Notes on Frailty (2017)


”With IBPs 25th anniversary and the performance Notes on Frailty, Norwegian contemporary dance has reached a milestone.” E. Høyland, Klassekampen

”Sur fond de musique éthérée, tour à tour instrumentale ou mixée par Christian Wallumrød, les danseuses déclinent l’expression de la féminité, dans sa beauté et sa douleur. Les enchaînements des quatre performeuses sont d’une précision et d’une finesse remarquables.” M. Daval, I/O Gazette

”The result is a quiet, humorous and explorative performance filled with contradictions and complexity. This could be perceived as bewildering, however also shows how Ingun Bjørnsgaard, despite her established position, still is more interested in unresolved questions and inquiry. Oftentimes that can be much more intriguing than obvious answers.” M. Ørstavik, Aftenposten


In devoted collaboration with four entrusted dancers, Ingun Bjørnsgaard investigates the complexities of womanliness in Notes on Frailty.

With literary references to feminist philosophy, Ingun Bjørnsgaard’s muses move betweeen the sublime and the habitual in a choreographic exploration of the fine line between human beauty and failure.

Writing movement in time and space, cultural perceptions and contradictions regarding femininity and the masculine are at stake, with Bjørnsgaards’s idiosyncratic combination of rigorous detail and everyday theatricality.

The four dancers share inner conflict and frictions, but also a longing to transcend existential solitude. In visual choreographic surfaces, they get entangled in disposition and desire in a compositional oscillation between mere presence and dynamic expansion.

Composer and musician Christian Wallumrød creates new music to the performance, with the company’s signature affinity towards the subtle relationship between music and movement.

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Premiere 19. October 2017 (19th and 20th of October)

Coda International Dance Festival

Bærum Kulturhus-Regional resource center for dance, Oslo-Sandvika, Norway

Choreographer: Ingun Bjørnsgaard

Composer and musician: Christian Wallumrød

Music: Yoko Ono – ”What a Bastard The World Is” / © Ono Music/Universal Music Publishing AB

György Ligeti – ”Ramifications” / © Schott Music GmbH & Co KG/Gehrmans Musikförlag AB

Set design: Thomas Björk

Dancers: Catharina Vehre Gresslien, Marianne Haugli, Guro Schia, Ida Wigdel/Katja Henriksen Schia

Light Design: Tilo Hahn

Sound Design: Morten Pettersen

Dramaturgy advisor: Torunn Liven

Seam: Signe Vasshus

Producers: Anne Cecilie Bodin Larsen, Eva Grainger, Jorunn Kjersem Hildre

Produced by Ingun Bjørnsgaard Prosjekt

Funding:  The Norwegian Arts Council, The Norwegian Composers’ fund

Co-produced by:  CODA International Dance Festival 2017, Bærum Kulturhus- Regional resource center for dance

Partner:  Compagnie 29×27, SEPT CENT QUATRE VINGT TROIS,,,

Work Residency 22.05 – 2.06. 2017 at SEPT CENT QUATRE VINGT TROIS in Nantes, France


« Notes on Frailty » est la dernière création d’Ingun Bjørnsgaard, pilier de la danse norvégienne contemporaine. Sur fond de musique éthérée, tour à tour instrumentale ou mixée par Christian Wallumrød, les danseuses déclinent l’expression de la féminité, dans sa beauté et sa douleur. Les enchaînements des quatre performeuses sont d’une précision et d’une finesse remarquables. Elles alternent séquences individuelles avec des saynètes collectives proches d’un Tanztheater à la Pina Bausch, à la fois drôle et cruel : tour à tour sororales ou compétitives, lascives ou d’une indifférence feinte… Mention spéciale au solo de Catharina Vehre Gresslien, illustrant avec une physicalité impressionnante les forces contradictoires qui tiraillent le corps des femmes. Par , I/O Gazette.


Dancing their way out of the beauty and frailty of the female body

Ingun Bjørnsgaard Prosjekt celebrates 25 years in the dance-field with an explorative anniversary performance at CODA- Oslo International Dance Festival. Femininity is not a recent subject matter for Ingun Bjørnsgaard. Along the course of 25 years with her own company, Ingun Bjørnsgaard Prosjekt, she has continuously returned to different female characters, both literary and mythical, as well as the relationship between masculine and female identity.

The female body in itself, and the preconceived categories «beauty» and «fragility» are at stake in the 25th anniversary performance Notes on Frailty. Also a happening before the performance draws the lines back to some of Bjørnsgaard’s previous choreographic works, among them the prizewinning productions Sleeping Beauty (1994) and The Sea (2010).

This is the kind of material that could provoke enraged debaters to devalue the event as «feminist whining» – but Ingun Bjørnsgaard’s abstract language, reflective approach and blending of the classical and the modern, a variety of interpretations is opened up. Thus Notes on Frailty comes across more as an exploration of collective and individual possibilities than a fixed point of view in a partly polarized public debate.

Educating the gaze of the viewer

Four female dancers are the driving force in the performance, varying between individual and shared activity, between autonomous and inter-connected movement. The stage appears as a waiting room, with plastic benches on the sides, and pale, luminous light-sheets pending from the ceiling.

The centre of the stage is an open space where the dancers must let themselves be looked at – by us and each other.

In a kind of a control-room filled with electronic musical equipment, the composer Christian Wallumrød is seated, included in the scenography as is often the case with musicians on stage in Bjørnsgaard’s work. The contrast between Wallumrød’s apparent role and that of the dancers is striking.

