schwelle 7

About schwelle7   by Rebecca Jackson

I’ve tried to write about this place more than once.  I’ve tried talking about it.  I’ve tried dancing about how it makes me feel.  Just to see if the experiences that I collect, that soak up under my skin and into my panties can also ooze back out into the world and make some kind of difference.  

I suppose my intention with writing about Schwelle7 would be to encourage you to engage with something unknown, to do something that maybe fucking scares you, that could be uncomfortable.  Not because I’m a masochist or that I love being spanked on soft black dance floors with elegant leather whips, but because there’s more to life than what you see, and you only really find that out when you step outside your comfort zone. I suppose my intention with writing about my experiences is to encourage you to try.  To try something that makes you brain hiccup and the nerves under your shoulder blades tingle.  It doesn't need to be at Schwelle7, but it’s a good place to start.  It doesn’t need to be bondage.  It doesn’t need to be breath play.  It doesn’t need to be public sex or group sex or same sex sex...but it could be.  When was the last time you tried something you hadn’t done before?  Do you remember when you did?  Do you remember how alive you felt?  Even if you didn’t like it?  You are reminded that you have a choice, that you choose, that every second you can choose, that you are free.

When the first one of my friends went skydiving, we all thought she was bat shit crazy.  Why do something so utterly unnecessary and life-threatening just to get a kick?  My flat mate had the same reaction when I told her about Schwelle7, that I was going to practice bondage and contact improvisation and BDSM.  There was this ‘Why?’ in her eyes: a fear for my safety, for my sanity, for my health.  But I was more afraid for my safety and sanity and health if I kept going on the path that I was going; mildly discontent with my job, moderately dissatisfied with my sex life, kind of terrified that I was living something mediocre and too confused to know how to change it.

One of my first questions when I wanted to start engaging in BDSM was ‘How do I stay safe?  If I want to try getting tied up or spanked, how do I find the right people and ensure I don’t end up in some ditch somewhere?’  Don't get me wrong, Schwelle7 isn’t an easy place to walk in to, but it is a safe place.  The most striking aspect of the space for me is the light.  It is big and bright and open; a large dance studio, proud and clean and subtle.  It is also home to the owner; it is someone’s, and has a soft, sexy smell and an identity and a purpose. I’ve seen people fucking in the middle of the day, in the middle of the room.  I’ve seen people crying and hugging.  I’ve seen people dress up like jokers or paper bags or kings and queens and live out their fantasies.  It is amazing that there is somewhere to do this.

Engaging in BDSM also made me challenge my prejudices and conditioning, no less because it was me who liked these ‘strange’, ‘dark’ things.  We are taught ostentatiously to accept and welcome other cultures, traditions and tastes.  But how open-minded are we really?  How open-minded am I?  Something very strong in me questioned why I liked what I was seeing, what I was doing there at Schwelle7.  I grew up a staunch feminist with a prim, proper English education and a university degree.  I would come back to that girl in the strangest moments; topless, bent over a bar being flogged, and I would question myself.  Why do I like this?  Is there something wrong with me?  My conditioning told me there was something dirty and seedy in this. And if I’m honest, at times it’s still there.  I don’t expect to just magic it away.

But I have learnt that it is kind of fun to play with these prejudices, to try and juggle the idea that I’m inappropriate, to question where this thought of ‘indecorum’ comes from.  It is important to readdress my concept of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. 

Just as it is important to mark the moment when you realize your parents aren’t infallible.  Just as it’s important to challenge your government and the people that lead you.  After all, who is it that can tell me how to get free, but me?  Who is it that can tell me what feels good, but me? Who is it that can give me self-worth and self-confidence and satisfaction and gratification and fulfillment, but me?  

And then we come to the pain.  To the act of it.  To the bondage and the spanking and the physical experience. Whilst not everyone is a submissive, and not everyone likes receiving sharp sensations, almost everyone in their lives will experience some sort of physical or emotional pain.  At Schwelle7, you look at the human relationship to pain.  You can experience it yourself, or watch it in others; the before, the during and the after.  I learnt to not be scared of pain, that pain is always there.  And it will always go, and you will always live through it.  I learnt to deal with pain, both in myself, and in others.  And I completely readdressed my understanding of pain itself.    

What really is pain?  What is pleasure?  And why am I so attracted to one or the other?  Conscious BDSM uses pain as a transformative tool, helping you to investigate yourself.  There’s nothing like a sharp, strong sensation on your behind to help you concentrate your mind and readdress your reality.  More specifically, what is real physical pain and what is emotional pain?  Do I cry out when I am hit by a whip because of the hot sensation on my behind which will pass in a couple of seconds?  Or because of the shame I feel at baring myself and allowing someone to do this? Asking someone to do this? Begging someone to do this? What emotional ‘pain’ do I ask for in my everyday life, in my relationships?  Am I aware of it?

But I would be lying if I said it was just about self-investigation.  Of course, the whole thing oozes with sex. Things that happen at Schwelle7 are hot.  It is a place where your urges are accepted and your boundaries are tested and your prejudices are given not-so-mild electric shocks.  It really made me see how much people need attention and intimacy; everyone needs love.  Everyone needs touch. And everyone gets something from being allowed to step, leap or jump stark-bollock-naked out of their comfort zone.  
The human body speaks its own language and it is physical and subtle and hidden.  With a million different dialects, for some the alphabet is formed from beatings, for others, erotic clothing, or submissive play, or soft stroking sensations.  Learning your body’s own language, learning about yourself is perhaps the most important thing you can do.  Bypass all the restrictive constructs that stop you from knowing what you really want and who you really are, and just try.  

What’s stopping you?

Rebecca Jackson

Interview with Felix Ruckert, Exberliner June 2014


For the uninitiated, how would you define Schwelle7?

It's a playground, a place where you can experiment. Where you can try yourself out in many different directions, in an intelligent and controlled environment. 
**Schwelle** means 'threshold' and the concept actually comes from Victor Turner, who was an anthropologist. He had a theory of what he called the liminal stage. **Limen** is Latin for threshold, which is the place of transition. You don't have to decide to go to one side or the other, you can stay there. I don't have to decide if I'm a pervert or normal, if I'm gay or heterosexual, if I’m a woman or a man. Am I an artist or am I just a crazy pervert? It's all about how you see it. 

You were a dancer and choreographer. How did you end up running a BDSM space? 

