Poppea (2009)

Poppea is one of the strongest female characters of Antiquity: she who has fought her way up through the hierarchy to becoming the emperor’s wife. The woman’s power play is vulnerable and exposed in another manner than is the man’s. And what tension arises when the male appropriates the female, and femininity dons the mask of masculinity? Who is whose victim? When androgyny leads to concealment, all the usual rules of play are altered. How do we fulfill the dreams that are ever larger than ourselves? And what happens as we fail, in our own eyes and in the eyes of others?

”Poppea is a victory for Norwegian dance”
– I.M. Lunde, Aftenposten

Choreography: Ingun Bjørnsgaard
Dancers: Lone Torvik, Erik Rulin, Mattias Ekholm, Ida Wigdel, Aleksandra Sende
Composer: Geir Jenssen / Biosphere
Music: Partly new composed electro acoustic music composed by Geir Jenssen in combination with original music by Monteverdi.
Set design and costumes: Thomas Björk
Light design: Hans Skogen
Dramatic adviser: Kai Johnsen
Duration: 60 minutes

Supported by: Arts Council Norway










Dansens Hus, Oslo, Norway
Potsdam, Germany
Sandnes Kulturhus, Sandnes, Norway
Nøtterøy Kulturhus, Norway
Drammens Theatre, Drammen, Norway
Hedmark Theatre, Hamar, Norway
Hålogaland Teater, Tromsø, Norway
Atalante, Göteborg, Sweden
Moderna Dansteatern, Stockholm, Sweden
Dansescenen, København, Denmark
Sentieri Barocchi, Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi e Montella, Italy



There is a striking abundance of internationally recognised woman choreographers from the past few decades. Saporta, Keersmaeker, Waltz and Bausch _ all highly expressive, but also in terms of form, acutely conscious artists.
Ingun Bjørnsgaard has with Poppea created a production with a central focus on dance. Her point of departure is an ambitious, ruthless and possibly bisexual woman, who will do anything to come into a position of power, to hold the title of Empress. Monterverdi’s opera about Poppea is beautifully combined with Geir Jenssen/Biosphere’s electronica.
In the space two velvet hills loom. Two women sing parts from the opera. It is comical, but also creates a feeling of something just beneath the surface. In the background heads can be glimpsed. What do they hear, what do they want?
Two men and three women take the stage. A variegated image, women and men exchange roles, and it comes as no surprise that the power that is both masculine and feminine confuses. It is a power struggle, on the surface of things as well as underneath. Beauty and clumsiness are spliced together in complex and unexpected variations.
The five dancers L. Torvik, E. Rulin, M. Ekholm, I. Wigdel and A. Sende throw themselves into suggestive movements that pull towards the floor, in breaks, in lifts that are held, and simultaneously create the impression of breaking down.
The ethereal flirtatiousness that has been Bjørnsgaard’s trademark has now receded into the background and what emerges is an expression that is consistently eloquent, and at the same time, more focused on pure dance. The fact that her company this year has not been granted basic funding verges strictly speaking on the ridiculous.
Published: 11.05.09 14:41
Updated: 11.05.09

“Poppea” at Atalante, in Göteborg
Published 2010-04-09 11:33
Theatre review
• Production: “Poppea”
• Where : Atalante, in Göteborg
• Text/manuscript: Ingun Bjørnsgaard based on Claudio Monteverdi’s opera “The Coronation of Poppea”
• Stage design: & costumes: Thomas Björk
• Other: Music: Geir Jenssen. Lighting: Hans Skogen

Photo: Erik Berg. Beer cans and other rubbish sail through the air when Monteverdi’s opera “Poppea” is rejuvenated at Atalante in Göteborg.

