Quivering world weave

Review by Elin Høy­land. Morgenbladet 12. okt. 2007

Somewhere between an audio-visual travelogue and junk-concert,Ver­dens­teat­ret creates a noisy poetic atmosphere with its roots in a river of cultural history. 

Caption: Unique: Ver­dens­teat­ret’s no­ma­dic life as artists shines through as something other than life in a classical theatre.

The stage holds no people, but a field of stadium megaphones stare back at a buzzing premiere audience on its way into the Black Box amphitheatre. The megaphones, with their lily-like petals, seem to have grown up through the floor to tell us, or perhaps guard us against, something. Suddenly, one of them starts rotating. A flow of incoherent French-sounding noise fills the room.

Technology’s harvest spider

We are attending Ver­dens­teat­rets latest work louder. The long back wall serves as the visual canvas of the performance, in the first tableau hung with a picturesque blood-pink flower. Around it, branches quiver, which in one moment seem poetically beautiful and in the next become threatening shadows which turn your eyes toward an over-dimensioned robotic harvest spider (sic!), a threatening visual centre, slightly to the side in this stage setting. Then the human actors enter the already arranged machinery on stage and embark on a journey of audiovisual tableau. The pictures from the Mekong River (a cargo ship, a ship of war, fog) mixes with the soundscape, and after a while with a shadowlike theatre of primitive prehistoric figures and shapes which are cranked across the stage on a roof of strings. The figures cut through a commotion of noise, poetry and different languages and moods. At times in the form of «silent» conversations between the actors on stage, at times in some kind of musical «battling».

Riches of culture?

The performance is part of the Ultima Contemporary Music Festival which again is seen as part of the Contemporary Stage Festival. Despite the lack of a spoken thematic profile for the festival, certain streams of contemporary art find their lines of communication across different forms of expression. We have been given thundering texts by Nobel winner Je­li­nek, which open up a suppressed cultural historical complex: fertile soil for terrorism in a European context. We have seen German plays which portray the downfall of the individual in its own capitalism-based success (Unter Eis), and «negroes and dogs in battle» against the white man and his burden as «responsible» for the development of the world. 

Ver­dens­teat­ret, a broad artistic ensemble fronted by Lis­beth Bodd and Asle Niel­sen, conceived louderthrough travels along the Mekong River in Viet­nam. In a parallel to the above mentioned performances,loudercan also be connected with European-American war and colonial history, and the relations between riches of culture and oppression of culture in the so-called global times in which we live. At any rate, it is easy to interpret the performance in that direction, although louderdoes not make a huge fuss about its «relevance to modern times». Ver­dens­teat­ret however, invites you to an open forum of reflection where external categories are sucked into a cacophony of cooperating and conflicting powers. Aesthetic, as well as reflecting on society. 


This is where Ver­dens­teat­ret’s no­ma­dic life as artists shines through as something other than life in a classical theatre institution. The latter mentioned often with all the world’s themes at hand, but still well rooted in the theatre’s «neutral» area of reflection and the interaction of dramatic text, direction and actors. With their works, Ver­dens­teat­ret has demonstrated a demolition of this trinity, where what is created within the stage is in a close to organic relation to the outer world. Through their travels, and through a founding principle of associational dramaturgy, they have managed to create an aesthetic signature second to none. louderstands as an ultimate artistic reflection of modern times, and a voyage through theatre technology and cultural history which pulls at the nervous system of the world weave.

The classic moment

Therese Bjørneboe. Klassekampen 08. okt. 2007

Verdensteatret  seems to have reached the point where form and substance are in perfect symmetry. Caption: Successful: With this performance, Verdensteatret seems to master their own peculiar form to perfection.

A full house and great anticipation awaited the premiere of Verdensteatret’s latest performance Saturday. «louder» is part of a series of performances which are all connected to travel, preferentially to non-European countries and former colonies. The Oslo based company has gathered a growing audience on its way, and had its international break-through, due to the use of modern technology amongst other reasons. Last year they were awarded the prestigious price Bessie Award in New York.

In louder, Vietnam and the Mekong River is the endpoint of the journey and according to the program the performance consists of «driftwood and other materials from this voyage». WithlouderVerdensteatret also shows that they are moving increasingly further away from what one traditionally associates with theatre. Finding a fitting term for what they do is equally difficult. The video footage and image projections shown are connected to the river and the journey, whereas a giant spider with black shoes on its feet stands to the right on the stage. The spider could possibly be a metaphor for colonial times and American warfare. 

louderis a performance devoid of any normal storytelling. The few remaining fragments of human speech are distorted and digitally manipulated Vietnamese and French, plus the recurring and meaningless American cliché: «Just ask, if you require something I will answer».

