In a crowded café, Icelandic dance extraordinaire Melkorka Sígríður Magnúsdóttir pours her fizzy drink into a glass, barely managing to contain her equally effervescent excitement.
Melkorka’s onstage energy is well known. As the frontwoman of electro-pop band Milkywhale, she’s a whirlwind of energy, dancing, bouncing, and leading the audience through a flow of melodies and electronic beats. Now, she’s applying that same energy to a choreographed pop opera called ‘Vacuum’ that explores the meaning of nothingness.
There’s only emptiness
Taking place in a space called The Vacuum, five dancers and singers attempt to explain what happens when, stripped of emotions and points of reference, you have to create something out of nothing.
“The Vacuum is not only something that relates to space but also something that relates to us—to emotions,” Melkorka explains. “We’re emotionally empty, but we plant ourselves into this space and we give birth to different things—singing, dancing, and exploring. So how do you perform a piece and create emotions when you don’t actually feel anything?”
An endless cycle
Pushing boundaries seems to come naturally to Melkora, but challenging others is a whole different story. She blends and blurs lines between visual performances so that dancers sing, and singers dance.
It’s a risky strategy, but Melkorka says they balance each other out. “These are some of the best performers in Iceland,” she explains. “They all bring something to the table.”
As well as providing guidance, Melkorka leaves room for improvisation in individuals’ creative choices in interpreting the music. Still, a lot of work went into creating the lyrics and the structural framework of classic opera. “In the end, we had 22 texts, divided into five acts,” she says. “We go from the Beginning, into an Explosion or Birth, into this unknown world: into Relationships (or lack thereof), Destruction, and Rebirth. We’re trying to explore this endless cycle of entering a new world. Do we destroy it? And what comes after that?”
The poetry of dancing
In line with classic operas, ‘Vacuum’ is sung from beginning to end, weaving a narrative through performance, melodies, and movement as well as words. “Dance is a language without words,” says Melkorka. “You have the stories of these people who are lost in space and lost emotionally, trying to create something out of nothing. We try to interpret them physically. So many different things can be read out of one moment.”
Because dance plays a pivotal role in Vacuum, Melkorka isn’t worried about people not understanding the Icelandic words, even though her fanbase is international. Her mother, renowned novelist and poet Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, wrote the entire booklet, and while the soft and melodic sound of the language lends itself to poetry and music, “I don’t think you need to understand the lyrics to understand the piece,” Melkorka says. “It adds a beautiful layer, yes, but we’re trying to complement the text by moving and dancing on stage. After all, even in dance, things can be quite poetic.”
‘Vacuum’ will be in Tjarnarbíó from April 12th to 18th. Tickets are available here.