by Fredrik Rütter

People working in theatres have, like the rest of us, the right to a vacation. In Norway, this generally means that theatres close their doors in mid-June and reopen them only at the end of August, meaning there are few opportunities to see a ballet or a play in the main cities.

If tourists want to experience Norway’s performing artists over the summer, however, they still can, often in outdoor settings, despite the fact that Norway is quite far north and seldom experiences high temperatures. For example, people flocked to the annual presentation of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt at Gålå in Gudbrandsdalen (the place that inspired Peer Gynt), this time with a revamped production after five years of the same show.

For dance lovers willing to embrace nature, one of the main soloists from Norwegian National Ballet, Eugenie Skilnand, performed outside the usual theatre setting at the Midtåsen Sculpture Park in Sandefjord, 120 kilometres south of Oslo. Together with young harpist Uno Vesje, she put together a program in which she improvises to his harp music.

The Midtåsen gallery, at the same time, featured a show of sculptures by Knut Steen, who is famous for his beautiful works done in the white Italian marble that the city of Carrara is famous for. He has the ability to shape the marble so one just can see the structures of a body, and yet the work is still abstract.

The gallery is built with glass walls in a natural forest setting that has a fantastic view over the fjord leading into the city of Sandefjord. Skilnand performed inside among the sculptures, and audience members could choose to watch from outside or inside.

Though Skilnand is a classically trained dancer, she showed here that she is very capable of doing modern movement with a lot of floor work. The co-operation between her and the harpist, who played some of his own compositions, was excellent. Vesje followed her every move with hawk eyes and she responded to his music with great

Another special occasion — this time indoors — came from the Norwegian National Ballet, who invited Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman to mastermind an evening titled Rooms. Ekman, who has worked with the company on several occasions, had 11 days with the dancers — nearly the whole company was involved — to pull this large project together.

Norwegian National Ballet in Alexander Ekman’s Rooms
Photo: Erik Berg

The audience loves to get up onstage, to see the backbone of a theatre, and that was what Ekman gave them with Rooms. The big stage of the Oslo Opera House, where it took place, is enormous, about 2,000 square metres, not including the side and backstage areas. When the audience was led through the main hall onto the stage, accompanied by a string quartet, they were not able to see all 40 rooms that had been built on the stage, since many of them were on the side stages. These rooms were on scaffolding, taking them about two-and-a-half metres above floor level.

Each room was inhabited by different characters, such as: George, the murdering butcher; Roberto, the tourist; Bruce and Sandy, the weightlifter couple; Frederic, a man preparing for suicide; Gertrude, the angry old lady; and the Smiths, the perfect family having dinner.

Since there was no seating, except on the floor, audience members could mill around at their own pace, spending as much time as they wanted where they wanted. This, of course, meant that everyone had a different experience of the performance.

Well-known Danish designer Henrik Vibskov created the costumes, and Mikael Karlsson composed the melodic music, played lived onstage on five grand pianos; both have worked with Ekman before.

With such a short time to get the piece ready, Ekman chose to work with broad strokes, giving every dancer instructions from which they improvised their various scenarios. At one point, the dancers left the rooms and moved among us on the floor, before returning to their homes in the scaffolding. Slowly, the 40 towers were moved to the sides, opening up the revolving part of the stage.

The dancers took off their costumes, leaving their characters behind, and entered the turntable as one great homogeneous group, with the audience standing around them in a big circle. There they made different sculptural formations and engaged in some individual dancing.

Focused on this, it took some time before I realized that the orchestra pit had been raised up, with one woman dancing back and forth there with an animal softness in her movement. The pit was like a wall hiding the auditorium, and, when it was lowered again, the dancers were revealed sitting there, reversing the roles of the audience and performers. Slowly the “audience” stood up and left, waving goodbye to the actual audience members onstage. The only description I have for such an evening must be to say that it was just one great big happening.