I still consider myself a choreographer and a dancer. For me it was a very logical development, starting as a dancer – working with the body, exploring the body – then expanding upon what performance could be. I did a lot of participatory projects where I choreographed amateurs as well, creating spaces where life transitioned into performance. I did the Xplore festival in 2004, which is still alive and going on in its 10th year now. Doing that brought up the idea to make Schwelle7, to have a fusional space to do workshops in areas like dance, sexual techniques and all the other practices I'm interested in. Those practices condition people to create and embody new codes of behaviour and a certain way of being that only exists here at Schwelle7.
So it was a natural progression in terms of working with the body?

Exactly. The body and its possibilities are always at the centre. It's quite interesting when you think of dance history. I started dancing in the 1970s, where it was very much about form; you really worked with the muscles a lot and it was about virtuosity. In the 1990s the focus shifted to the bones and the space, and in the last 15-20 years dancers have started working more and more with the inner body. The research on body fluids are very much influencing dance and choreography today. So you have a kind of going from the outside in, from material to immaterial, from formal to emotional. That's where sexuality comes in – it's all about the inner world. It links the rational to the emotional. 
So elements of BDSM were the next logical step?

That happened around 1999 where I did a piece called **Ring**. The idea was to give people a maximum of positive information: the audience got caressed, complimented and guided around. But the idea was to also show the manipulation going on there, because people were totally happy to get so much affection and attention to the point of actually falling in love with the dancers. 

Critics and the professionals called it esoteric and therapeutic, which annoyed me. I decided that I wanted the next piece to be about discomfort: instead of being really nice to the audience, we were going to be really nasty. So with SECRET SERVICE I brought in these BDSM people who taught the dancers how to flog and so on. 
Were you already in the BDSM scene at the time?
I had met people who were practicing it – I found it quite fascinating how they transformed the negative into something positive. To transform pain to pleasure. Of course it is important to know that very few masochists get turned on by the pain itself. Most people you have to stimulate sexually first - and then you can hit them: it's a balancing act. And in a way that's what you do anyway if you have good sex. It’s always a combination of gentle and rough. This is my other conviction; I don't think BDSM is a special form of sex, I rather think that sex is a specific form of BDSM. There are so many practices that are not even sexual within BDSM, where it's really more about a systemic excitement, where's it's about connection, about emotion.
Are there similarities between the discipline of dance and BDSM?

Ballet training is physically challenging and often painful. You sweat, you suffer, and on top you have this whole hierarchy between the students going on - and on top of that you get the humiliation from the teachers. I know it from yoga school and from martial arts or sports; it's the same. People are pushed and also voluntarily push themselves to see what the body can do. Compared to that, BDSM is pure pleasure because it's so controlled and negotiated. There is nothing to achieve, the only goal is pleasure. It's not by chance that you find a lot of people who come from these backgrounds in BDSM.
Who comes to Schwelle7?

Well, I try to make it really open, so everybody feels welcome. We have people from 20 years old to around 60 or 70. A lot are body workers – people who do massage or therapy for example– and all sorts of artists. There are also a lot of people who work in medicine or mental therapy, like doctors or therapists. It’s very queer; a lot of people are bisexual or gay, but it’s also kind of hetero-flexible, so it's a nice mix. It's the more open-minded people from all sides who come. Those who only want to be with men or only want to be with women, they don't really come here. 
So it's very quintessentially Berlin?

Berlin has a history which allows this kind of thing. It’s at this cross point of ideologies and very postmodern. Not only are people very free and equal, they are also very informed. In the 1920s Berlin was the place to go for sexual liberation and the only place where gay couples could walk the streets openly. And of course, there's the fascism, and the GDR socialism which has left a lasting impression in many ways. I came to Berlin in 1980 when the Wall was still there. West Berlin was a total free zone, but it was also very artificial, because it only existed because of west german subvention. Many outsiders came together and created a lot of bars and places of inspiration in West Berlin. Today Berlin is post ideology that is why I think it is the perfect place for me. Also you have a very open BDSM scene here. In countries where you have had actual violence not long ago – like the Balkans or many southamerican countries – there is no BDSM scene, because the trauma is so close. You need time to digest it before you can start to properly appropriate it. But here and in other peaceful countries there's this playing and it even extends to playing with cultural trauma. Like in California, you could easily find someone playing Nazi and Jew, but you would never see them playing white master and black slave. For the same reason you don't really find people playing Nazi and Jew here in Germany. It's still taboo, people would react very strongly to it.
What is it you're trying to bring to people – purely a recreational thing, or a quest for something deeper?

It's interesting, because in 'recreation' you also have 'creation'. So maybe  I am on the threshold between creation and recreation. As I said I do prefer not to make those separations.
There's definitely an artistic side to it. I don't believe in ideology, I don't believe in wrong or right. I don't even believe in improvement. I don't think you can get better, because as you learn something, you also lose something. But I definitely believe in creativity as a way of learning; **homo ludicus**, the concept of the guy who plays and therefore evolves. It's random decisions, trying out things, failing. All the people I invite here are people who propose forms of creativity or play without any promise of becoming a better person or better artist out of it. I give you material to play with - and that's enough.
So there's not a quest for something bigger in that way?

It's a good question, because it's not just about hedonism and pleasure. Like in yoga, discipline is the path. The whole concept of work is mostly an idea of pain for a lot of people: it's suffering to get to a more positive end goal. But I also have very good results working with pleasure. I just want to show all the options. So pleasure can be the way, pain can be the way. It depends on what you need and BDSM offers all options. 
So it's about beating your own path?
Yes. I think one important concept for Schwelle7 is the individuality of it. It's centred around me. If you look at the programme from the last seven years there are always phases: for two years we had a lot of contact improvisation, because I was really interested in that, now there is more music and body work. I think it’s an advantage that I don't try to make a programme that caters to a lot of people, that it in itself is complete for one person – which is me. The whole thing is about curating. In the art, world you often see that a curator really makes something happen which is beyond what the artists do. That's how I see myself.
What's your attitude towards more traditional concepts like 'love' or 'monogamy'?

In Berlin we're in a very specific situation. It’s really obvious here how traditional family structures are not thenorm anymore. All of my friends have patch work families, enjoy multiple relations either sequential or parallel, sometimes hidden, sometimes open,  their kids have two or three daddies and so on. It's very polyamorous. It's a total mishmash and people live very well within that.
Is that also something you try to foster?