Verdensteatret asks of the audience to open up all senses, as the performance is about presence, listening and observation. Something which also triggers certain ambivalence, as the performance is a great aesthetic experience, yet still presents the feeling that there is something – what lies behind it all, the real – which escapes ones consciousness. This also serves as a reminder of how our views are dulled by media projections which manipulate us into believing that reality is actually like these readable and well-arranged stories.
Across the stage several fishing lines are stretched with which the actors make sound, like some kind of dyslectic telegraph line, by using violin bows. Along the same lines, an arrangement of weird shapes and figures, hands and sculls are pushed. As in the later performances of Verdensteatret, where similar shapes and figures are used, they produce associations to witchcraft and voodoo. Big speakers, or radars, on the floor turn like robots «talking» incomprehensible (digitally manipulated) gibberish, while at the same time offering slight associations to Indochinese straw hats or spinning parasols. An image of transformation, from peasant country to high tech, which at the same time is a landscape.   
The image material also refers to visions of Hell. One is presented with pictures by the painter Bruegel (I believe), and old water-colour paintings from Indochina, or the colonisation of America, where dead bodies hanging from trees are part of an innocent portrayal of nature. 
The performance itself is as brittle as cobweb, whereas at the same time the sculptural compression of sound offers the feeling of standing in front of a well filled with prehistoric noises and strangled screams.

Throughout the years that Verdensteatret has been at it, the core consisting of Lisbeth Bodd and Asle Nilsen have cooperated with a series of different participants with varied backgrounds. Theatre-folk, artists, sculptors, musicians, computer experts and sound-technicians. louderincludes actors side by side with stage-technicians which frequently enter the stage to run the mechanical installations of shape or sound. In this respect, «louder» may also be experienced as some kind of «cannibalistic orchestral sculpture» which transforms the people on stage as well as the images and props into an echo of something else.

Through this performance Verdensteatret seems to master the form to perfection. The series is a pioneering project which has taken much work, exploration and failing. Now we wait and see whether this form becomes an artistic signature which can be recycled infinitely. Right now Verdensteatret seems to have reached the point where form and substance are in perfect symmetry, reached their classic point.

A comatised life form

Review by Anette Therese Pettersen, kunstkritikk.no 16. okt. 2007

link to the norwegian text

Verdensteatret has created art in the crossover between theatre, music, images and installations for over twenty years. Their latest performance, louder, is like a separate organism of which the viewer becomes a part. A comatised life form whose memory is revealed in glimpses.

Entering Store Scene (the Big Stage) of Black Box Theatre once Verdensteatret has rebuilt the room for their latest performance Louderis like entering something familiar yet at the same time unknown. The landscape seems deserted, still everything has life. There are no clear divides between what is living and what is dead, and the whole room serves as a living machine. Or a mechanised entity?

The room is filled with peculiar constructions, shapes, video footage and megaphones. Not to mention a sculpture made up of legs which walk and walk without going anywhere. It looks like a giant spider, dressed up in pants and shoes. Nylon strings are stretched along the room, resembling the racks for dried fish found in Lofoten, and it turns the whole room into a gigantic instrument.   

louder is not based on a dramaturgic sequence of actions. In theatre-terms I would place it in post-dramatic tradition, meaning a theatre where text is not superior to the other elements of the performance, and where the dramaturgic plot is absent. The performance can hardly be summed up as a story, more like a series of sequences relieving one another.

Just when one got used to one of the props in the room, each time the eye or ear becomes comfortable, something new happens. The actors move quietly through the room, from one element to the next. They shift the megaphones, play the strings with violin bows, tin cans and their hands. They give life to the lifeless while at the same time remaining at a distance. Thus the roles are swapped: the actors become machines, and the objects in the room become storytellers at the centre of the action.

An amateur amongst the established.

I might as well admit it straight away: this is my Verdensteater-debut. Slightly awkward to admit, a bit like studying dramatic arts without knowing Brecht, and so I arrive at Black Box this Sunday night with great expectations and awe. How this performance compares to previous works will be impossible for me to decide, but my first meeting with Verdensteatret is a strong one. And at the same time somewhat domestically harmonious: I immediately find my place in their peculiar universe.

