Marble Crowd is a local collective of artists who have worked together in various dynamics and circumstances for ten years now. Many constellations of artists and works have formed within the collective since.
Marble Crowd’s award-nominated show Moving Mountains: In Three Essays attempts the impossible, as the five authors take on the ambiguous task of moving mountains, while simultaneously questioning the desire to do so. They premiered the show a year a half ago at the K3 Tanzplan festival in Hamburg and then in the Faroe Islands. To our luck, they are bringing the show home to Reykjavík and premiering in the National Theatre at Everybody’s Spectacular, Iceland’s annual performance festival.
This is the second show that the five performers within the collective have created together. Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, Kristinn Guðmundsson, Sigurður Arent Jónsson, Saga Sigurðardóttir and Védís Kjartansdóttir are a diverse group of creatives, dancers and choreographers; they are quite the crowd. Common within Reykjavík’s art scene, everyone in the group juggles many different creative endeavours. There are two new mothers, Kristinn doubles as a tv chef, and Saga (a member of the Post Performance Blues Band) as art-pop star.
Before embarking on this journey, they knew that they wanted to further explore working together. Saga shares that, “we felt a chemistry that was worth investigating. We wanted to explore our approaches. What resulted was an investigation into how a collective can function—which is, in a sense, also an ambiguous task.” The process of that task called for questions and thoughts about the impossible. Laughing, Katrín adds, “There were also some cocktails at Hotel Holt.” So they came together once again to take on the mountain.
The five friends, five artists and five fools as they refer to themselves, in three essays or three attempts, move to do the inconceivable. As the performance unfolds, they deliver the story through body language, material and extraordinary imagery. “There is a choreographic proposal in the idea of landscape and the mountain,” Katrín explains. “There is something interesting about the traditional ideas of landscape. We try to marry together the concepts of the landscape and the ideas and connotations that may follow.” They take the challenge head-on, exploring these ideas while slipping into their narrative roles..
They began to investigate the idea of the insurmountable within the framework of the Tanzplan festival, the theme of which last year was European cohesion. “This most certainly impacted the piece,” Katrín explains, “as the theme posed questions of democracy, being together, and living together.” Facing the challenges of today’s world, attempting to move mountains seems almost like what we are all trying to do.
Marble Crowd’s spatial storyteller, Tinna Ottesen, chimes in: “In Hamburg, the venue became an important component to the work because we were given a big stage, which ended up coming into the process as a new playing partner.” Each element in the show gets invited into the wilderness they create space for, the stage is non-exempt. “At the start, the stage will be bare and naked,” Tinna continues, “and through the show we will dress it again.” Taking on the uncertainty of a naked space is key to their journey. Saga adds, “We meet a nothingness and from there we build the story and landscape of the show.”
Finding Themselves in the Wilderness
Each encounter on the stage leads to a new path, a new decision as the performers dance on the line between improvisation and composition. Saga explains, “we explore variations of this relationship; we don’t believe that it has to be binary. Sometimes we know what we are doing but we don’t know where it will lead. Other times we know where we are going but we don’t know how we are going to get there. That is the wildness in the work.”
No two shows are identical, but they stick to core of the group’s ambitions. “We are asking the audience to come with us on a journey, to use their imaginations and trust us,” says Katrín.
Danger and Vulnerability
There is a danger in the openness of improvisation, Katrín says. “There are real risks in the show, in terms of how exactly our intentions are followed through, which is vital. We want to be careful that we are not doing a representation of moving a mountain. So, there have to be real stakes, real danger that something will happen, or that nothing will happen.”
“There is a suspense in that vulnerability,” Tinna adds. “The performance works in this 90-minute frame because of this suspense.” It is there that the performers reveal the magic of vulnerability.
Conquering the Stage
“I think that the reason that it took us some time to [bring the performance to Reykjavík] is because this is a show for a big stage. We insist on the stage being big so we can conquer it,” says Katrín. “This particular stage isn’t just big in the physical sense.” Premiering the show in Reykjavík one year after their last performance presents new stakes and dangers for the Marble Crowd to face. “I think I will have premiere jitters,” admits Katrín. “This is our local audience. We have premiered the work in the Faroe Islands and Hamburg, but there is a fresh expectation and excitement about showing the work here; it’s something very exciting.”
Acknowledging the rarity of an independent artist-collective presenting its work on such a large scale, Katrín shares their excitement, “As Moving Mountains is an experimental show, it is fantastic to perform the work in the National Theatre of Iceland.” Saga adds, “We did three shows in Hamburg and that in itself was a journey. Now we have one show.” One show for the most impossible of voyages.
The Marble Crowd doesn’t balk at the pressure, allowing themselves space to play in the wilderness they create. “Playfulness is serious,” says Katrín. “It is a political act to be hopeful and playful in our current landscape. But we are not too serious—there is a lot of joy in this group; that is very important.” Saga laughs, adding, “it’s hard to take such an absurd task too seriously.” They shine with a balance of determination and light-heartedness. “Of course in the work we are attempting to move mountains. What is open to question is which mountain, where to move it and why move it in the first place?”