It happens automatically when you work with sexuality or start to play with BDSM. 
You get a totally different idea of intimacy. Very concretely: A couple comes here for the first time because the girl wants to experiment with bondage and the guy is clueless, so someone ties her up, while the guy is watching. There's nothing strictly sexual, but still the guy might feel jealous or excluded. Because there is emotion and therefore intimacy. What happens a lot when people start playing with BDSM is that they suddenly have these sort of multiple intimate relationships; BDSM loosens and ‘fluidifies’ these fixed ideas of what a relationship or intimacy is, and it mixes up the gender roles as well. For instance, you usually associate dominance with masculinity. It's the penetrating, aggressive part, while the other, femininity, is the part that gives in and gets controlled. In BDSM you play with these roles, you experiment with activities that are associated with the different genders: if you come here to a play party, you might see a small, very sexy woman with a big strap-on fucking a big, tattooed guy. It’s totally striking, because when you look at it your mind gets confused about what's what. It has the sort of confusion similar to when you see really androgynous people. You can't classify them right away, so they sort of destabilize you. When the gender gets more fluid, you can relate differently to other people. If I get fucked in the ass, I might feel so female that I can engage in sexual interaction with a male, because I'm a woman – I don't have to define myself as being gay or the consequences it might have. If you look at society, that's also what's happening: Identity is being deconstructed and is getting more and more fluid. The deconstruction makes you more multifaceted, so it's an expansion of identity, really. Instead of being an artist, a slut or whatever, I'm just Felix – whatever that means in a given moment.
So would you say that monogamy is dead in that sense?

Yes, because it's a total illusion. Fundamentally it means that you get together with someone and you only have sex with that person until you die. That doesn't really exist. But the propaganda that it should be like this is still very present. Many people I know follow a concept of serial monogamy:  if you're changing partners every five minutes or five months, it's still serial monogamy because you're only sexually engaging with one person at a time.  The idea of ‘relation’ or ‘couple’ is a mere construction, expressing rather an emotional need than a real wish for exclusive sex. Today many people just decide not to lie anymore.
How is what you do here different from an orgy?

When people think of an orgy, they think of a situation where everyone has sex with everyone at the same time, but that's actually impossible. You only have one cock or pussy. So in a sense even an orgy is just serial monogamy, but of course its purpose is experiencing intimacy in a more diverse setting and at accelerated speed with several partners. Therefore it is about practicing communicative skills, traveling your emotional landscape and learning to set borders. So yes, there are orgies here, but not only on a purely genital level. Orgies are very interesting, because they're about making intimacy public. I think there's something really radical about public sex. Not public in the sense of sex in a park, but more like sex with a conscious witness. Sex is about losing control and giving up inhibition. To share that is to put yourself in a very vulnerable place, inducing empathy. 
You're having a full moon party tonight and one of the conditions for first-timers is to bring a play partner. Do you think it might keep some people from coming?

Yeah, but that's the point. We want people to have a certain amount of social graces and confidence. Not just coming here secretly – they have to share it with someone, be it their partner or someone else. We also want them to have a kind of anchor to relate to. Most people at the play parties kind of know each other or come regularly; there's only about 20-30 percent new people at a time, because the regulars know how the party should be in terms of respect and playfulness, but also in the sense of bravery and courage and just going for it. At our play party the idea is that you come and create yourself a kind of character or persona. It becomes very theatrical and has a kind of magical, transgressive quality. Most of the people also come to workshops from time to time, so they are aware of the idea of consensual playing with dominance and submission. Basically, it means that I trust someone to guide me somewhere else. Instead of disciplining myself, I delegate someone else to bring me to some new place. 

Felix Ruckert

Born in 1959 in Mespelbrunn, Germany, Ruckert studied dance at Folkwang Hochschule in Essen as well as in Paris and New York. He first lived in Berlin from 1980-1983, moving to the city permanently in 1993. His reputation as an influential avant-garde choreographer was cemented with the performances **Hautnah** (1995-99) and **Ring** (1999-onwards), both of which blurred the conventional boundaries between performer and spectator. In 2004 he founded the xplore Festival, an annual three-day event focusing on dance, performance, BDSM and ritual practice. He opened Schwelle 7 in 2007; currently, he runs the space as well as his own performance group, Compagnie Felix Ruckert.
Schwelle 7
A 480sqm experimental space located on Uferstraße in Wedding, Schwelle7 hosts performances and  play parties along with a wide variety of workshops, ranging from Japanese bondage, erotic hypnosis and dominance/submission to flying yoga and Klein technique.  

 by Melissa Steckbauer for Shortlist No 3 / 2013

Berlin fucks like no other city. Here you have the pendulous balance between Berghain and Prenzlauer Berg, evidence of coital, familial love coexisting beside a rakish sort that is worked out in the blind dark. In a city such as this, the two extremes even coexist as with the cozy schwelle7, the BDSM dance studio in Wedding that operates under the maxim of care in the hands of Felix Ruckert (formerly of Pina Bausch‘s Wuppertaler Tanztheater). Of all Berlin‘s fabulous quarters, I dare say Wedding is  one of the kinkiest - Wedding! Meanwhile, nothing qualifies the success of care giving like the children of Prenzlauer Berg. They are, like it or not, adored and waited on by doting grandparents and parents of all kinds while the little darlings, move safely through coves of Berlin arbor. Some of the same arbor which acts as protective cover for the top cruising spots in the city. J‘adore. 

One might argue inversely that the strength of the familiar is at Berghain and the rakes are the domestics in Pberg (I shan‘t judge). His having emerged freshly from the toilets at Berghain, lacquered with drugs, I once had a friend say to me “This is our church“, and then dance off in the direction of his beloved and their new swedisch lamb of a boyfriend. But the range of berlin‘s playful community goes well beyond the kinksters and hipsters at Berghain. A melange exists within and beside the annual men‘s leather parties, the dark room at Ficken 3000, the seemly Soho House, Silver Future, Kumpelnest and the Diamond Lotus Tantra Lounge.