In his third opera, “The Coronation of Poppea” from 1642, Claudio Monteverdi had already replaced what for the art of opera was a mandatory mythological level with reality itself and man in his most naked state of exposure. The individual appears to be at centre but is in fact driven far out into the periphery by a game in which the lust for power and treachery are entangled with desire. The consequences are horrible, but nowhere in the history of music is the sound of capitulation to that over which we have no control more exquisite than here.
The Norwegian choreographer Ingun Bjørnsgaard’s dance production “Poppea” also starts out in a strangely delightful fashion. Two young girls are lying outside in the countryside and singing somewhat flirtatiously the first duet between Poppea and Nero (soprano and all) from a pocket score with English lyrics. But one of them turns out to have a rabbit’s tail and the other a waitress’ apron and the atmosphere is transformed by distorted, electronic sounds. Three other people enter, collisions occur and the movements become choppy. Soon everything is moving towards a state in which no codes are clearly evident.
When the moment arrives for the second duet between Poppea and Nero (in the original, played over loudspeakers) the atmosphere has become extremely claustrophobic. Geir Jenssen, who has previously produced the amazing album “Cho Oyo 8210”, a rendition of climbing one of the Himalaya’s highest peaks, has in his electronic adaptation removed all of Monteverdi’s sensual but also furiously volatile music. Here a fantastic scene unfolds, accompanied only by trombone audio samples, which succeeds in transmitting the feeling of something fundamental having been smashed to bits and pulverised until nothing remains but emptiness and silence.

A cabin is the solution for the baroque opera’s sudden entrances and exits and here beer cans and other trash is thrown around in high spirits. Monteverdi is clearly brought down to earth and to the present moment. Nevertheless, this dance version of his opera seems a bit obscure and tentative about what it actually wants to communicate. The resolution, however, obtains a clear pass when the third and incredibly beautiful duet between Poppea and Nero creates a human tangle of complex interactions – roughly similar to Spike Jonze’s current film version of “Where the Wild Things Are”.
”Poppea” can be seen at Moderna danstea¬tern in Stockholm 11–12 April.
Martin Nyström

Published 9 April 2010

The touring network at Atalante | Poppea
by Ingun Bjørnsgaard
Music: Geir Jenssen/Biosphere
Scenography and costumes: Thomas Björk
Dancers: Lone Torvik, Erik Rulin, Mattias Ekholm, Ida Wigdel, Aleksandra Sende
Also playing in Stockholm, 11-12 April and Malmö 14-15 April

Atalante’s tour collaboration broadens the view of dance.

Norwegian choreographer Ingun Bjørnsgaard offers a new perspective of Poppea.

In general, dance productions are staged too few times. Turnéslingan, the touring network collaboration in which Atalante in Göteborg, Moderna Dansteatern in Stockholm and Dansstationen in Malmö exchange performances, is therefore an important – and vital – initiative. It triples the number of performances, to the benefit of both audiences and dance companies. This spring the network has been expanded to include two Nordic visiting performances, an excellent idea.

Ingun Bjørnsgaard is among the preeminent names in Norwegian contemporary choreography. Her company Ingun Bjørnsgaard Prosjekt has visited Pustervik before, but Poppea is an Atalante premiere.

Bjørnsgaard has a style that slides between narrative and the abstract. Easy to take in and with plenty of space for free association. In Poppea the point of departure is Claudio Monteverdi’s 17th century opera The Coronation of Poppea, but beyond the story itself, the choreographer explores the power struggle and the relations it comprises.

Set designer Thomas Björk contributes with two imaginative constructions. These are simultaneously enormous renaissance gowns, a fortress, tent camps and love seats. Dark possibilities.

Two dancers open, singing demurely from Monteverdi’s opera. A bit like two young girls playing with a favourite song. The powerful swarms and rumbles of Geir Jenssen/Biosphere subsequently takes over the soundscape.

There is also force in the five dancers. But despite their muscular strength, they are also sensitively supple, which Bjørnsgaard’s choreography, with quick changes of direction, frozen poses, theatrical gestures and explosive leaps also requires.

With the body at centre, a game of power, intimacy, sub- and super-ordination emerges. The dancers are grouped, at times in fascinating knots of bodies. Solos pass over into duets; all the dancers are reunited in ensemble segments, but also slide out into respective particularities. Who is who in Monteverdi’s story becomes irrelevant; Ingun Bjørnsgaard opens other perspectives, including humour.

