From Iceland — Øland At The National Theatre

Øland At The National Theatre

Published January 14, 2020

Sam O'Donnell
Photo by
Art Bicnick
Lilja Birgisdóttir

I’m sitting at a marble table across from Katrín Gunnarsdóttir in the café of the National Theatre. She is one of the performers for Øland, an avant-garde dance performance three years in the making. “I think we’re all very excited,” she says about the event coming to fruition. She says her team is also excited about performing at the National Theatre. “It’s quite a rare opportunity for an independent group of artists to occupy the main stage,” she says. The National Theatre is usually an ensemble theatre, performing more traditional forms of stage narrative. “This is also why we only have two shows. It’s like a collaboration with the theatre, or a guest performance.”

Photo by Art Bicnick

The Marble Crowd

The core team has been doing shows for over a decade. The name was conceived over cocktails many years ago. Katrín thought “crowd” was an interesting word for such a small group of people that wanted to do many things. “So even though we are not many people, we are a crowd.” They settled on marble because they liked the idea of how marble is formed. When limestone is exposed to high temperatures and pressures, the calcite which forms the limestone recrystallises and forms a denser material. Thus, the idea of emergence plays into the group’s identity.

“This utopia is now swallowing the planet, and we’re trying to deal with that. If we are in a world of plastic, what is the magic we can create from that?”

In practice, that means taking some kind of material and staying with that in the studio and seeing how it unfolds. For this particular show, that material is plastic. “That’s kind of our main material,” she says. “It’s in the set, the costumes, it becomes our props, our dancing partners, everything.” There is something beautiful about turning a plastic bag into a meaningful object which serves the narrative.

Photo by Art Bicnick

Paradise is an island. So is Hell.

A group of five seafarers become stranded on an island somewhere between the planes of reality and make-believe, and together on this island, they have to recreate from memory the world they once knew.

Islands are historically viewed as a paradise with palm trees, vacation hot-spots. In reality, islands are often unlivable, harsh hellscapes, which gives way to the motif of the castaway stranded on a deserted island. As Katrín explains: “Our island is an ambiguous thing. Is it the best thing ever to have to start over from a blank canvas, or is it the worst thing that can happen?” This question is open to interpretation, but it has inspired the group.

Katrín and her crew are also inspired by the fact that when plastic was first introduced, it was marketed as a utopian device. “This utopia is now swallowing the planet, and we’re trying to deal with that. If we are in a world of plastic, what is the magic we can create from that?” Thus, the narrative has a lot to do with ecology.

The show is, at its core, playful. “Playfulness is kind of inherent in all kinds of make-believe,” she says. “If I have a plastic bag, it becomes my boat, or my umbrella. This is how children play.” She and her team play with this naivete of approaching something for the first time. They also communicate through action, which lends itself to a sort of playfulness. Rather than engaging on an intellectual level, they observe one another, imitate, and try to open up new possibilities that way. “There are endless possibilities when it comes to playing.”

The premier of Øland is on the 15th of January, and then you can book a ticket for the show, on the 20th of January, through

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