I‘ll make an educated guess that the best hybrid and the most ethical play space in the city is still schwelle7, where you can run with chaste sluts, stage trained actors, Shibarl braggadocios, or a  throng of contact improv students. You may as easily attend an on point analysis (and play party) about furries and petplay as take an aerial yoga class. And when they say chastity at schwelle, it is in all sincerity. There you‘ll be taken as seriously in your abstinence as your peers who endeavor to come in a froth on a pile of warm bodies. This manner of co-existing is the apex of elegance, and this democratic approach to choice is what I find most delicious about Berlin. This is surely the benefit of a city filled with academics and dervish philosophs having their way with a multitude of artists. Let‘s hear it for preference, choice and equanimity.

Embassy of Hell
 by Luc Sala

Schwelle 7 means something like threshold seven and maybe initiator and grand vocalizer Felix Ruckert by using this name is hinting at the 7-th heaven behind his doorstep in a factory like building in Berlin’s Wedding neighborhood. For me, being a guest and workshop attendee at this amazing place in the otherwise already bubbling Berlin, it was like entering the underworld. Especially at the full moon party I attended it was like a trip to hell.  The hell that we find in others (Sartre), but even more the hell we hide inside.  Schwelle 7 is for sure hellish in the eyes of the middle class Berlin suburbians, a place where nakedness, sex, bdsm, and bondage, are part of a performance that does not separate actors from audience, fantasy from reality. 
It is a theatre and it is a club, a dance studio and a community, a totally relaxed place and one with hidden rules, flexibly enforced by members/supporters with Felix as the king and ultimate authority. He is a generous king, makes no big fuss about details like entrance fees and who eats or sleeps where and with whom. There is, however, hidden under his flexible and amicable welcome and gracious hostmanship, little space for true tolerance. His tolerance is on the side of hell, you are with him or you are out, reminding me a bit of Ken Kesey with his bus. Great theatre, majestic creativity, warm friendships and a definite worship of the different and the aberrant, but only as far as they protest and challenge the mediocracy, the middle class morality. This is not a place for the weakhearted, the morality is there, but has this hellish flavor, spicy and tasty, fast and engaging, but definitely would be graded “adult plus” if ever a movie was made about it. It’s a Fellini soap, at times ultra-realistic, at times totally otherworldly and spiritual. 
Felix Ruckert is a dancer, in body and soul, someone who immediately translates emotions into motions, moving fast and supple, choreographing his visitors in an ever changing setup. He uses the space, the people, the props, the lighting in an amazing way, changing the whole atmosphere by using simple, but large screens, minimalistic furniture, textiles and lighting. No disco-lights in Schwelle 7, but great effects, intimacy or openness created to match the moods Felix wants to come out. He sets the stage, invites and directs, touches and senses for experiential openings. At first that comes across as pushy, especially as he spices his directing with quite a bit of sexual energy, invites, challenges and if necessary leads his sheep towards engagement. What for most would be intimate, genuine, sacred and secret, for him are merely tools and tricks, theatrical moves to create contact and transference, in order to deepen the experience.  His directness in touching you, however, is at the same time disarming, seducing you to let go, join him and his always impromptu troupe in letting go and go with the flow. 
In the past Felix staged and choreographed performances, but found himself limited by what the “normal” venues and platforms require, their hierarchies, their rigid rules, the separation between dancers/performers and the audience. In this large and open space he now is able to be the producer, the theatre director, the propmaster, the master of ceremony, actor and audience, all at the same time if he so chooses.  The operation needs no subsidies, has a core group of supporters and the events, workshops and parties keep the operation going with very reasonable fees for what are at times unique events. The full moon parties for the real Schwelle afficionados are amazing, authentically unreal, an inferno of crazy characters playing themselves or their dark shadow, engaged in weird acts, outright sex, SM-play or cruising the place in fetish outfits. Those parties are a mixture of bdsm, fetish and swinger club accents,  with some artistic bondage thrown in and a lot of theatre and illusion, but amazingly no drugs and little alcohol. The party is the drug, says Felix, no need to dilute. He himself is the door-bitch (the dress code changes with his moods) and the main act, he plays the hot peppered jester using his attractive body as his main prop. For a 50-year old he has definitely found a way to disguise his mid-life crisis, although he will admit that he slowly gets bored by being the fool in his own freak show.
Schwelle 7 is the platform for many activities, ranging from serious workshops to spicy entertainment and fantasy role playing games with a distinct erotic focus like the Kingdom, where again actors and audience mix and interact, though with some distinction. Contact and experience are the keywords, in playful forms like contact improvisation, a mixture of dance, acrobatics, light massage and expression.  Things here are paradoxical, totally fake and then again so genuine that one cannot escape to participate, meeting one’s own inner morality and ethics. This is group if not societal therapy at a deep level. Felix wants to be a choreopgrapher, a dancer, a mover and shaker and not a therapist, but the total effect of Schwelle 7 is therapeutic. One finds oneself in the infernal, in the deep and normally hidden lust and perversion that here are exposed and challenged, but made visible.  As one of the guests remarked ; ”In the overworld I have to lie and cheat continually, wearing masks all the time, here I can at least choose my own mask and let go of it if I want to.” 
In a workshop given by Shadow about bondage there was a surprising and very liberating juxtaposition between what seemed the subject of her workshop and what was really the issue, making contact and turning restriction into connection. Using ropes to tie others, restricting their movements, but also tying oneself together with a partner, suspending oneself, it all turned out to be a great exercise in human contact, in finding one’s limits and one’s sensitivity to the limits of others. Where the full-moon party was mostly fake and make belief, the workshop was very genuine, very moving, the ropes a great connection tool. Shadow explained how this connection thing, the link between bonder and bondaged was what led her to explore Japanese bondage, for her it was an artistic form of human connectivity.
As guest and participant the Schwelle 7 experience was emotional and in a sense enlightening for me. It was a meeting with hidden parts of my psyche, an opportunity to explore the archetypical layers and as it turned out, a great meeting place. Allowing people to show those infernal but therefore also genuine and sensitive parts of themselves is a gift and great opener. I felt privileged to be allowed to see some normally hidden their souls and this has led to new and exciting contacts. The audience, at least those who spent the night at Schwelle 7, was very international, there were many languages, it really felt like a freehaven , an assembly of likeminded souls.  
I left Schwelle 7 with some questions in my mind. One of them was how this operation fits into the cultural patchwork of Berlin. It is, seen the clientele, obviously  attracting people from all over Germany and Europe, but would hardly fit into one of those highbrow brochures about Berliner Culture. Another enigma for me is how much Schwelle 7 is a mirror of Felix Ruckert, his needs, ambitions and aberrations and again, how much of what I see is really my projection. With this project he established himself as a creator of a temporary autonomous zone (Hakim Bey’s description of special places with a distinct anarchistic quality), an artistic meeting place like Warhol’s Factory or Kesey’s Bus. I wonder how his creation will evolve, and like to come back, even as it involves another couple of stairs up into the underworld.
Luc Sala / January 2010

Berlin Stories:
Creative combinations and liminal experiences
Linda Priha for the finnish Dance Mag LUOVIA YHDISTELMIÄ JA RAJATILOJA / January 2009

In Berlin there`s a place called Schwelle7,  directed by the choreographer Felix Ruckert. It is exciting, a bit scary, appealing and very different. Many people seem to have an opinion on the place even if they never visited it. 