The next visiting performance in the Nordic touring network will be the Danish Granhøj Dans with W[double you] – undertow which works with dance from a worm’s-eye view. Book tickets for 23-24 April and broaden your dance horizons.
Lis Hellström Sveningson
Copyright © 1995 – 2009 Göteborgs-Posten

Norwegian choreographer Ingun Bjørnsgaard interprets Claudio Monteverdi’s opera “The Coronation of Poppea” without singers, but instead with powerful dance, sharp humour, and beautiful distance.
Reviews [2010-04-13]
Dance distance with a rabbit’s tail
Poppea by Ingun Bjørnsgaard prosjekt
Venue: Moderna Dansteatern
City: Stockholm
Choreography: Ingun Bjørnsgaard
Scenography: Thomas Björk (also costumes)
Music: Geir Jensen /Biosphere, light design: Morten Pettersen
Lighting: Hans Skogen
Dancers: Lone Torvik, Erik Rulin, Mattias Ekholm, Ida Wigdel, Aleksandra Sende

REVIEW/DANCE. The Norwegian choreographer Ingun Bjørnsgaard’s take-off on the baroque opera Poppeas kröning creates a warmly humorous, elegant and extremely acrobatic dance production, in which Monteverdi’s music is complemented by contemporary stage theory and sound images. Cecilia Djurberg saw Poppea at Moderna Dansteatern.
It begins like a game of peek-a-boo behind multifunctional tent beds draped in velvet. Two male dancers steal forth while two of the female dancers recite a farewell scene in English from Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea (L’incoronazione di Poppea). Nothing could be less pompous while simultaneously there is enormous respect in the execution.

The dancers subsequently outline with both elegantly classical references and acrobatic movements (hand and headstands, cartwheels and acrobatic poses) the story of how the Emperor Nero rejects his wife to marry his lover, the beautiful Poppea.
Opera nerds without a doubt enjoyed the cunning free interpretations, such as that of dressing male dancers in modern shorts while the female characters are stereotypically dressed in pinafores or with rabbit tails. The newly composed sound image which collides with the beautiful baroque music contains elements reminiscent of ping-pong balls being shot out of a vacuum cleaner, and can be imagined as illustrative of the power struggle, but also by a far-fetched and crafty stretch of the imagination could be associated with the phrasing of the name Poppea.

The deathly gravity of the story from Antiquity is further played down in a liberating scene involving the throwing of beers cans from the tent beds – but also makes its presence felt through an incredibly powerful and fully operatic, dramatic knife-scene.
Out of the strength of the ensemble and the refreshingly humorous play with the classic, new statements emerge, which with roots in our time bridge the distance from Antiquity and the Baroque in a discussion about power in gender roles that we often see in dance, but would like to see more of in the world of opera.
When dance is able to address subject matter with such distance, opera should also be able to do so. Ingun Bjørnsgaard proves here that there are alternative paths for Monteverdi other than the old, tried and true; imagine if only she had had opera singers and a baroque orchestra on stage as well… Cecilia Djurberg
Theatre – Dance
Choreography: Ingun Björnsgaard.
Moderna Dansteatern
Music: Geir Jenssen, Claudio Monteverdi. Scenography, costumes: Thomas Björk. Lighting: Hans Slogan. Dancers: Lone Torvik,Erik Rulin, Mattias Ekholm, Ida Wigdel, Aleksandra Sende. Poppea will visit Dansstationen in Malmö 14-15 April.

