 10178 Berlin, click here for map

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