I met Felix for the first time in a workshop in Finland, organized by the Reality Research Centre (as part of the year's project: "the Realm of the Invisible"). It gave me new points of interest like the different body openings: the eyes, ears, mouth etc.. and the interest in pain and investigating pain in new ways. Most of all I was fascinated by Felix's bodily intelligence, that I could perceive both in movement and in talking. I felt like learning new things just being close to him.

It was clear for me that I wanted to go to Schwelle7 when visiting Berlin but it came as a surprise even to myself that I would do it for the first time participating in one of the Fullmoon Play Parties. This was my first real insight into the world of Sadomasochism.

Since then I've been to Schwelle in many different occasions: Yoga and Bondage by Dasniya Sommer, Weibliche Dominanz (female dominance) weekend workshop and the intensive improvisation course by Julyen Hamilton, plus seeing The Farm, a performance by Felix Ruckert. So, I think I'm kind of a good example of these interconnective studies of dance, body and mind, that Felix is talking about. 

My own experiences on BDSM are very litte and new but I can already tell that for a dancer and a body worker it has a lot of potential to teach. I can for example learn new ways of sensing and perceiving my own body, a  bit like in contact improvisation. In my experience touch (let it be that of the floor, of the air, of an other person or in this case of a whip or a bondage) is one of the best "dance teachers". This notion is connected to my understanding of the important qualities of a dancer and of what is work as a dancer. For me it is most importantly sensing, perceiving, understanding the perceived and directing it. Like Julyen says: from perception to composition.

So, I don't want to exclude any possibilities of touch as I can learn new things through it. Through BDSM it is also possible to safely measure your own boundaries (and pass them), or to play with power or roles so that when you actually meet them in "real life" it might be easier to deal with them. As a dancer I also find it highly interesting to work with controllable pain. Through my whole life that has included dance training I always had to deal with physical and even mental pains. That's why it's finally so beautiful to be able to control yourself how much and what kind of pain you actually want.

Schwelle7 is most importantly a place enabling play and games, combining many different aereas of knowledge and a more free attitudes to making art. It's also breaking down some traditional power structures: everybody that comes to Schwelle is invited to come there to actively participate, not just to watch or perceive. Most importantly it's still all about dance and art, with self-imposed conditions.


misbehave! Felix Ruckerts United Kingdom on show again
Montag, 5 Mai 2008 @ 6:40pm • B: Beiträge, Berlin-Wedding, D: THEATRAL_off, E: TANZ_orte, I: PERFORMANCES, z-English
Another world can easily be accessed. Just make a phone call at Schwelle 7 and get an appointment for Felix Ruckerts UK which was created 2 years ago. UK is an interactive piece mixing several aspects from role plays, hierarchy games with tools from sm and bondage. With this piece Felix Ruckert again explores the fields of interactive theatre. UK goes a lot for figures, archetypes, costumes and fantasy and maybe also the attraction of power. If we could all be kings and queens once upon a time. The passivity of the spectator is a criticized phenomena of modern society. Here you can act your inner visions out. The construction is that of a fictional fairy tale setting which leaves enough space to fit in.
I stayed nearly 12 hours with the international English speaking cast and I was not bored a minute but astonished by the variety of situations and actions. In the first round a very sweet fatty baby took charge of me. Baby easily offered me a bunch of costumes and somehow we agreed that I would be Gilda the good witch from the East and so I was introduced to king Harry the 1st and his court, which included amongst others the master of ceremony, an Hungarian ambassador, a dancer from the Moulin Rouge and a man who wanted to be a woman. I was asked to obey which being a witch I could not fulfill. The king did not like provocative women and therefore offered me some candies. After a while the crown passed on to the drunken sailor.
During the break an excellent dinner was served and everybody slipped back in the so called real world. The evening came and the next round was about to begin. This time we had a queen and I was still figuring among the guests. The queen asked placed the court and via the positions the characters have been created. Everybody got dressed and this time the court contained a princess, an elf, a Chinese ambassador, some slaves and a fool. My host was Luigi from Sicily, a Mafiosi-like looking guy who later turned out to be a stunning blonde. Luigi asked me how am I and where I am from. I had no clue- before I was thinking of being a cat because a had such a desire for caresses, but somehow said that I did come from a place unknown. And then I remembered an episode from Star Wars, a planet where people would appear like shining lights and so I decided to be such a figure who shines while world is in darkness. Luigi then to warm me up asked me to hobble, to wing my arms and to bounce. At the end I found myself bouncing like a frog into the costume chamber. Here I got dressed and, imagine, my dress resembled very much that of the Star Wars episode. It was white and loose. I had a stola which I put over my had. I moved it to make it seem flickering. And so I flickered into the court, but my black tights displeased the queen- even if I explained that they are my wicks. So back to the dressing room we found red boots and no I felt like being in flames. Back into the court again I was accompanied by the fool who held an umbrella to protect me the flickering light from the rain. Later I was blindfolded and guided by Luigi from Sicily through various situations. And strangely enough I met mostly characters who were eager to caress. And also Luigi turned out to be very soft. So I had my share and left very happy and contemplative. Everybody has been so sensible and attentive, things has been so nice to watch, leaving a feeling like being in a place named Wonderland. I discovered something shining in me, which is a very powerful gift. After a while I thought that the queens reign was softer as the kings one and that it is a pity for this world that these female qualities are so underestimated.
Malah Helman

Kinky Berlin
Xplore 2007 at schwelle7
Eros Zine / Sept, 4,  2007
By  Midori

A petite, elegant German woman in flowing wrap-around Thai pants rises to her feet from the edge of the circle where the students are gathered. The warm sun rays, rare during this unusually cold Berlin summer, plays on her fine features. The students are poised, focused and freshly alert after a brief meditation. She spills the contents of a small bag onto the floor. Dozens of old fashioned wooden clothes pegs scatter about. The class on Pain Processing is about to begin. 