The participants of Verdensteatret come from various fields within the art world, together they create performances which struggle to fit into what one normally associates with theatre. Even though one may well view louder as an installation or a concert, there is something about the actual experience that makes it a strong theatrical experience.

Verdensteatret seems an opposite of e.g. the French/Austrian company Superamas who visited Black Box Theatre the previous week. Superamas have a smooth, polished and superficial expression. Verdensteatret, on the other hand, gives us fragments of something underlying, we get to see something surface, or the remains of something which has been. Where Superamas had me nodding in recognition without further pondering, Verdensteatret mixes that recognition with the completely foreign. And just as you manage to grab hold of something, it slips.

The comatised entity

«This winter, Verdensteatret set out on a long journey to Vietnam and the Mekong River.» Jon Refsdal Moe writes in the performance’s program that «as in Apocalypse Now, the very same river serves as the circulation of blood around the heart of darkness. What they experienced there I don’t know. Nor is it of great importance. But the journey is present through the whole performance, beating like a pulse.» And this is exactly how it feels. It is as if the whole room breathes, a steady and strong pulse of which we are a part. Once in a while the temperature rises and then falls again.

This is how I presume it must be like to sit inside a comatised organism or entity. In a room which on the surface may seem deserted and dormant, but where life flourishes just below the surface. One catches glimpses of different stories, images, memories and nightmares, like something which may pass over the retinas of someone in a coma. From the inside of this entity we must ourselves guess what the images represent. Is what we see memories of what happened right before the entity entered the coma? Or rather a nightmare of what is going on outside? The images flutter past, without reasoning or explanations.

Out of the megaphones facing the audience come text fragments, music and incomprehensible noise. At times the sound reaches a level threatening to blow your eardrums, but in the next moment the noise is reduced and the performance throbs on. The increasing noise may be understood as the entity being uncomfortable, having reached a painful memory. As if the entity can express itself through some undefined intensity of the senses.

The glimpses of the Mekong River, on a screen partly blackened, accompanied by the sound of a motorised boat – possibly also a helicopter – and a machine gun, triggers a story of war in me. Verdensteatret manipulates and distorts both sounds and images so that everything seems unclear. Thus one is forced to actively seek the stories which may lie underneath. Images from various American Vietnam movies run through my head – someone one the run, hiding under the deck of a small river boat – but then the mood changes again. A new story is about to surface. 

The dormant entity in which we find ourselves, or rather, are a part of is working hard at reconstructing its own memories. We are in the ashes of an unknown catastrophe. Inside something which has survived and which struggles to stay alive. The memories of what has happened mix with each other just as they do in our own dreams. An absurd yet somehow completely inevitable course of actions is developing. 

From scenes of war to a peaceful house façade along a river, still in Asian surroundings. Someone is moving behind one of the large windows, and then suddenly a black curtain is pulled down so that one may observe no more. The curtain covers a wide strip along the house façade. Something comes swimming out of the house only to disappear again. It could have been a bird, a duck perhaps, but the movements were mechanical and sudden, as if this too was a mechanised animal. The image freezes before a new entity pops up, a fire-breathing creature this time. Sparks fly as it moves back and forth in anger upon the surface of the water in front of the house. The sound in the room follows up the action, until suddenly broken off.

One of the most visible theatrical elements in louder comes in the form of shadow play. On the above mentioned strings are placed figures and shapes in metal which are pulled back and forth across the stage. Thus they cross through the path of both the video projection and the lighting with the scary effect of figures chasing each other on a backdrop of different Asian landscapes. A flock of metal figures on a spree are chased back by a larger creature moving towards them. This too suggests a story, which again is not told in its entirety.  

louder is experienced as incredibly insisting, and in the interaction of the performance’s elements fragments and pieces of the puzzle appear which I’m unable to fit together. There is something “big brother can see you” about the whole thing. Many of the elements give me a feeling of surveillance, both in the video footage and in the parts of conversations heard when the actors pull fingers along the strings. I get the feeling that louder will stick with me. It has gotten under my skin where it lies waiting. Like a dormant entity waiting to wake up. In glimpses it pops up in my consciousness, reminds me of a scene or deepens a sequence, before yet again going to sleep. A comatised entity which has become a part of me and which may awaken in full force at any time.

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