Oslo Opera House
June 25, 2017
When Alexander Ekman’s choreography is on the bill you don’t go to a performance, you have an experience. And in Rooms, the closing work in Norwegian National Ballet’s 2016/17 season, the experience is full on.
This is conceptual art on the scale of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Previously Ekman splashed out with A Swan Lake, this season he inhabits, not just the pond in the middle, but the entire stage, the back stage, the side stage and every level of the auditorium. In this huge space he has built his weird gated community of characters where each solo, duet or trio occupies a bijou pad.
Mikael Karlsson’s music links it all together in a magical web of sounds played by strings on a platform in front and a posse of pianos in the rear and in between, there we are, a crowd of bewitched and bewildered punters, who have been allowed into the playground to wander round and gawp.
Ekman, in his signature voiceover, introduces the locals. Mary, (Camilla Spidsøe), loves to bath, takes exactly five a day, and is in and out of her tub. Yoshifumi Inao as the butcher and part time murderer, draws a vicious blade lovingly over slabs of meat. Then there are the men of religion, Kàri Freyr Bjørnsson as the English Priest and Kristian Alm as Padangustana, the Yogi and Buddhist Monk for those who like their religion alternative.
Elisabeth Teige moonlighting from the opera brings her powerful voice to this mix of eccentrics too numerous to mention. Their attire, courtesy of designer Henrik Vibskov, indicates their character and is complimented by orange fuzzy bits, tails, ear muffs, ruffs and wigs, all worn with an air of utter insouciance by the company of around 40 dancers.
Things happen. Unison moments of stamps or screams unite the group between their individual duties: working out, having dinner, making paper planes or giving birth to a baby; it’s all part of life’s rich pattern.
Guided by the stage crew, we are later driven back to clear a central arena as the company form a corporate body, writhing in harmony in the centre. High above two dancers on wires are flown into a shared moment of passion before being winched apart.
The apron of the stage is raised to make a bridge for Whitney Jensen, described in the programme as ‘a night creature’, to dance her solo. An exotic beauty who sports a pair of horns she is first spotted stalking through the stalls before climbing onto the stage. Here she traverses the platform in jetés and bourrées, both haunted and hunted, mystic and magic, like some sort of unicorn.
The lighting from Paul Vidar Sævarang, is also part of the game, spotlighting the action and in one extraordinary moment sending us into the stratosphere, a midnight blue world surrounded by swirling stars.
The dancers finally disperse across the auditorium and led by Spidsøe, they semaphore a message across to us who now occupy centre stage. Fortunately, it is not translated, but the piece concludes as they play the audience and give us a round of applause. Ekman is never short on irony.
Director, Ingrid Lorentzen, and her company have made Oslo Opera House one of the most exciting venues in Europe and if Rooms looks for all the world like an end of term party, it is certainly well deserved.