Mean time, in another room, two handsome gay men are leading a men's breath, pain and eroticism workshop. 

In another room, an Australian scholar, who's a heavy-playing switchy kinkster, leads a discussion on the eroticization of cultural trauma and internalized guilt. This is Berlin after all, so you can guess that it's a very, very heavy topic. As the song goes in the musical Cabaret… "All we ask is 'ein bißchen verständnis', a little understanding!" 

Later, an English genderqueer therapist facilitates a conversation on the healing potential of sadomasochistic sex and ritualized role-play combined with conscious self-examination. 

These were but a few of the very interesting workshops offered during the weekend event called Xplore in Berlin last month. Organized by Felix Ruckert , a highly respected contemporary dance choreographer, and Caprice Dilba, an accomplished performer and producer, Xplore created an intersection of various paths of self-expression and sensuality, including yoga, SM, performance and dance. 

A truly unique event, it put the "alternative" back into alternative sex. 

In the past few years SM conferences have become quite common. That is a good thing. Unfortunately sometimes the offerings and the mood at the events end up feeling commonplace. That's not a good thing. 

That's not to say that classes that cover the essential basics are becoming tiresome, although at times they are taught in tiresome ways. Quality classes and information sources on the basics are always absolutely necessary, and they can be very dynamic and sexy. But increasingly it feels like we dumb down contents, make gross generalizations and believe deeply in simple rhetoric with out questioning the validity of our own ways and thoughts. 

Xplore, on the other hand, delightfully combined German intellectualism with Berlin's notorious streak for anarchism and creativity. The discussions and dialogues at times were difficult, struggled or even confrontational. But that's so refreshing when it comes to something as important as humanity's expression of desire and authenticity. 

By combining the discourse of sadomasochistic pleasures with the discipline of dance, performance and Yoga, the attendees were more able to free themselves from the stereotype of D/s power dynamics. There were collars and acts of devotion to be seen, but nowhere did I see gratuitous demonstrations of ye' ol' dominance or over-acted submission. While there were commanding personalities there, there were certainly no non-consensual impositions of self proclaimed dominance over unsuspecting others. Attendees gracefully interacted with one another. Scenes in progress were fluid and sexy. Many people switched modes and moods mid scene from one to another as gracefully as dancers switch directions. 

The wind-down play party was one of the most elegant and sensual affairs I've been to in a long time. The simple dance studio / loft quickly converted from a seminar venue to softly lit alcoves of erotic adventures. The participants conscientiously engaged in sex + SM as identity performance and performance as authentic sexuality. Not trapped in the cliché of fetish wear, they wore what expressed their power, vulnerability and grace. 

(Ok, except for that one creepy guy who wore black jeans, black t-shirt, leather vest and a decrepit old floppy leather dom cap. He was icky and everyone stayed politely clear from him. Fashion advice to single men: Don't wear this combo and leer at women. It's really NOT sexy and you'll get instantly categorized as a lurky geezer.) 

Beyond the play alcoves was the lounge area where people mingled and chatted while snacking and sipping on fine German wines. The smokers were out on the roof top lounge, hovering just under the awning, staying out of the drizzle. The space operates on adult respect of mutual respect and moderation. Rigid, puritanical and prohibitionist rules are not the norm here as at many of the US events. In Berlin this would be considered bordering on Fascistic -- which of course is one of the gravest insults among these bohemians. You may think that people might be drunk off their rockers, and playing against Safe / Sane / Consensual principles, but that's not the case. There was one obnoxiously drunk local domme who made a vulgar ass of herself, but people stepped back and seemed amused as she unknowingly entertained the lounging crowd with her self-sabotaging antics. Drunks are funny, at a distance. 

The party continued into the wee hours. Initially, I was tired enough from the emotionally and intellectually engaging weekend, but once the party started it was just hard to leave. So once again, I saw another dawn warm the skyline of Berlin. 

So are all play parties and SM events in Berlin like this one? Probably not, but some things such as adult respect for personal decisions are likely to be more pervasive in Germany then in the States. I say this because of the general difference social attitudes around adult responsibility and weariness of top-down dictation of moral codes. According to the attendees, however, even in Berlin Xplore is unusual for its crossover demographics and interdisciplinary approach. It is indeed a brave experimentation in the exploration of kink play. 

The US kink subculture and its network is enormous, simply because we sample from the sheer size of our national population of over three hundred million. We are also privileged to speak the current global lingua franca with a large net using population. We certainly wield great influence upon the flow of information. At times this makes us quite culturally chauvinistic in many facets, even in the practice of alternative sexuality. We didn't invent sadomasochistic or fetishishtic sex, yet we are often guilty of behaving as if we did. 

Take for example, the credo of "safe, sane and consensual", the various basic formats of scene negotiations or the language and jargon or D/s relationships that we take for granted. Against the time line of human sexuality, including all the various power and pain play, what we treat as nearly gospel are totally modern blips in this time line with identifiable epicenters in twentieth century metropolitan US. By putting aside the near fundamentalist attachment to these values and examining how other cultures approach "alternative erotic interactions" we give ourselves an opportunity to truly grasp what is good in the ways we've developed and critique our beliefs and behavior that may be meaningless, misguided or possibly even harmful. 

Frederick the Great, The great Prussian king of the 18th century, built his pleasure palace of Sans Souci ("Without Worry") just outside of Berlin. Perhaps someday a people's Sans Souci may grace us with pleasure and intellect. For that we must engage in more travel and discussion with other culture and community members. We must fend off stagnation of thought and rigorously fend off the potential for fanaticism of fundamentalism. To grow as sexual and intelligent beings, we must, to quote my Berlin friend Steph, "dare to really challenge belief systems by not shying away from controversial discussion." 


