April 5, 2018
Odysseus, one of the greatest and longest of the ancient Greek sagas, spans the protracted Trojan wars until the hero’s return to his faithful Penelope after the trials and tribulations of his decade-long journey home. It is a fabulous story retold in many guises and has survived partly because these heroes share the very human qualities of courage and cunning, lust and greed.
Our fascination with fantasy thrillers has not abated and the design team, scenographer, Martin Chocholousek and costume designer, Kateřina Štefková, have built on the appeal of imagined worlds where high tech collides with ancient weaponry. A world peopled by warriors dressed in armour and masks, fur and leather. This territory is usually the preserve of the block buster film companies so something of a challenge for a company of only eight dancers and a touring set but Norrdans, has imagination and talent in bucketloads and conjure an evening of magic.
The show opens in spectacular fashion as chorographer, Lenka Vagnerová, takes the dancers to acrobatic heights and fur literally flies. She skilfully manipulates the small cast to confront, attack and reassemble in new configurations, working with explosive energy and making the battle come to life before our eyes.
Jakub Mędrzycki as Odysseus is central for much of the show in a powerful performance, but this is an ensemble piece as most of the cast take on a number of roles and only leave the stage to change costume. Overall the piece is well paced, alternating the rough and tumble of the adventurers with fluid contemporary dance particularly the bewitching Sirens tumbling in the waves. There is also plenty of comedy with a high point as the witch Circe, Claudia Fürnholzer, changes Odysseus’ men into swine. The cacophony of animal sounds was hilarious and Viktor Konvalinka, blessed with an inherent sense of the ridiculous, nearly stole the show.
The inventiveness of the props and costumes is astonishing. When the winds confined by the god Aeolus are released, clouds of diaphanous material are choreographed into patterns by the fighters ‘guns’ now reinvented as blowers. Long plastic tubes serve a variety of purposes as well as producing strange musical sounds. Circe’s skirt made of coils of rubbery snakes add to her magical powers as they entrap and bind. Most amazing of all is the ship. Odysseus throws a bundle of canes onto the stage and in minutes the pieces are locked together to become a vessel: a huge skeletal frame with a life of its own, able to twist and squirm as the crew manoeuvre it between the monsters, Scylla and Charybdis, later, armed with snorkels and aided by murky lighting they switch between surface and underwater.
Most touching was the very long scarf that Penelope, Verena Pircher, continues to knit until she finally recognises her long lost husband and their reunion duet ends with the lovers entwined in its length.
Composer Tomáš Vychytil builds an atmosphere of sounds and music, even including snatches of Zorba’s Dance as the Lotus Eaters gorge on plates of fruit. An ingenious arrangement of banks of in-your-face lighting, designed by Chocholousek with Johan Bjellsäter, add the final flourish to a very special theatrical experience.