From Iceland — Making Sense Of The Senseless

Making Sense Of The Senseless

Published May 19, 2023

Photo by
Marinó Thorlacius

“Congratulations On Being Human” looks for the beauty in the bewildering

A not insignificant volume of art has emerged from the depths of the global pandemic. Musicians composed with the ample time afforded them, painters painted, photographers set their lenses on sparse cityscapes and nature in renewal.

Dancer and choreographer Sigríður Soffía Níelsdóttir was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. To help make sense of a situation made all the more bewildering by the pandemic, she wrote poetry.

From private words to the National Theatre

“It’s about a person that feels like they’re losing all control and how they try to regain control through their actions and words.”
“I wrote this book just for myself and I began with no intention of showing it to anyone,” Sigríður Soffía explains. “It was just my way of dealing with my situation. Then I made a dance piece where the words would be communicated in movement. But as soon as I sent the script, I got really good feedback from people saying that it should really be words along with the movement.”

That positive feedback resulted in the book of poetry being published by Forlagið and adapted as a stage production that premiered at the National Theatre on April 19.

“Til hamingju með að vera mannleg” or “Congratulations on Being Human” is, as Sigríður Soffía describes it, a show about how a person reacts when faced with uncertainty. “It’s about a person that feels like they’re losing all control and how they try to regain control through their actions and words.”

The performance features seven female actors and dancers of varying ages, staging Sigríður Soffía’s poetry as dance interpretations, acted scenes and music, with composer Jónas Sen accompanying on piano. “It’s really like a sketch show,” says Sigríður Soffía, who also performs in the production, sometimes dancing and sometimes providing comedic relief. “We’re moving through the book from beginning to end, but it speaks to the audience on an emotional level rather than telling a linear story.”

Creating the art she would have appreciated

While Sigríður Soffía initially put pen to paper throughout her treatment to stay productive, publishing her poetry and staging her performance morphed somewhere along the way into sending a message to young people who will find themselves in her position that there will be progress with time.

“I feel like I’m making things that I would have loved to have when I got sick,” she says. “I would have loved to have a book of poetry written by somebody young that would say, ‘you’re in a shitty situation, but it’s gonna be fine because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.’”

“It’s extremely humbling because I am not the performing artist I used to be,” Sigríður Soffía continues. “Being able to move without pain has taken me two years just to open up my joints. I’ve been a professional dancer, working on my physical shape, for 35 years and I still don’t have the physical ability to perform how I used to perform. But I am still going up on stage. I really wanted to show a person my age that is doing something powerful and not giving up.”

Making art accessible

From the start, Sigríður Soffía was interested in staging at least one performance of “Congratulations on Being Human” in English. That has been realised in the addition of English subtitles to the May 3 and May 19 performances.

“I think it’s so important with Iceland being a cultural society that artist take the time to be more inclusive,” she says. “We need to try to take the first steps now to make it a habit. Even if it’s just one show of many, I hope it will become more of a norm in theatres.”

She recalls being an expat in France and seeking out ways to engage in cultural happenings, even if it was just finding the cinema that was screening films without French dubbing.

“It just feels so important that English speaking Icelanders have the opportunity to see these shows, even if they’re in Icelandic because theatre and dance are such a big part of our society, of the local culture.”

“Congratulations on Being Human” will be performed with English subtitles at the National Theatre on May 19 at 20:00. Tickets are available on

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