From Iceland — What Is A Milkywhale And Why Should You Care?

What Is A Milkywhale And Why Should You Care?

Published August 27, 2015

What Is A Milkywhale And Why Should You Care?
Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Magnús Leifsson

One might not normally associate love, trampoline exercises, and whales with pop music. Still, that is exactly what you’re going to get from ‘Milkywhale’, a modern dance-theatre-concert-piece-band that just premiered at the Reykjavík Dance Festival. The work is a collaboration between choreographer Melkorka Sigríður Magnúsdóttir and Árni Rúnar Hlöðversson of FM Belfast. We sat down with Melkorka to discuss the project.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did ‘Milkywhale’ happen?

I’ve always been interested in the connection between music and dance in my pieces. I studied in Amsterdam at this crazy dance school—the kind where people ran around naked screaming “What is postmodernism?!” You know? We had a writing course, but my teacher had just broken up with his boyfriend and was like “I feel like writing love songs.” So instead, we had five weeks of songwriting, and after that he paired some of us together to form a house band. We played, and the reception was amazing. As dancers, we were like, “Wow, we’ve never gotten this type of reception before.” Music—people really connect to it instantly.


So that’s how it started—the music. I wanted to do my own thing, and I’d wanted to work with Árni for a long time. We linked up, and then started collaborating with the writer Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir. My job was to act as a medium between her and Árni, and we finished all the songs in ten days, which is super-rare.

Extreme sports

So “love, trampoline exercises, whales and pop music,” is pretty difficult to visualise! What exactly is ‘Milkywhale’ about?

‘Milkywhale’ is a choreographed concert. Árni and I started to talk about how we were tired of going to see bands play because it’s always the same setup, the same lights. We wanted to make a concert where we could decide everything.

So my singing alter ego Milkywhale—she’s kind of this lonely whale that struggles to survive, and does so through music and singing. That’s the fun thing about this piece. You put an audience that is coming to see a theatre production in the perspective of the audience at a pop concert. Like sitting in their seats, watching as a theatre audience. So we play with that.

The songs are really amazing. It’s super-pop.

Is there a narrative?

No, there’s not really a narrative, but all the songs connect thematically. They are based on loneliness, about wanting to be normal but not really managing. There are lyrics like, “I wanna be mainstream, not a gulf stream.”

It is a solo piece, so you automatically start to wonder, who is this creature on stage singing and dancing alone in her own world? So if you want to, you can find a narrative, but if not, you can watch it like a concert.


Is it hard to mix something like that with modern dance?

Well, contemporary dance today is like the extreme sport of the theatre world, you know? Because until a short time ago, people were like, “Hmm this isn’t really theatre, just put it in the dance category.” So we ended up with all these crazy performances that didn’t have any notion of dance in them, but that’s what I really like about contemporary dance. There’s room for so much creativity.

In theatre, people come to look and meditate on what is happening on stage, to see and think. But at a concert, people just come to listen and enjoy. I am new to this, talking to the audience and manipulating them. It all combines.

You just played Innipúkinn and the Reykjavík Dance Festival. What’s next?

We just released a music video, and will be at Iceland Airwaves. ‘Milkywhale’ started off as a theatre and dance production, but has kind of turned into a music project. Árni and I liked the sound so much that we want to perform it as much as we can. I hope we can play more concerts. For me, that’s the dream. I really enjoy it.

I’m also trying to get Árni on stage! I want to bring my shy musician onstage with me.


Ok, I gotta ask: what’s your favourite ‘Milkypop’-esque cheesy pop song?

Oh my gosh, that’s a difficult question. Right now, honestly, I am always dancing to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You”… [laughs]

Like Spinal Tap or Dethklok, Milkywhale is not a real band—but it is! It’s a performance piece that’s now coming to life. Confusing yes, but you know, as they say, life imitates art.

Milkywhale will be playing at Tjarnarbíó tonight at 21:00. Get more information on the performance here.

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