Four Pieces including Sjoa and Skjåk (2004)

Four Pieces including Sjoa and Skjåk

World premiere at the TanzBremen dance festival 6 March 2004
Norwegian premiere at the New Norwegian Theatre, Oslo, 16 March 2004

A fresh look at the relationship between the sublime and the ordinary. The ballet surprises by evoking unusual associations and rapid changes of mood, rhythm and choreographic language. Three male and two female dancers are the source of a number of familiar and unfamiliar constellations in the relationship between the role figures. And each time the spectator feels she is beginning to grasp a comfortably recognisable picture of reality, the atmosphere suddenly takes a new turn and she is forced to sharpen her wits and ask herself new questions.

A distinguishing mark of Ingun Bjørnsgaard’s choreographic language is her innovative combination of classical and modern dance and a refreshing play on genres. In some parts of “Four Pieces…” the choreography almost slides into a narrative, but these dramatic situations are continually interspersed with abstract passages. And as always, the choreography unfolds accompanied by Bjørnsgaard’s inscrutable smile, while dark and unfathomable forces seethe under the surface.

Per Henrik Svalastog, Rolf Wallin and Henrik Hellstenius have composed an original score for the performance. All three have long experience in working with Bjørnsgaard, but this is the first time they have collaborated on one and the same production. The result is an exciting and pulsating sound score in which the three composers’ works “merge into” each other. Four Pieces including Sjoa & Skjåk

Choreography: Ingun Bjørnsgaard
Dancers: Christopher Arouni, Sigrid Edvardsson/Halldís Ólafsdottir, Lars Jacob Holm, Erik Rulin, Lone Torvik
Composers: Per Henrik Svalastog, Henrik Hellstenius og Rolf Wallin
Stage design/costumes: Thomas Björk
Sound design: Morten Pettersen, Ken Ruben Theodorsen
Lighting design: Jean Vincent Kerebel
Length: 60 minutes
Produced by: Ingun Bjørnsgaard Prosjekt
Co-produced by: TanzBremen
Executive producers: DanielsenKroepelien Artsmanagement
Supported by: The Norwegian Council for Cultural Affairs, the Norwegian Fund for Performing Artists, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs


TanzBremen dance festival Bremen, Tyskland
Det Norske Teatret, Oslo
Scalateatern, Karlstad, Sverige
Das Meininger Theater, Meiningen, Tyskland
Duet Komischer Oper, Berlin, Tyskland
Bærum Kulturhus Sandvika Bærum
Bergen Internasjonale Teater Bergen
Sandnes Kulturhus Sandnes
Drammens Kulturhus Drammen
Moderna Dansteatern Stockholm, Sverige




When feelings turn into movement

A Norwegian guest performance opened the festival yesterday

She was once a ”young dog” herself, Ingun Bjørnsgaard. Today, she is a Scandinavian choreographer in demand. Yesterday her fascinating production ”Four pieces including Sjoa & Skjåk” opened the 13th Meiningen Theatre Festival.

MEININGEN – You have to look carefully. Very carefully. For the five dancers – two women and three men – do quite a lot together on the stage, but also a great deal on their own. Our understanding of what Ingun Bjørnsgaard wants to express through this ballet depends on each individual trait, each individual face and each individual movement. Five young people step onto the stage together. Yet none of them, it seems, wants to make contact with the others. This state of affairs changes – slowly – from act to act, just as the electronic music changes from a faint murmur in the beginning, rising to aggressive tones as the piece progresses. The five dancers transform feelings into movement – at times harmoniously, at others with violence. In this way, an almost unbearable tension builds up. A dynamism which presents on stage in concentrated form nothing less than people’s day-to-day relations with one another.

The world premiere of this ballet was held at the Bremen Theatre. The music is by three contemporary Norwegian composers. Sjoa and Skjåk – whose names may well seem confusing – are a town and a river in Norway, which appear in pictures on the stage in the last act. The choreographer intends the piece to be understood as a contrast between subtle emotions in the spirit of national romanticism and the emptiness of everyday life.

Ingun Bjørnsgaard has just completed the choreography for a new ballet for the Komischer Oper in Berlin, set to the music of ”The death of the maiden”. She works mainly on commission from the National Ballet in Oslo and the Royal Ballet in Stockholm. – It’s a strange feeling to play in yet another city, where the ballet company has just been dissolved, she says. For not only the Meininger Theatre, but also the Komischer Oper has had to close down its ballet company for economic reasons.

