Atmosphere of Decay – rage, destruction and femme sensuality at the time of the apocalypse – Sophia Mage

From HAUTs IN PRODUCTION residency, 'Atmosphere of Decay' by Sophia Mage at the theatre Zeppelin. Photo: Ville Vidø

This text is a part of the collaboration between HAUT and A collaboration where we try to find new ways of documenting artistic research and work methods.

The performance project Atmosphere of Decay is about rage, destruction, and femme sensuality at the time of the apocalypse. The work is informed by the mythology surrounding goddesses Innana and Ereshkigal from ancient Sumer 4.000 years ago. Innana represent the ‘lower’ and  Ereshkigal the ‘upper’ realms of the universe; they may also be considered the conscious and subconscious.

During her IN PRODUCTION residency at HAUT (in June 2023) Sophia Mage developed material generated from scores – searching for several things or layers of things.

Mage is interested in generating and dissipating tension. She is curious about the sensation of potential and fullness that arises from the build-up of tension and then the adverse effect of emptiness with its dissipation. Mage will dive into the void created when things are taken away. For her the sensation of void is a place of eternity, it’s deafening silence.

Sophia Mage
Sophia Mage: Photo: Nadia Roccato

Mage describes herself as a dancer, choreographer and teacher based in Copenhagen and she approaches performance with a mindset of world-building. She often works with a fictional sense of being and place in order to gently tilt the atmosphere towards the uncanny. Her process is defined by intuition, improvisation, and coincidences from the mediums she works with. All this with an eye for an immediate and broad appeal so that the finished work appears inviting in itself with rich underlying intention. 

I first met Mage when she generously invited me into the theatre Zeppelin, where the residency took place, in the beginning of June 2023, where she and three other dancers, Brittanie Brown, Charlotte Petersen, Escarleth Romo Pozo, were in the middle of trying out characters/archetypes in relation to Mage´s research for her upcoming production in November 2023 at Dansekapellet. Mage was combining her extensive research about the mythology of Inanna and Ereshkigal and playing with different archetypal traits by using scores from Are We Here Yet? by Meg Stuart to make them come alive in the setting of contemporary dance.

I watched as a timer was set and practice began again and again. One of the scores which came into use was where each dancer in turn had to speak nonstop until the timer would let them off the hook. This turned into a rambling of equal amounts of nonsense and sense and seemed to tap into knowledge from the unconscious.

The exercise also opened the possibility to start speaking as a character instead of the person you recognize as yourself, which for example Mage explored, turning herself into a man which moved through the world, with leg implants, which meant he had four legs instead of two. The room seemed to be filled with a sense of trust and openness, and balanced between playfulness and a deep sense of tapping into an abyss-like energy. 

3 performers (Sophia Mage)
Photo: Ville Vidø

Two weeks later I took part in CONVERSATIONS ON, one of HAUTS knowledge sharing format tied to the research carried out during the residency –  this time under the headline Who were they for Sumerians 4.000 ago, who are they for us now?where Mage had invited Nicole Brisch, an assyriologist and Sumerologist, to speak about the relevance of these female archetypes, their nuances and complexities, as well as the mythology that surrounds them.

Brisch is an Associate Professor of Assyriology at the University of Copenhagen. Her research includes ancient Mesopotamian literature, especially written in Sumerian, as well as ancient religion. Her most recent book, co-edited with Fumi Karahashi (Japan), includes a range of articles by junior and senior scholars revolving around the topic of women and religion in the ancient Near East and Asia. She currently works on religious rituals.

The talk which Brisch gave was so extremely rich in knowledge and scope, that I decided afterwards to interview Mage as to what these female archetypes mean to her, her practice as well as her upcoming performance. 

Karin Hald [KH]: I have understood from talking to you as well as hearing Brisch speak, that Innana and Ereshkigal represent the ‘lower’ and ‘upper’ realms of the universe; they may also be considered the conscious and subconscious – and that you are interested in viewing these mythological female figures through a lens of Jungian psychology. Can you elaborate on why you find it important to look into these figures at this point, both at this time and in your own practice?

Sophia Mage [SM]: It has been a very intuitive process. A few years ago, I got more and more into the idea of channeling… meaning inviting images, energies and associations to move me while in a sort of meditative state. Through this practice I started to recognize patterns. I imagined these patterns as different characters or bodies, I encouraged them and gave them names and recognizable forms. In the practice I shapeshift from character to character. I found this to be extremely liberating and also pushing the edge of my own grip on reality – which is a place I like to go. 

At this point I was considering making a work and I started to branch out and search for texts, images, conversations, sounds etc. that could expand and contextualize what I was doing in the studio. I found Innana and Ereshkigal to be extremely relatable and universal in their expressions. 