Beneath a veil of aesthetics from the fifties, the dancers fluctuate between three main categories of movement: One «feminine» movement, meticulously calculated in an attempt at controlling the gaze hitting her. Another eruptive movement, annoyed trying to shake off the mindset emerging from that gaze. And one liberated movement, where the dancers’ own expression and actions come into visibility.

Blurred distinctions between these qualities of movement assure that the expression never turns into a cliché, and instead educate our ability to analyze our own gaze: When do we look at her as «woman»? When do we look at her as a free, active being?

Contradictions and complexity

The piece does not have a defined narrative, but is nevertheless driven by tight dramatical development. The women sometimes stand alone, sometimes together, and at times in a comical competitive relationship to one another. The turning point appears when Catharina Vehre Gresslien

starts singing a heartbreaking love-song inside Wallumrød’s control-booth. It is strangely beautiful, followed up by Guro Nagelhus Schia, wobbling while balancing on high heels.

The result is a quiet, humorous and explorative performance filled with contradictions and complexity. This could be perceived as bewildering, however also shows how Ingun Bjørnsgaard, despite her established position, still is more interested in unresolved questions and inquiry.

Oftentimes that can be much more intriguing than obvious answers.

Maren Ørstavik


Fragile strength

With IBPs 25th anniversary and the performance Notes on Frailty, Norwegian contemporary

dance has reached a milestone.

With Notes on Frailty, the choreographer Ingun Bjørnsgaard brings the audience into a wellestablished

aesthetical realm which refers to her choreographic work over the last 25 years that in

effect has created a genre of its own. The performance comes through partly as a whole new space,

and partly as a mature expression with a kind of resting hearth rate, secure within its own fragile,

explorative self.

It is fall and a rainy Friday night as I enter Bærum Kulturhus; a setting which suits the atmosphere

in Notes on Frailty well, with live-music composed and played on stage by Christian Wallumrød

and four female dancers who, through vigorous scenic articulations of characters, draw us into their

exploration of the feminine – as a situation – in dialogue with Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophical

reflections on gender.

Bjørnsgaard also wants to access the feminine as scenic phrasings, and a language in itself. She

succeeds in doing so with her sophisticated choreographical exchange between the poetically strong

and fragile, the unsure and the companionship-seeking – and here: the «faintly» explosive, as if

something cyclical and self-affirming is at stake which never quite shall burst into a transformation

of the existing?

The set-design by Thomas Björk is a stripped-down space which brings associations to a waiting

room, in an airport, at a train station or in a more symbolic existential transit-room, where the

women circle around and away from each other in a choreography where searching and a sort of

reluctant intoxication on one’s own veiled potential comes across as a main element.

In the opening scene, I get drawn into the audiovisual space we encounter in the gloomy half-dark,

with the dancers seemingly at random appearing softly in the room with an insisting presence, a

force that can not be attached to a given form. The ambient, warm, fleeting and at times more

convulsive soundscape emerges from Wallumrød’s live handling of instrumental tools in a box with

glass windows towards the amphi theatre and befringed doorways on the side.

The DJ-booth on stage, ticket-booth, or existential room of manoeuvre; symbolic of the male

control-room in a culture where Beauvoir’s perspective still must have large relevance,

provocatively enough? Not at least in these #metoo-days lately when one easily can sense an inside

scream expressing: please just claim your space, woman! Claim your space, put up your boundaries,

come alive, live without the unceasing self-correction, transgress the feminine inclination towards

passitivity – but did we not already get here?

Bjørnsgaard suggests Simone de Beavoir’s description of women in The Second Sex (1949) as a

proposition for the stage language in Notes on Frailty; the woman who defines herself in relation to

the man as the key, proactive subject in the world; the woman as stagnated «immanence» – a kind of

mere being where she looses her freedom and thereby her efficient will to develop her own


This atmosphere is provocatively well expressed on stage with the four strong, dazzling dancers

Catharina Vehre Gresslien, Marianne Haugli, Guro Schia and Ida Wigdel. They create a captivating

relational drama where they continuously break against and into one another, often in extended,

elongated movements, interrupted by various attempts at standing firm in oneself – or approaching

the male performer, Wallumrød, who apparently composed remains absorbed in his own work.

Bjørnsgaard’s work as an artist represents an age in the Norwegian performing arts field, where the

founding of Carte Blanche as the national company for contemporary dance laid the ground for an

interaction between Norwegian and international dance arts and the rise of several steady

professionals at home. Ingunn Bjørnsgaard Prosjekt, Ina Christel Johannesen with Zero Visibility

Corp, Hooman Sharifi and Impure Company, and Karen Foss are among the most significant, all of

them with a characteristic artistic signature of their our, which also has been a part of the repertory

and the achievements of Carte Blanche through the last three decades. This is nothing less than

fantastic. For as much as contemporary dance has been an art-form that along the course of hardly

one centenary has developed into one of the most compelling and striking performing arts forms in

our era, it still comes across for many as a rather obscure genre within the performing arts, and

often has to fight harder than the others for its existence in the public art-field.

However Norwegian contemporary dance is forceful, as affirmed both by Notes on Frailty and the

mentioned professionals. It all touches upon a mode of fragility that can be perceived as crucial in

the contemporary life of modern man – as described here with Norbert Servo’s words on the work

of legendary Pina Bausch, which for this occassion can be transferred onto Ingun Bjørnsgaard’s

choreographical work:

«Just as it refuses to accept a division into real and unreal, into dream and reality, visible and

unvisible, it also refuses the traditional division between body and soul, flesh and spirit. (…) Both

the aesthetic, dream-like scenes, and the hard, edgy moments exploit the resources of the collective

unconscious.» (Servos, 2008: 13)

Congratulations on – and thank your for – the anniversary.

Elin Høyland