Dagbladet Wednesday 17 March 2004

High excitement
“Four pieces including Sjoa & Skjåk”
Choreography: Ingun Bjørnsgaard
Music: Per H. Svalastog, Henrik Hellstenius and Rolf Wallin
Ingun Bjørnsgaard Prosjekt at The New Norwegian Theatre

Exciting Norwegian premiere with intensely symbiotic dance from the sunbeds of temptation all the way to Sjoa and Skjåk
Review by Annette Mürer

DANCE -Now at the New Norwegian Theatre: surprising changes of emotion revealed with exquisite intensity by the choreographer Ingun Bjørnsgaard and five accomplished dancers. Perhaps most surprising because they are so immediately recognisable. Bjørnsgaard’s dance language is now so rich and so full of subtle meanings that each sequence of the work can stand alone as an independent, condensed and exciting minidrama: from liberalism’s, cynical/comical sex-life on or under the sunbeds, to wild stretches of the imagination expressed in gigantic leaps reminiscent of the Norwegian Halling folk dance. Contrasts wind their way through the evening’s performance; now lithe and half-smiling, now building up with the music to explosive confrontations. Thomas Bjørk’s scenery and costumes provide a simple, almost everyday look to the piece – seemingly….

The evening’s five dancers, led by Sigrid Edvardsson and Christopher Arouni, with beautifully differentiated, dramatic strength in every detail, make an excellent dance constellation. The same can be said of the music by Svalastog, Wallin and Hellstenius, whose works have been combined into a rich and, not least, exciting sound picture, which inspire strong dancers like Lars Jacob Holm, Lone Torvik and Erik Rulin to generate personal interpretations of Bjørnsgaard’s challenging compositions. These are exciting new pieces, Sjoa and Skjåk included.

DIE WELT, Monday 8 March 2004

Dance like meandering waters
Her choreography is becoming increasingly “dancy” and as a result, eloquent: Ingun Bjørnsgaard’s dance theatre can now manage without those theatrical anecdotes and references to everyday life which she has traditionally used to tell her stories. Humour and human nature are still evident, in spite of the growing degree of abstraction. In this piece she creates a universe generated by precise dance technique and unbridled zeal that is almost without parallel on the European stage. The TANZ Bremen festival shared the risk of a world premiere co-production and invited the Norwegian choreographer to produce “Four pieces including Sjoa & Skjåk” which was performed on the second day of the festival and turned out to be the event’s first highlight.

In contrast, it was disappointing to see the initial performance on the preceding day by the French Fattoumi-Lamoureux Company in the Bremen Musical Theatre: “Animal Regard” combined dance and circus-like aerial acrobatics with a weak dramaturgy that sent the audience straight to sleep. The only mitigating aspect of the long-winded trapeze sequences was the extraordinary suppleness of the dance artistes. With unpretentious casualness, seemingly out of a vacuum, most of the occasional head-over-heel attempts to “catch the moment” failed. And that is exactly what Ingun Bjørnsgaard, with her wonderful musicality, and thanks to the strong personalities of her constellation of dancers, manages to achieve with such astonishing and amusing originality.

This time, her experienced dancers are joined by very young newcomers. Both the women – the austere, angular Sigrid Edvardsson and the disarmingly nonchalant Lone Torvik – make a magnificent team. Bjørnsgaard’s dance language is a sensitive combination of contemporary and classical ballet. A successful blend that she doesn’t use just for the sake of form. The entrancing, bewitching smile often to be seen on the faces of her dancers has almost become a trademark of the company; a smile that does not cloud, in spite of sudden falls and stumbles along the path of human relationships. Hardly anyone succeeds in reconciling alienation and romantic longing in such an amusing, comical and moving way as Bjørnsgaard.

The strange title of the piece refers to the little town of Skjåk in the Norwegian mountains and the river Sjoa. Like meandering waters, the choreography makes its way, accompanied by electronic music by Norwegian contemporary composers, at first rather indecisively, so gradually more tensely and energetically. So the production turned out to be no real risk after all. After all, the new festival manager, Sabine Gehm, has known Bjørnsgaard since she discovered the choreographer at Kampnagel in Hamburg in 1996 and subsequently encouraged her. In the meantime, Bjørnsgaard has become one of Scandinavia’s most reputed choreographers.

TANZ Bremen remains largely true to its vision and continues to go in for European dance theatre in conjunction with Bremen’s independent theatres. And there is general agreement that in Bremen’s race to be awarded the title of Cultural City in 2010, the popular TANZ Bremen festival – now forced for reasons of economy into being a biennial event – must from now on be held annually.

WESER KURIER, Daily paper for Bremen and Niedersachsen
Monday 8 March 2004

Solo with tears in a sea of changing emotions
World premiere of a production by the Norwegian choreographer Ingun Bjørnsgaard at Tanz Bremen
by Alexandra Albrecht, cultural editor

World premieres are the spice of any festival. Only when there is something new on the programme will the supra-regional press take notice and the festival command national attention. This year, the Tanz Bremen festival presents three German premieres and one world premiere. The latter is the work of the Norwegian choreographer Ingun Bjørnsgaard whose new production “Four pieces including Sjoa & Skjåk” was performed on two subsequent evenings.

