If life gives you oranges, then make orange soda, the first dance work of December says to me. Oh, oranges, schmoranges, the second piece replies. Did you know we can fly, it just takes a mirror?
Ambition, alone, does not lead to the creation of masterpieces. But a certain craving for over-achievement is probably a requirement for the making of lasting work. Which means that two Reykjavík-area dance-makers whose work tackles big themes—nothing less than How We Live Now, really—have at least part of what it takes.
The first piece of the month, Valgerður Rúnarsdóttir’s ‘Á,’ which was shown at Norðurpóllinn on December 1, 2 and 4 and describes a journey undertaken by three women. A performer in an old-fashioned dress (Valgerður) emerges angrily from a car parked in a corner of the stage. She throws luggage to the floor, stomps exaggeratedly around the car, smokes a cigarette . . . then takes off her shoes and dances.
Snædís Lilja Ingadóttir, dressed similarly to Valgerður, steps out of the car next. She dances alone and with Valgerður, but they don’t seem to connect. Unnur Elísabet Gunnarsdóttir, in a sparkly jumpsuit, is the last to appear (she has been lying in the back of the car, hidden). She acts out long passages of extreme agony, complete with super-spasms and discombobulated, barely-human sounds.
Finally, a flood of oranges is expelled from the car, and the piece settles into a pattern in which sections portraying the women caught up in their own personal distress alternate with happier bits of unison dancing. The movement is standard, to dance-worthy music by Þorgrímur Andri Einarsson.
Then it all stops. A suitcase becomes a table, a gigantic basket of snúðar iced in pink and chocolate appears, and glass bottles of Egils appelsin are popped. The audience giggles. We know where we are now.
Margrét Bjarnadóttir’s ‘On Misunderstanding,’ presented in the black box space of the National Theater on December 28, 29 and 30, takes on How we Live Now more obliquely.
Performed in English, the work begins with Margrét, dressed in an old-school tracksuit, delivering a long monologue about a Toronto-Amsterdam flight she took some years ago. It’s a predictable story (she interprets the actions of some fellow passengers to be those of terrorists), but is also well-acted, with funny, specific details.
After this prologue, the full cast (which also includes Dani Brown and Saga Sigurðardóttir) appears, each in her own special tracksuit. They close the set’s back curtain. Then, to perhaps the world’s least-likely-to-be-misunderstood song—it has about four words, all nouns—they perform a small, delightful dance of clarity. The moves derive from traditional ones, but have been altered to fit.
The central section of the work is made up of a series of sketches in which talking is accompanied by physical gesture. The tinkertoy-like set, by Elín Hansdóttir, is assembled and reassembled to provide alternate locales.
Much use is made of variously-sized mirrors. In one section, the dancers angle large rectangular mirrors at waist level to make it appear as if they have four legs. In another, they stand with one leg hidden behind a mirror, and, by swinging the leg in front, make it look as if they are levitating (appropriate upper-body effects are included). The performers also line up smaller mirrors with their noses, perpendicular to their faces, to give themselves comically distorted features that they complement with silly accents.
Conversational topics include the use of mind control in wrestling, the existence of past lives and the structure of the solar system. There’s an amusing charades scene: the three attempt to dance inanimate objects, and insult each other’s efforts. The material is charming, original and thought-provoking—the only niggle being that it doesn’t all cohere.
The little dance of transparency is recapped, followed by the three performers lying down on their backs, feet pointing at the back curtain, with a mirror held up to reflect their faces. As Hamid, the suspected terrorist, Saga retells the airplane story—of course a hilariously twisted version of the one we heard earlier—with Margrét making annoyed, uncomprehending faces in her direction the whole time.
So, I say. Which is it? Snúðar are the answer to everything? Or there is no solution?
Oh, no, no, NO, the works say together. You haven’t understood anything. Oranges have nothing to do with it. And we can SO fly, you know.