2 performers dancing (Sophia Mage)
Photo: Ville Vidø

Ereshkigal is transformative fire, decay, slow horror, she is the mother of chaos and the potential for life arising from absolute destruction. There is a universal undeniable truth to her essence which I find extremely reassuring. Contemplating her energy allows me to zoom out of my own head, the city, earth, solar system and way into deep time and dark matter. Nothing matters from this perspective, it just is, things arise and dissipate. Nothing disappears, only transforms. That is one aspect, another aspect is Innana who I am still figuring out…

KH: So, you had a long process of being on your own with the material, researching and understanding your own interest more fully, and then there was a new phase of finding the dancers you wanted to work with, as well as the process of being in the black box at Zeppelin during your two-week residency. Did it open up your thinking and the work in a new way, or was it a deepening which you had expected? And how does working with others inform the work? 

SM: This material has been in process for a very long time, it’s hard to point to where a process starts or where it finishes. A process is part of life, ongoing and transformed by many experiences and intersections. By bringing in others, a narrowing down happens – a simplification in order to make it more accessible. They create their own understanding of the work which expands and transforms it in ways I couldn’t have. I stand in awe of their integrity and ability to surface profound situations and affects. 

KH: A feeling and/or concept that you have been exploring with this work is the void or the abyss. When I spoke with you the first time, you told me a little bit about how this had been equally challenging and exciting but had also brought you and the other dancers to quite a dark place emotionally. 

I often have the experience that the abyss, whatever that may be or look like for each individual, has a very hard time finding a language in Western society. It can seem as if it’s either spoken about with a kind of fetishization or complete avoidance. I find it very interesting that you are looking into this, which is also indicated in your title Atmosphere of Decay.

Can you elaborate on what it means to you and what it might bring to the table to speak of this? 

2 performers dancing (Sophia Mage)
Photo: Ville Vidø

SM: Yeah! It’s true there isn’t a lot of language to describe a sense of void. One way to think about it is death, or something like death. It’s abjection, destruction, and transformation – the image of Kali, Ereshkigal, Hel, Santa Muerte, Izanami, Maguayan, etc. she has many names and is present in cultures around the world. I would like to get intimate with her. I can’t help but wonder about all of the oppressed aspects I see and feel in this society. I want to encounter situations which go collectively deeper into that darkness. As Jung said, ‘only down below can we find the fiery source of life’. 

In the making of Atmosphere of Decay we are dipping into our subconscious (abyss) and conversing there. This work can be very moving, strange, and vulnerable but there is also a lot of love and trust in the room. We are gently excavating some hidden faces or energies and inviting them into the theater space to speak, dance and resonate through us. I am curious about what they want and what they have to say. 

I wonder about the fetishization of the darkness. It makes me think about death metal and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I think there must be a way of looking at the most difficult things with total devotion and some irony. The image of Kali is both terrifying and sort of camp. Which reminds me so much of Scott Walker or Lou Reed. I like that a lot.

1 performer dancing (Sophia Mage)
Photo: Ville Vidø

KH: Lastly, I want to hear more on your thoughts on femme sensuality, and how you feel and see this connect to rage and destruction. Does this aspect of a life and a body also connect to a sense of being oppressed and therefore a want to bring it into being, light or maybe darkness, and also just into the conversation? And is Jung and perhaps psychoanalysis a toolbox for you in this regard?

SM: The relationship between femme sensuality and rage can be found in the mythology of Innana and Ereshkigal. Innana is the goddess of love and war, of liminal spaces and creativity, she is a vessel and a wanderer, she is both man and woman. She is destructive, blood thirsty, violent, full of love, poetry, and healing. She is a complex being seemingly full of contradictory aspects – destruction and creation within the same entity. Throughout history her non-binary nature was taken, her attributes assigned to male deities. Today in Western culture she is known as a simplified version of herself; Venus the goddess of love and beauty. 

I am departing from the understanding that rage/aggression and sensuality are both vital energies that must be expressed. Both are essential for survival. We are socialized from a young age to oppress these energies in favor of being polite, or conformist. This is what Jung would call having a shadow side. Jung is helpful for developing a language but most of this is common sense and found within animist thinking which is the fundamental language here.

I observe, that people are more or less viscerally connected to these energies depending on their cultural references. I have become acutely aware of stifling social norms while living in Europe and specifically in Denmark. And in some regard this work is maybe a response to that pressure. There is a deeper layer though…I feel like it’s probably the right time to evoke mother chaos, not to fear her but to see her for all that she is, because whether or not we’re ready she’s coming. 

Thank you!

Atmosphere of Decay

– about rage, destruction and femme sensuality at the time of the apocalypse

Concept and Choreography / Sophia Mage
Choreography and Performance / Brittanie Brown, Charlotte Petersen, Escarleth Romo Pozo
Music / john T. Gast
Light Design / Thomas Zamolo
Costume / Mai Sakamoto
Dramaturgy / Quim Bigas
Photography / Ville Vidoe
Production / Christina Cibrowski and Dansehallerne

HAUT and are collaborating in order to find new ways of documenting artistic research and work methods.

About HAUT

HAUT is a performing arts organization focusing on artistic development work and knowledge sharing. Through collaboration with a wide range of art institutions, HAUT creates space for performing artists to develop and immerse themselves in their artistic practice under sustainable working conditions.


HAUT’s 2-week residency. This residency is for artists who have received development support for a project. The project should ideally be in its beginning phase and the artists require a studio to work in. It is possible to receive professional or artistic sparring. 

More written by Karin Hald