From Poppea at Moderna dansteatern.
h2. Life as an eternal balancing act
Published: 12 April 2010, 14.02.
The roman story from Antiquity contains many dramatic statements. One is the story of how Emperor Nero’s lover Poppea determinedly climbs to a position of power and becomes the queen of Rome. Claudio Monteverdi’s 17th century opera “The Coronation of Poppea” has inspired the Norwegian choreographer Ingun Björnsgaard to create a highly unique reflection over the conditions of love and power.
It begins with a light, giggly girls’ song, “come to me, my love”, but soon enough the skies of love darken and the girls are thrown into a power struggle that gives birth to fear, desire, and yearning. In this hour-long, abstract theatrical performance, dancers climb on top of one another, in confused, frustrated heaps. Existence as an eternal balancing act.
A few years ago Johanna Garpe staged ”The Coronation of Poppea” at Drottningholmsteatern, in an interpretation in which Nero and Poppea were made the enslaved victims of lust. There are interesting connections to be found between Garpe and Björnsgaard, above all in the focus on the androgynous. Here the boyish Aleksandra Sende plays an important part – like an enigmatic Tintomara-manifestation, she steals between the lovers and distorts the perspective.
But Björnsgaard’s approach to the story itself is free-handed, working with a loosely composed choreographic flow that alternates between soft and hard, and between Monteverdi’s beautiful vocals and electronically caustic sounds. She has at her disposal a quintet of dancers from Sweden and Norway who with great proficiency manage the expressive plasticity, in supple acrobatics with hard edges. Through intricate capers and duets close to the bone, eroticism is suddenly transformed into violation. The dark Ida Wigdel attacks an ornamental cushion with a razor-sharp knife and literally pulls down the trousers on Erik Rulin’s tough guy. Destructiveness reigns and it glows in the volcano-like cavern where the dancers dive in and out.
Mattias Ekholm’s clear force and Lone Torvik’s sensualism charge the theatrical space. Poppea is a playful chamber play in the key of minor, which is, however, shifting in structure and stringency. It is only when I stop searching for connections with the opera that the production opens up and I can take it in through emotional associations without imposing requirements for intelligibility.
Fierce spring winds sweep across a Skeppsholmen islet in light and shadow. This is how Björnsgaard’s Poppea strikes me – a bit harsh to the taste, alluring but fickle, in an obscure universe.
Gunilla Jense

05.06.09 10.52
h2. Dans møter opera møter klukk – Kultur – NRK Nyheter

Publisert 08.05.2009 08:41.
Kultur 05.06.2009

Dans møter opera møter klukk
Ingun Bjørnsgaard er en av våre mest betydningsfulle koreografer. «Poppea» har
mange sterke øyeblikk, mener vår anmelder.
Produksjonene til Ingun Bjørnsgaard Prosjekt har mye teatralitet i seg.
Mye humor, noen replikker innimellom, kanskje også en titteskapscene og kostymer som like
gjerne kunne vært hentet fra en teaterscene.
Forestillingene Ingun Bjørnsgaard koreograferer gir ofte en historie samtidig som de utforsker
abstrakte begreper.

Opera fra 1642
Forestillingen Poppea baserer seg på Monteverdis opera Poppeas
kroning fra 1642.
Poppea var en av antikkens sterke kvinneskikkelser. Hun kjempet seg
frem fra å være den romerske keiser Neros elskerinne til å bli hans
keiserinne – på bekostning av Octavia, som Nero var gift med.
Forestillingen tar tak i historien og belyser maktspill og identitet.
Det hele starter med at to av de kvinnelige danserne resiterer fra
Monteverdis opera. Allerede her spores humoren i at navnet Poppea
uttales slik en høne ville ha klukket det.
Etter hvert dukker det opp kaninhaler, telt og plastposer. Undringen og humoren som vi
kjenner fra andre Ingun Bjørnsgaard-prosjekter er til stede også her.
Gjennomtenkt kostymebruk er også typisk for Bjørnsgaards verk. Kortermede skjorter, shorts,
kjoler og bare bein trekker Poppea inn i vår tid.
De ser ut som skuespillere, og alle danserne, men kanskje særlig de kvinnelige, har tydelige
og gode sceneuttrykk.
Fem dansere er på scenen: To menn og tre kvinner, en av dem med et nærmest androgynt
uttrykk. Mannlige og kvinnelige uttrykk møter hverandre, bytter plass, utforsker hverandre og
glir over i hverandre. Forestillingen spiller klart ut følgene dette får for dansernes identitet.
Keitete og grasiøst
Scenen består av et hvitt gulv med to forhøyninger i en gråbrun tone, som to små fjell eller
høyder. Musikken er hentet fra Monteverdis opera sammen med nykomponert elektronisk
musikk av Geir Jenssen.
Møtene mellom danserne består av keitete og grasiøse bevegelser som flyter sammen.
Danserne strekker seg og berører hverandre i et sterkt, hvitt sidelys.
Utforskingen av feminine og maskuline uttrykk er voldsom, skjør, klossete og poetisk. Spesielt
de øyeblikkene der de søkende og forsiktige, nesten klumpete bevegelsene møter Monteverdis
musikk, skapes det helt spesielle stemningsøyeblikk.
Utforsker kjønn og styrke
Poppea utforsker kvinnelighet og mannlighet, makt og styrke med en helt annen tilnærming
enn for eksempel Carte Blanche gjorde i forestillingen SH:HO tidligere i vår.
En gjennomgang er aldri det samme som premieren på et stykke. Forestillingen vil nok tettes
og endres underveis, og noen små dødpunkter vil forsvinne.
Men ut fra en prøve dagen før dagen er dette en forestilling med mange sterke og gode
Dansere: Lone Torvik, Erik Rulin, Mattias Ekholm, Ida Wigdel og Alexandra Sende.