Ingun Bjørnsgaard established her own company in 1992 – Ingun Bjørnsgaard Prosjekt. In addition to working with her company, she has been commissioned as a guest choreographer by highly reputed ballet companies such as the Stockholm Royal Ballet, the Norwegian National Ballet in Oslo and Komische Oper in Berlin. With her own company, she participates in dance festivals worldwide. Ingun Bjørnsgaard has been awarded several prizes for her work and is considered an innovative force in the Scandinavian dance arena.

Her choreographic roots are in classical ballet and her new production bears witness to this. Ingun Bjørnsgaard gives her two female and three male dancers a rich dance vocabularly and demands much of them as regards both technique and stamina.

The piece lasts just over 60 minutes and is divided into four acts. In each case, the dancers come on stage together, but move more or less on their own; when their movements are synchronised, they still hardly seem to be in contact with each other. Even when a woman in a red dress starts dancing wildly and expressively in desperation, the others hardly take any notice.

Ingun Bjørnsgaard heightens the tension from act to act. At the beginning, the dancers move in slow motion; later their movements gradually speed up and become more explosive and complex, and their feelings begin to come to the surface. One dancer, who repeatedly tries to impose his movements on another, suddenly begins to cry and tearfully dances a solo. His attempts to approach the woman are unsuccessful. He looks too much like the big bad wolf, whose pleasant facade does not quite manage to hide his wickedness. Ingun Bjørnsgaard often alludes to scenes from fairy-tales in her works; at one point she has a dancer reading a text; in the last act there are two pictures showing the Norwegian landscape on the stage. The two place-names in the title, Sjoa and Skjåk, refer to a river and a town in Norway. In the programme, we are told that the piece aims to show the contrast between sublime emotions in national romantic style on the one hand, and the banality of modern emptiness and boredom on the other. Well, without this written clue, we would hardly have discovered this contrast by ourselves. What is far more obvious is that the characters never seem to find one another. The duets come across more as fights during which the women are recklessly slung through the air. One of the men repeatedly throws himself on top of the girls lying on the floor, as if he wanted to rape them.

In the last act, the five stand with superficial smiles but their facial expressions seem mask-like and forced. Even though they all make an effort to relate in a harmonious and considerate fashion, underlying aggression continually comes to the surface. Such scenes, revealing the swaying of emotions and the eruption of suppressed feelings, are particularly successful in Ingun Bjørnsgaard’s work. She manages to express feelings by means of her rich vocabularly of movement. Per Henrik Svalastog, Henrik Hellstenius and Rolf Wallin have composed music for her that emphasises this growing tension. The initial rustling sounds and intonations are gradually intensified by rythmic beats which reflect the actors’ mutual aggression.

The public applauded the dancers and the choreographer loudly for this successful performance.

KREISZEITUNG – Syker Zeitung
8 March 2004


Brutal Reality

In her new production, the Norwegian choreographer Ingun Bjørnsgaard takes the public on a journey, without aiming to tell a coherent story: “Four pieces including Sjoa & Skjåk” (on Saturday evening at the Bremen theatre). A combination of emotions, reflecting the surrounding scenery of Scandinavian mountains – the cosmos in which the five dancers belonging to Ingun Bjørnsgaard Prosjekt move and tentatively feel their way towards the theme, in both discord and harmony. This Scandinavian choreographer, heralded as a “shooting star”, gets to grips with important existentialist issues – love, everyday life, sexuality – and packs them in playful and dynamic statements. Little Red Riding Hood meets the bad wolf. But contrary to tradition, this time it is the man who gets eaten up. Reeling in shock and crying bitter tears, he stumbles into emptiness. Instead of banal transformations, a hard fairy-tale reality. The same applies to the dancers’ forced smiles in response to the snowy landscape of their homeland in the final scene. Though they seem friendly and well-meaning, they are actually spoiling for a fight. They lash out and stab at one another and vie with one another for intimacy, closeness and distance – with wonderful combinations of jumps and imaginative acrobatics.

The message of the piece – the creation of new alliances and the disclosure of old hostilities – was brought home at this premiere with magical and powerful effects that appealed to and repelled the audience by turns. Wittily danced and performed with technical brilliance. And with a musical accompaniment by Norwegian, contemporary composers such as Henrik Hellstenius and Rolf Wallin. The elegiac tones at the start of the piece gradually develop into intense tonal compositions, a fitting accompaniment to the process of everyday life and mysticism that enfolds on stage between the five actors. The restless figures become characters whose expressions reflect the exuberance of life in all its facets of enchanting Romanticism and brutal reality. Choreographed engagingly and convincingly, and danced expressively.