HUNDSTAGE, Enad Marouf ©K. G. Helm

Summer of Discontent

HUNDSTAGE by Enad Marouf premiered at Sophiensæle on 13 June, with further performances from 14 to 16 June. It takes inspiration from the ancient Greek and Roman concept of the ‘dog days’, where the extreme heat of summer was believed to provoke a time of misfortune and unrest.

The Festsaal at Sophiensæle is far from a neutral space, with its large windows, chipped panelled ceiling, and overall sense of faded grandeur. Many artists choose to minimise these elements but, as we enter for Enad Marouf’s HUNDSTAGE, they appear to be highlighted. We sit on all four edges of the room, uplighting drawing our attention to the architecture above us, while the performers stand looking out of the uncovered windows, the warm light from the courtyard casting them as silhouettes. There is a haze in the air which makes it feel as though we are entering a space where something has already happened, as though we are starting at the end.

Billy Bultheel’s thumping electronic sound design begins to assert itself and the performers drift towards the centre. They nonchalantly stand around, slowly shifting positions while staring stonily at the audience, and it looks like a fashion show — fitting perhaps, with costumes created by acclaimed Berlin fashion brand GmbH. Minimal movements emerge: two hands grasp each other, or a head falls back in ecstasy or pain. However, for a while very little else happens and, confronted by the sparseness, I find myself wondering whether this posturing is ironic or in earnest.

There follows a series of brief, fragmented scenes. Shade Théret and Ewa Dziarnowska play with one short phrase of movement, dissecting and reassembling it again and again, stamping, spinning, and flicking their limbs to an insistent beat. Jao Moon and Samuel Pereira lounge about as Nancy Naser Al Deen sings a wistful melody, occasionally interrupted by a blood-curdling scream from off-stage. The contrasting nature of these various episodes invokes something of the paradoxical lethargy and feverish mania associated with the ‘dog days’ of the title. The episodic fragmentation of the work is also used to unnerving effect: lighting, sound, and movement are divided into distinct chapters which are then set off-kilter, such that when one element changes dramatically, the others continue unaffected. The way in which each scene bleeds unpredictably into the next is destabilising, as though the dramaturgical rug were constantly being pulled out from under out feet. Effortlessly switching colour and texture, Bultheel’s sound design provides an especially rich counterpoint.

As the performers start what turns out to be the final scene, again striking poses while slowly moving in a line along the first row of the audience, I feel confused about their relationship to us. The audience remains lit throughout, and the performers appear unrelentingly aware of us, yet their icy gaze keeps us at arm’s length. There are flashes of emotionally charged movement, yet the whole work seems coated in a sheen of performative indifference which makes me question whether I should take anything too seriously. HUNDSTAGE is a doubtlessly a polished, stylish work, yet I leave wishing that some more heat would have been allowed to cut through the Berlin cool.

HUNDSTAGE by Enad Marouf premiered at Sophiensæle on 13 June 2024, with further performances from 14 to 16 June 2024.