”Poppea” på Atalante, i Göteborg
Publicerat 2010-04-09 11:33

*Ölburkar och annat skräp far genom luften när Monteverdis opera ”Poppea” får nytt liv på Atalante i Göteborg.
Verk: ”Poppea”
Plats: Atalante, i Göteborg
Text/manus: Ingun Bjørnsgaard efter Claudio Monteverdis opera ”Poppeas kröning”
Scendesign: & kostym: Thomas Björk
Övrigt: Musik: Geir Jenssen. Ljus: Hans Skogen

Redan i sin tredje opera, ”Poppeas kröning” från 1642, hade Claudio Monteverdi ersatt den för operakonsten obligatoriska mytologiska nivån med verkligheten själv och människan i sin mest nakna utsatthet. Här tror sig individen stå i centrum men drivs av ett spel, där maktlystnad och svek blandar sig med lustarna, allt längre ut i periferin. Konsekvenserna blir fruktansvärda, men ingenstans i musikhistorien låter kapitulationen inför det vi inte råder över vackrare än här.

I den norska koreografen Ingun Bjørnsgaards dansperformance ”Poppea” börjar det också riktigt rart. Två unga flickor ligger ute i naturen och sjunger lite nojsande den första duetten mellan Poppea och Nero (sopran och alt) ur ett fickpartitur med engelsk text. Men den ena visar sig ha en kaninstjärt och den andra ett servitrisförkläde och luften förvandlas av elektroniskt förvridna klanger. Tre andra personer tillkommer, kollisioner uppstår och rörelserna börjar att hacka. Snart är allt på väg mot ett tillstånd där inga koder är självklara.

När det är dags för den andra duetten mellan Poppea och Nero (som hörs i original från högtalare) anländer den i en extremt förtätad luft. Geir Jenssen, som tidigare bland annat gjort det häpnadsväckande albumet ”Cho Oyo 8210”, en beskrivning av hur man bestiger en av Himalayas högsta toppar, har i sina elektroniska bearbetningar tagit ut allt av Monteverdis sensuella men också ettrigt ombytliga musik. Här finns en fantastisk scen, endast ackompanjerad av en samplad trombon, som verkligen förmedlar hur det är när något fundamentalt slås i bitar och pulvriseras tills inget annat återstår än tomhet och tystnad.

En hydda är lösningen för barockoperans alla plötsliga entréer och sortier och här kastas ölburkar och annat skräp med gott humör. Monteverdi är klart nedtagen på jorden och till nuet. Ändå känns denna dansversion av hans opera som lite väl exklusiv och famlande kring vad den egentligen vill kommunicera. Upplösningen får dock klart godkänt när den tredje och sagolikt vackra duetten mellan Poppea och Nero orsakar ett mänskligt nystan av sammanblandade beröringar – ungefär som i Spike Jonzes aktuella filmatisering av ”Till vildingarnas land”.

”Poppea” ges på Moderna danstea tern i Stockholm den 11–12 april.

Martin Nyström, Dagens Nyheter