Please Do Not Eat Milkywhale
With much of the earth’s oceans left unexplored, we mere humans should feel lucky whenever an unknown species of marine animal is discovered or a known-but-illusive one photographed, filmed, or recorded. This year in Antarctica, scientists believe they recorded the sounds of a species of beaked whale that has yet to ever be seen. Similarly, the internet blew up with photos of a rare but extremely ugly species of catshark—also called a sofa shark due to its misshapen hideousness akin to that of discarded furniture—was hauled up off the coast of Scotland.
However, no new marine species is as important to the Iceland Airwaves festival-goer as the Milkywhale. (Unless you’re the type to take an actual whale-watching tour, in which case you’re most likely to see a minke whale… or eat one, if you’re that kind of person.) If not the tastiest or most majestic, I guarantee that seeing Milkywhale is the most fun you’ll have with any kind of whale during your stay in Iceland.
Only Listen To Milkywhale
Milkywhale, discovered in August and seen at both Innipúkinn and the Reykjavík Dance Festival, is the persona of modern-dancer-turned-pop-star Melkorka Sigríður Magnúsdóttir. She was introduced to songwriting while studying dance in Amsterdam and brought that newfound passion into collaboration with FM Belfast’s Árni Rúnar Hlöðversson. The result was a performance that meshes Melkorka’s unique choreography with Árni’s polished pop perfection—along with some quirkily unusual marine mammal imagery.
When I first spotted a Milkywhale performance, I had been grossly misled into doing so. My housemate had told me we were going to see a play. My mind went straight to young women slathered in makeup to make them look older, walking around a fake house and reciting witty comebacks, the same type of performance I’ve seen over and over since my elementary school production of The Taming of the Shrew.
I should’ve known better considering it was the Reykjavík Dance Festival, but what I saw was unlike anything I had ever seen. Or rather, it was a whole bunch of things I’ve seen and loved but combined in a way I never had.
And Love Milkywhale
When I sat down in the tiny audience at Tjarnarbíó and saw only single white keyboard and a handful of strategically placed microphones, I knew it wouldn’t be a play in the traditional sense. The music pumped out and this single woman on the stage panted and yelled thanks as though she were had been performing for an hour in front of 10,000 dancing people instead of three minutes in front of maybe 100 sitting people.
At first, the audience watched stiffly, taking the art very seriously. She recited lyrical monologues that painted a picture of some whale-like being crippled by loneliness and honestly it was a bit saddening. It made me just want to hug her. It didn’t take long, however, for Árni’s beats to get heads and feet bobbing along, Melkorka’s choreography to have us mesmerized, and her lyrics to even get us chuckling. I walked out of the performance frantically thinking, “Does she have an album? When can I see her again? How am I supposed to live without this from now on?”
And Most Importantly, Watch Milkywhale
Milkywhale’s greatest achievement is her ability not to take anything to seriously. At times, the choreography is has the beauty of modern dance and at other the silliness of modern pop, with an arty blend of charming awkwardness. The lyrics, too, hit a sweet spot between poetry and jokes: “You are my trampoline / You are my bouncy castle / You are my jumping mattress,” etc. It uses the best conventions of both high art and popular culture almost to mock each other, thus making each aspect equal parts brilliant and fun. If you dislike pop music because it seems inane or unintelligent or if you dislike performance art because it seems too pretentious or inaccessible, Milkywhale may be able to sell you on both.
Milkywhale was originally performed in an art space as a kind of faux-concert. I found myself sitting and watching and loving it, but I also found myself needing to dance. This is my finally my chance (and yours). By performing throughout Airwaves, Milkywhale is finally getting the reception they deserve. Their first off-venue show turned a packed Laundromat Café into a dance party, with people waving their hands in the air. One person even waved their baby in the air. As with her performance at Reykjavík Dance Festival, they managed both art and humor with their banter: “This next song is a power ballad. It’s a cold song about love… and cake.”
In the interest of science, I’ll be following this new species of Icelandic whale throughout the festival and giving regular reports on my sightings. You can follow them here or you can get out in the field and do some research for yourself. Or you can shut up and dance. Or scream and dance. As long as you dance.
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