On Dance and BDSM
an Interview with Felix Ruckert
by Ellen at / 4-2005
Felix Ruckert is a well known dancer and choreographer with an international career.
He also uses dance as a tool to express the dynamics of BDSM and he runs  workshops and performances around Europe. I wanted to ask him about his life  and his career for a long time now and I was delighted when he agreed to do an interview for us at
Ellen : Can you please tell us why you chose dance as a way to express yourself and as a career ?
Felix  : I was very a hyperactive child and grew up in the countryside. There I had a lot of opportunity to
satisfy my urge for movement. I moved to Berlin at the age of nineteen to become a punk rock musician and there discovered dance as  a blend of action and musicality.  It was a choice of my own.
E : Were did you study and what were the strongest influences at the start of your career ?
F : I first studied in Berlin, which was pretty funny: I took ballett classes from the start because I wanted to do things seriously, but it was pretty difficult for me. Imagine a  twenty year old punk with torn leotards and Iroquese in the midst of 12 year old little ballerinas  in Tutus. After Berlin I went to Folkwang Hochschule Essen, at the time directed by Pina Bausch, so german expressionism was certainly a big influence... When I started my own company in 1994  I became more interested in the conceptual approach of american postmodern dance...
E :How did you discover BDSM?
 F : In the late nineties I started to integrate audience members into my choreographies. I asked the dancers to actively touch, move, and manipulate willing audience members. I also invited audience members to touch, move and manipulate the dancers. People loved it. In a way I was already working with D/S situations without calling it that way. I started realizing how much people crave for physical touch and how much dynamics hold the clever and conscíous play with power. Any work in dance or theatre works with that dynamics:
as a director or choreographer you try to make "your " performer go places where he or she would not go alone. For the stage mostly, this implies a form of physical or psychologic exertion.It might turn out as virtuosity in a physical or emotional sense. But the virtuosity alone is nothing without the fragility that is needed to become present on stage. So, in any way you try to push or seduce the performer to challenge his or her limits…to become achieve connection with the audience...and of course the director-actor relation is very often full of erotic undertones.
I found a lot of parallels to S/M: In a session both physical and emotional challenges have to go hand in hand to achieve deeper connection.  It also proved to be pretty easy to introduce my dancers to S/M: As dancers they are used to work with physical extremes. They are tough and sensitive the same time. And as performers they are used to repeat their "sessions" with the audience over and over so they also know very well to respect their physical and emotional limits.
E : When did you first use BDSM as a part of a performance ?
F : I did an installation named « STILLEN » ( to appease, to calm down,to breastfeed) which was inspired by Japanese  Bondage, in 1999. Up to eleven dancers were tied up in fixed position or suspended from  the ceilling in an exhibition style set up. People could walk  around and observe them in their stillness. I used mostly hemp rope but also other materials and long stripes of linen or plastic for the bondage.
The next time I explicitely introduced typical BDSM elements into a show was in the 2002 performance
« SECRET SERVICE » (This is a show which we currently tour a lot, all over Europe...Brugge, Stockholm, Munich, Marseille will be the next stops) . It is a performance that people can only experience blindfolded! The audience of SECRET SERVICE enters one
by one into the performance space, where they anonymously meet twelve dancers. In this "first level" they are moved around, stretched out on  the floor, lifted up, pushed around a bit, striked,  caressed and touched in very different ways, according to how and what they physically communicate to us.  We try to read their body language. It might be very dancy or playful or erotic or aggressive..Everything is fine as long as no one is endangered in any way. After this the people are lead out again and then have the choice to come back in for the "second level" . This second part demands a lot of trust. As a preparation the guests are not just blindfolded but also stripped to their underwear and cuffed. Inside we give them a rather soft introduction to D/S Situations, Bondage, clothspins, whips and more. Mostly all happens without any verbal communication, except absolutely necessary. In that specific context, I feel it helps people to get into their headspace if they have no talking and no clear idea of their counterpart. In some cases we work with them in a way that they cannot even be sure if they are treated by a man or a woman. People are surprisingly adventurous in the « second  level ». There is about half of the audience that wishes to pass to level two after the first one.
We got very skilled to find out quickly to what kind of treatment individual people are inclined to and adapt to that. As in some cases it  feels as a better idea we also manage to give them the opportunity to top us ( from the bottom !). People come out pretty touched, sometimes gleamingly happily, sometimes also quite emotionally shaken. We always have some helpers around to care for them after the sessions.
I also used flagellation and other forms of erotic submission in the last piece « MESSIAH GAME », that premiered just a few weeks ago...
E :  Was it a difficult choice to do something so controversial ?
F : Not really. I can only do what I am  really interested in. Seeing how strongly and enthousiastically people react to « SECRET SERVICE » and other performances I am convinced now that pretty much every human being has sado-masochistic tendencies: you just need to find out the right props and plays to make them visible. I became a real missionary for intelligent S/M Play.
E : Please tell us a bit about the reactions you have had from the general public and the press?
F : The audience usually loves my work once they get to see or experience it, but since I am openly promoting S/M play a lot of people in the dance community and dance institutions strongly contest what I do and even try to push me out of dance. There are theatres and festivals that would never present my work and there are journalists that call my work manipulative, totalitarian and pornographic... Of course this doesn’t affect me just professionally as my subsidies are in danger or presenters do not dare to show my work anymore but it also hurts me personally. I still love dance and the way I work with S/M, I feel that there is a strong connection to it.
 E : Do you think the general public is ready for this or is it still only for a few "scene people"?
F : It is a big challenge, but I think that is why people go to see art, no ??
« SECRET SERVICE » is very well accepted, but it is anonymous, nobody sees what is going on and  that makes a big difference. People just feel the sensations and are happy.
In « MESSIAH GAME » one could observe actual sessions going on on  stage,  performers being tortured and screaming and skin getting red and swollen and there the audience reacted very confused and sometimes aggressive. The context of a theatre changes the perception of things a lot. Then People have their heads full of pictures of real violence and torture, their minds full of memories and traumas - and then they go start projecting their own trouble right away. Some wanted to jump on stage and « save »  the performers. Others felt violated to be constricted to watch this. Then again others found it boring.They were convinced it was all fake and just perceived it as a show. So they  wanted it more hard,  I guess, blood and legs chopped off like in the movies. For them I think it must have been a bit like watching a soccer game without ever having played it. You  cannot really understand what it is like and what itsall about just by watching. So there is a lot  more work  to do with that piece....
E :Have you lost out on other career opportunities because of this?
