Traditional Norwegian theatre akin to Kathakali

New Delhi: The traditional musical theatre of Norway has a lot in common with the ancient Kathakali dance theatre of India, says Lars Oyno, the Oslo-based director of Grusomhetens Teater that adopted Henrik Ibsen`s untouched operatic libretto, "Mountain Bird", as a play.

"Indian traditional dance theatre uses the language of the body and musical rhythms - and not so much words. Our presentation of Ibsen`s `Mountain Bird` combines ritual music and body movements that resemble Kathakali," Oyno told reporters in a telephonic interview from Oslo.

"Music is used as the creation of stage language, story and the narrative of the theatre language. Every character sings his lines like in an opera," he said.

Like Kathakali, which traces its roots to the ancient Vedic `natyashastra` Sanskritic musical texts and the cult of Krishna, the traditional musical theatre of northern Europe - especially that from Scandinavian countries - owes its lineage to the early Christian musical lores, rituals and homilies.

Both the genres are steeped in religiosity and mythological references.

The Grusomhetens Teater (Theatre of Cruelty) will stage "Mountain Bird", one of Ibsen`s rare operas, for the first time in 150 years since it was written, in the capital Tuesday - the first day of the Delhi International Ibsen Festival that ends Dec 6.

"I came upon the play by coincidence while hunting for a new direction. It was unfinished - and did not have many words. It was an Ibsen opera and had been published. It was strange that no on had touched it - because it was unfinished," Oyno said.

The Grusomhetens Teater shot to international limelight last year when it premiered Ibsen`s "Mountain Bird" in Norway and toured Berlin, France, England and Poland this year. The troupe`s performance in India will be the Asia premiere of the play.

"Mountain Bird", written as operatic libretto by Ibsen in 1859, could not be completed by the playwright. The incomplete opera score languished in the archives for 150 years before it was adapted with improvisations as a play by Grusomhetens Teater in 2009.

The play, which has religious overtones, narrates the story of a girl who lives through a plague epidemic and was forced into isolation.

Finding no one to talk to, she becomes animal-like in her responses to nature and forgets the art of speech. She begins to display the characteristics of a bird till she is discovered.

"Traditional Ibsen theatre ensembles did not want to concern themselves with unfinished librettos. The original score was a 40-minute act but we expanded it to a one-hour-40-minute-act with the use of body language. The songs were composed by Norwegian composer Filip Sande," he added.

But Oyno has remained faithful to the text. "I have used everything that Ibsen wrote - and built upon it to extend the play. I have not distorted the original score," he said.

The language of the play is based on "metaphysical movements and natural romanticism which is akin to Indian folk performances", Oyno said.

"It is marked by dancing and costumes inspired by nature. The movements are slow as if in a ritual," he said.

Grusomhetens Teater, which has won the international Ibsen scholarship from the Norwegian government, is working on a play - a devised concept drawn from several of Ibsen`s plays.

"We have been working with a Norwegian painter on the production that will open in January in Oslo," he said.

Performance genres and narratives from Asia have subtly influenced the Nordic ensemble that came into being as an underground theatre outfit in 1992 because it "experimented with free theatre, body language, psychology and minimal texts that conventional theatre did not espouse."

"The name of the troupe, Grusomhetens Teater, has been borrowed from our ideologue - the French new-age theatre guru Antonin Artaud, who was a playwright, poet and actor," Oyno said.

Artaud believed in the theatre of cruelty - a surrealistic school of drama (which tried to engage the viewers by throwing them into the middle of action and they could be engulfed by it - but was necessarily cruel), the Norwegian director said.

The French playwright was deeply influenced by Balinese dance theatre and its highly choreographed discipline. After watching an exposition of Balinese dance in Paris, Artaud advocated the "theatre of cruelty" - that should shatter false reality on stage.

The Grusomhetens Teater has staged 19 productions and has since shed the tag underground. It is now considered one of the most influential experimental troupes in Norway.


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