“erSCHÖPFUNG”, Janne Gregor ©Dorothea Tuch

What Feels Like Our Last Breath

In “erSCHÖPFUNG”, which premiered at Theaterdiscounter TD Berlin 27-30 January 2022, Janne Gregor asked a host of professionals—from a boxer and beatboxer to a Krump artist and contemporary dancer—to push themselves to and, ultimately, beyond the limits of exhaustion, only to find…that they just kept on going. 

I was keen on the concept long before I saw the show

a piece about exhaustion

Erschöpfung, they call it in German

only the title of the show, “erSCHÖPFUNG”, places the emphasis on the latter two syllables

as if to stress that within the very etymology of the word exhaustion lies, at least in German the word for

creation, Schöpfung

and this, I guess, is what Janne Gregor’s show is really all about

that the state of exhaustion is a seat, or is it ‘seed’, for creation

that the condition of extreme mental or physical tiredness

of feeling fatigued

downright depleted

utterly spent

is in fact the foundation for invention, if not innovation

that only when we push ourselves to the very edge of our energy

to the brink of our bodies

indeed, within the limits of our life

do we find in ourselves the strength to push forward, that little bit further

to keep on going

to Keep Calm and Carry On

because, well, let’s face it

we can be dog-tired, bone-tired, and yet still not tired of life 

we can be worn-out, burnt-out, and yet not quite going out

we can be all-in, done-in, and yet somehow still just in

because even when we’re dead beat, dead on our feet, we’re still standing

propped up by that propensity they call ‘human perseverance’

or else ‘grit’, as it is otherwise known

that great leveller of life

of existence

of being

of being human

of being human and breathing

breathing what feels like our last breath

only to find that it’s our                      

there at the tipping point

in the space between

our last breath out

and our first breath in

on the threshold between

an exhale



at the turn of the breath

the breath-turn

or ‘Atemwende’

as the poet Paul Celan called it

is a moment

a moment composed of no more than a split second

and yet a moment of complete timelessness

a moment of sheer spaciousness                             

of consciousness

when we are perhaps more alive than we have ever been

or, at least, more attuned to life than we have ever been


and listening

listening deeply

listening deeply to the silence

to the deep silence after the din

or, to the ‘silence after the storm’, as Gregor herself describes it

to the


this is the beginning she is talking about

the beginning of something

something that we thought was the end

a birth not necessarily after, but rather at, the time of death

indeed, a sudden miraculous re-birth

for they may be taking their bow, but we are still clapping

they may be walking off stage, but we are still spilling

spilling out into the streets

and onto the U-Bahn

where a crowd of people are dancing

dancing to music blaring on a boombox

dancing to drown out their yawning

since it’s Damir’s birthday, after all

and they’ve come all the way from Moldova

all the way from Moldova to show him a good time

to keep the show going

going on in Berlin, where

when we exit the U-Bahn

we meet a steady stream of night cyclists climbing a hill

one pedal at a time, puffing and panting

every one in 10 of them hauling a trailer pulsating with portable speakers

although the last of them is struggling

struggling to push forward that little bit further

despite the music willing her on

willing her on as she strides alongside, rather than endlessly peddling, her bike

crawling along at a snail’s pace and yet nevertheless pace-by-pace



she’s at the top of this hill and standing

standing still for a split moment of a second and listening 

listening to the silence after the struggle

to the silence after the 



before I know it, she’s back 

back on her bike and peddling 

and I’m stood there


still applauding the fact that

however much Gregor’s show felt more like a workshop than a fully formed piece

her performers sketching out, rather than tweaking, some semblance of a choreography

mapping the beginnings, rather than the end, of something they’re working on

it nevertheless spoke to everything we’re ever really doing 

keeping calm and carrying on, keeping on going

finding, from moment to moment

the Schöpfung in the “erSCHÖPFUNG”

a concept I’m still keen on

keen to see more on

and now certainly see more of

long after, and with thanks to, the show 

“erSCHÖPFUNG” by Janne Gregor (Premiere 27 January 2022 at the Theaterdiscounter TD Berlin). By and with: Yara Atrisha Traore, Charlotte Noack, Tamar Grosz, Veronika Nowag-Jones. Concept, choreography: Janne Gregor. Live Music: Daniel “Mando” Mandolini. Dramaturgical support: Heike Albrecht. Stage, costumes: Johanna Schraut. Lighting design: Annegret Schalke.