F : Generally it is knife with two blades: Part of my success is that my work is provocative, that it is challenging. But I am in a free art market system, my fundings are not permanent. I have a two year subsidy from the City of Berlin but for the bigger productions I have to find new money each time. The dance world generally is very bourgeois, lots of people there do not want sex in the theatre if it does not look disgusting or ridiculous. The idea of theatre itself is a subtle voyeurism. As I challenge such conventions of performance I am in trouble.  As long as I am out there as some kind of pervert avantgarde choreographer of the Berlin scene I am accepted. But no one would risk to give me the direction of a theatre for example. - even though that is what I think I deserve and need as a tool for my work today . I get invitations  from large ballet companies from abroad who commission choreographic work for classical dancers. I love to do that and would probably loose such opportunities, if they would read the german press.
And there have been very concrete affairs, too: Shortly after the premiere of MESSIAH GAME, a theatre in Strasbourg cancelled a follow up perfomance there. The director was too afraid of the reaction of their very conservative city mayor. Last summer in Berlin, after a presscampaign from the german yellow press, I actually received a formal  interdiction to furthermore use public fundings for the organisation of « xplore », an annual workshop event around BDSM and other body rituals, that I initiated to promote the idea of BDSM as an art form.
E : Please tell us about your workshops how did that start?
 F : After the success of SECRET SERVICE I proposed a workshop to dance organisations which combined my new knowledge of BDSM with my dance experience. Institutions were sceptical. In the few workshops that were nevertheless organised I actually had then more BDSM people coming than dancers or actors.  So I realized that in the BDSM scene itself there is a wish for more skills.
 And I also realized that the methods of dance training -  being very simple and practical with the body, being attentive and analytic about its reactions etc - are very helpful in teaching BDSM.  So even very experienced SM players appreciated these workshops a lot.
E : What can a newbie learn from your workshops?
 F : The  « BDSM - a gentle approach –«   workshop usually takes five days: the first two days I just focus on the plain body. How it perceives and processes sensation. So I use a lot of my experience from 25 years of bodywork:  Release techniques as Feldenkrais for ex. to understand how you can relax someone - : as relaxed muscles and minds can take much more pain.  Yoga to learn how to breath and let go into pain. Elements from Martial arts to help the understanding of how you hold and use a weapon or toy against a person.  Anatomic information so people get a better idea of the sensibilities (and amazing possibilties!! ) of the human body.
We spend time working on intimacy. People have to find out how far they want to go sexually in the context of the workshop, as they will play with the other participants. I use Acting techniques to help them exploring Role Play and Dominance/Submission situations. Stuff that usually makes the group strongly connect and that is also an efficient way to clarify personal limits and edges.
Once they understood that all starts with the mind and that all the instruments are just extensions of your hand, that you only reach for a slapper if your hand is not sufficient anymore. That you tie someone up only when you feel how  he /she gives in when you hold his or her wrists tightly together. Then I pass on to props and toys. So the third and fourth day I give technical information and safety tips for the use of bondage, hot wax, clothspins, whips and so on. Once they understand all this I make clear that all those rules and techniques are crap and pure theory if they dont make your juices flow.  That the only « right » way to play is the one that is right for you and your partner. That is were communication and negociation, but also fantasies and intuition comes in. The last day is reserved for longer and shorter sessions and scenarios were people actually practice with their new knowledge. I am very proud of this workshop as the participants enjoy it a lot and as it works for total beginners as well as for experienced players.
E :I know you travel a lot. Where have you held  workshops and performances so far?
F : That would be a long list.... Just let me tell you that I did about 600 performances and workshops all over Europe, in South and North America and in Japan over the last ten years. This year I will still work and perform in Japan, Belgium, Sweden, France and in Germany, of course.
E : You and you collaborator Caprice Dilba organize Xplore in Berlin. Can you please tell us about this event?
F : In the last year in my researches around BDSM I met a lot of  very interesting people all over the world who  - same as me - transformed their sexual obsessions into an art form. Most of  these people do not consider themselves as artists, but the skills and sophistication they have reached with their techniques or rituals makes it feel like art to me. The lecturers of Xplore are experienced S/M Players, professional Dominas, Sex Educators, Tantra Gurus, Swingers or Psycho Therapists.  I do not care about their background. The importance for me when inviting them is only that they have something specific to contribute and that they are curious and open to meet other techniques and forms.
Caprice is a producer and performer who comes from Communication and PR and who is also actively involved in S/M. We did not just want to organize a workshop event but to trigger the communication between the different scenes and subcultures. These researchers need intellectuals and artists  to comment on their work - not just for a better social acceptance but to point out the political importance of their efforts.  A welcome side effect of the « Xplore » concept was that it attracted  an audience that also consisted mostly of those members of the different scenes who enjoy to take a look on the other side of the fence.
E : This is the second year you're organising "Xplore". I understand last year  you made the headlines in some of the tabloids. Would you care to comment on that ? !!!
F : One result of the polemic was that the Senate of Berlin cut its fundings for the project. So for this year’s issue we have to raise the price of the tickets and do not invite as many presenters from abroad ( we had Janet Hardy (« The Ethical Slut ») from San Francisco and Tristan Taormino from NYC) On the other hand the press campaign drew also public attention to the project and therfore maybe this years promotion could be be easier. We expect (and need) around 200 people to come.
E :  What does BDSM mean to you and why is it important to express your feelings?
F : It is theater, it is play, it is therapy.  Sometimes it is just great sex and sometimes it is an ecstatic experience.  It is hot. It is surprising. Sometimes it is also really hard and I have learned things about me I did not really want to know. It is a tool  to deepen the experience of life by using our sexual urges. I would advise everyone to have the chance to experience it consciously - as most people anyway fool around with its power.
E : Are there still aspects you have not explored and wish to?
F : Thousands. The good thing about the body  (and mind) is that its possibilities are countless. I started as a heterosexual switch but lately play more and more with men as I found it much easier to submit to them. I am a very bad slave and I try to improve! I wish to work more with people that link S/M with concepts out of psychotherapy to get closer to the more hidden layers of personality..
And of course play with those !!!
E : Where do you hope to be in the years to come?
F : In  Berlin. It is an oasis in the desert of worldwide sexual repression.
E : And finally where can we see your performances or participate in your workshops?
F :For performances check the calendar on my web site.The next shows are in Brugge,  in Tokyo, in Berlin, in Stockholm, in Munich and Hamburg. The next time I will teach BDSM workshops is at the Xplore05 in Berlin July 22-24 and in Stuttgart in October.
E : Thank you very much Felix we wish you good luck with all your projects.
a n InterviEw