From the ashes, renewal

Alice Williams:Festival 9th Holstebro Festuge; Odin Teatret 50th Anniversary

If the Grain of Wheat Does Not Die, closing performance Odin Teatret, 50th Anniversary

If the Grain of Wheat Does Not Die, closing performance Odin Teatret, 50th Anniversary

If the Grain of Wheat Does Not Die, closing performance Odin Teatret, 50th Anniversary

Odin Teatret’s 9th triennial Holstebro Festuge, a large-scale, public performance event, invited groups of international artists from diverse backgrounds to stage community collaborations, performances and cultural interventions in the Danish municipality of Holstebro and its surrounding villages.

In keeping with the theme Faces of the Future, Ghosts and Fictions, the festival’s artists were predominantly groups of young people trained in distinct performance styles. Facilitated by Odin Teatret and Odin’s emerging artist associates, international groups collaborated with local youth, staging actions that materialised as apparitions across the towns, in multiple shifting locations. The works wove formal aspects of performative and everyday life together to transform public life in the towns for the nine days and nights of the festival.

My perspective on the festival is framed by my role as participant, observer and, in the month preceding the festival, as an intern at Odin Teatret. My experience reflects the creative and pedagogical opportunities the festival offered its participants. It also attests to the festival’s disorienting nature, which the company’s director Eugenio Barba assured me on arrival would be an important part of the process, and through it I would find my own thread. The thread I found ultimately led me to a reflection on Odin’s examination of theatrical language over its 50 years as well as the language that it has developed itself, a unique material dialogue with the fictions embedded in performance and everyday life.

Over the festival I was primarily involved with two projects, Altamira Laboratory’s (Italy) collaboration with Wagnerhus Kindergarten (Denmark) and Isadora Pei’s and The Jasonites’ (Italy, Spain, Brazil) Living Island, two examples of the festival’s multiple collaborations with schools (of which there were five in the festival) on one hand, and the festival as a stage for exchanges between participants (Odin artists, international colleagues, emerging associate artists, local and international youth) on the other.

Altamira workshopped with children aged three to five over three months at Wagnerhus preceding the festival, composing dance and movement sequences using large pieces of coloured cloth. In the final performance children moved to live and recorded music, dancing in different cultural styles around the cloths, on top of them, hiding beneath them, and chasing them through a field. The movement scores had a kaleidoscopic quality suggesting the vital relationship between bodies, sounds and materials. The piece was presented as a performance exchange, first with the The Koinonia Children’s Team (from Nairobi’s periphery, trained in acrobatics by Father Kizito as an alternative to street life) and then with the local Taekwondo club. It had a marked effect on the kindergarten, teachers commenting children had become more outgoing over the collaboration.

Living Island was a floating performance space on rafts built by local Scouts ritually setting fire to ‘the past’ and hosting visiting performance groups. The space, on the town’s central river, was framed by large sail-like patchworks sewn with invented emblems, evoking the cultures of the participating groups. The island was surrounded by an installation of ‘relics,’ an auto-ethnographic museum of everyday life.

The 9th Holstebro Festuge, Faces of the Future, Ghosts and Fictions; Odin Teatret 50th Anniversary

The 9th Holstebro Festuge, Faces of the Future, Ghosts and Fictions; Odin Teatret 50th Anniversary

Each day of the performance, Scouts sailed a new raft up the river, joining it to the others and hosting a different combination of performance events. The week began with a single raft and lone dancer from the Balinese Sanggar Seni Tri Suari school, accompanied by fire and instrumental music played on the bridge. Across the week performances included Odin actors Roberta Carerri, Jan Faslav and Tage Larsen, the Mercurial Family (Odin’s Julia Varley, associates Deborah Hunt, Carolina Pizzaro and Francesca Palombo), Lle Omolu Orixa dancers (Brazil), a local clown group and the Scouts themselves. The island was ushered and managed by Pei’s team of zombie Scouts (of which I was one). The work functioned as a parade of otherworldly, comic, archetypical and intercultural performance images that emerged from the Scouts’ fire. Their burning of ‘the past’ was a means of transforming and transcending everyday life. The piece climaxed with a final bonfire, after which the space was emptied completely, leaving participants haunted by the interactions that had taken place.

As with the other events at the festival Living Island was remarkably well attended, audiences returning daily to follow its progression over the week. In all, audiences paid avid attention to the festival program and were skilled in navigating its culturally diverse practices. Artistic literacy across the festival was a visible result of Odin’s half-century collaboration with Holstebro Municipality, where cultural awareness has developed through working with locals, as well as through the works presented at the theatre’s laboratorium.

The festival’s closing performance, If The Grain of Wheat Does Not Die, attracted hundreds of spectators. Staged in the town’s main park it ended with letters spelling Odin 50 in flames on the lake. Barba curated fragments of performance from across the festival for this final piece, arranging them to create a dialogue between performance styles. Junior Banda de Spina (Italy) marched through the centre of the cloth where Dynamis Teatro (Italy) were fighting: a sharp crease in a chaotic field. Kenyan acrobats exchanged their grass skirts for tutus, forming a conga line with the ballerinas. Paolo Comentale (of Casa di Pulcinella, Italy) and Kai Bredholt’s (Odin) polar bear, Otto, fed spaghetti to the young Balinese soloist while Mr Peanuts (Julia Varley’s skeleton in a tux) sang Peking Opera in conversation with an accordion, violin and instruments from the Barong.

The montage became a frame for the performance fragment featuring Odin’s parade of characters: Roberta Carreri’s Geronimo, a mistral clown with duck whistle, Julia Varley’s Mr Peanuts, Jan Ferlev’s Doggy (a dog skeleton in a suit playing the guitar), Tage Larsen’s Munken (a robed and masked monk), Kai Bredholt’s Otto and Iben Rasmussen’s half masked Trickster, each of the figures composed of a montage of performance images and materials. Working between performance archetypes to open up a new, rejuvenating space they function as curios or ambassadors of a still unknown tradition. They are emblematic of Odin’s work, founded on and yet creating openings within performance codes. Their fragmented singing of “We Are the World” presented an ironically anachronistic image of youth working between codes, stepping into the unknown—a youthfulness paradoxically derived from 50 years of dedicated work.

Clear Enigma, an outdoor retrospective following the festival, celebrating the company’s anniversary, exhumed material from the Odin Teatret oeuvre from Ornithofille (1965) on. The performance of these fragments, enacted first on a fortress made of dirt and then aboard the ship Talabot, blurred the distinction between bodies that enacted past performances and the physicality of past performances that animated the bodies of the actors now. The work concluded with children invading the space and piling Odin’s costumes and props onto a conveyer belt that dropped it all into a large pit which a bulldozer filled. A wooden frame with ropes was installed—a swing above the newly levelled ground.

The Holstebro Festuge and Clear Enigma reflected the importance of tradition and innovation for Odin Teatret. They formed a cyclical, ritual event that provided opportunities for youth as well as creating actions that revived the youthfulness of the theatre itself in a gesture of celebration and negation—or “disorientation” that opened onto a new space of the unknown.

The 9th Holstebro Festuge, Faces of the Future, Ghosts and Fictions; Odin Teatret 50th Anniversary, Holstebro, Denmark, 14-22 June; http://www.odinteatret.dk/events/holstebro-festuge-(festive-week).aspx

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 8

© Alice Williams; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

13 October 2014