Bad hair day, spin the bottle, beat on a pregnant woman and forge an unbreakable connection.
Erna Ómarsdóttir’s “Teach Us How To Outgrow Our Madness” premiered at the National Theatre on June 19 to a full house of fans and a who’s who of Reykjavik – a well deserved celebration of one of Iceland’s most individual and accomplished artists.
The date was also Icelandic women’s rights day, an appropriate choice for a performance that explores the intense relationships between middle aged women. A performance in which the characters’ movements are defined by a secret shared amidst the rivalry, cruelty and bonds of their deep connections.
Combining dance, storytelling and theatre with heavy electronic beats and live singing, Ómarsdóttir continues to walk an unaffected path of her own through the sometimes spurious world of the arts. Once again employing collaboration to help blaze the individualistic trail, Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness was conceived and performed together with previous cohorts Sissel Merete Bjorkli, Riina Huhtanen, Sigríður Soffía Níelsdóttir and Margrét Sara Guðjónsdóttir (with music by Reykjavík!’s Valdimar Jóhannsson and musician Lieven Dousselaere).
Assuredly confronting taboos, the challenging performance also provided the perfect occasion to observe some awkward squirming from a fair proportion of the well-turned out National Theatre audience.
With her profoundly, and at times disturbingly, dynamic movement, the diminutive Ómarsdóttir stands out even when surrounded by statuesque Nordic blondes lassoing jump-ropes in a deep trance. Indeed, the only shame was that the nature of the piece required this aspect of her work to be dialled down.
At least for a female viewer the pull-no-punches themes hit hard, cutting wisdom and knife-sharp honesty in the performance, mixing with a refreshingly wild streak of humour. Building to the dancers’ full blooded expressions of hysteria and insanity, the journey was at times shockingly powerful.
But hitting hardest of all was the sheer force of Ms. Ómarsdóttir’s vocals. Her repertoire ranges from childlike utterings to aggressive expulsions of the lungs in sync with the movement and a full-blown heavy-metal roar that is impossible to escape, engulfing the listener and irresistibly driving them in her direction. Or in less poetic terms, a fucking awesome noise.
“My hobby is screaming” she says after the show, “but it causes trouble with the neighbours.”