The CPH Stage Festival, 11-25 June, 2015, in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Rita Sebestyén*

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In 2015, the Copenhagen Stage Festival presented nearly one hundred performances and events, lectures, site-specific and audio-walks, multi-sensory experiences, public parties, and a theatre flea market. Almost half of the shows were translated or surtitled in English, while some of them were originally in English, the festival aiming both for Danish and international audiences with its participatory and disseminative aspects.

The best indicative of their inventive approach lies in the great number and astonishing variety of venues, from the most traditional proscenium theatres to the Sortedams Sø lakes of Copenhagen, or the sensorial walks through Amager Nature Resort, the festival itself having the more than a century-old Nørrebro Theatre, which functions as a public entertainment-oriented institution during the season. Undeniably, there is a chaotic element to the conception, which calls for artists and companies to engage with productions from both Denmark and abroad; it’s also undeniable that the aesthetic values of the performances fluctuated much more than when there are professionally—although always disputed—curated selections. However, this year a couple of curated mini-festivals were intertwined with the CPH Stage Festival: Teaterøen being one of them, showing performing arts in halls, bunkers, buses, cafés, outside and on the water, and the bit too generously named Festival of European Contemporary Playwrights 2015 that contained eight staged readings of new plays.

It goes beyond any human capacity to attend a representative number of events during a dozen days. Yet, the dense and multifaceted festival has a couple of the features of contemporary performing arts, at least what’s seen in the veritably multi- and cross-cultural, highly design- and architecture-sensitive Danish capital. One-man shows and very restricted sized casts are more and more prevalent: for example, I saw the not too convincing Have You ever almost Drowned (concept: Luka Pavelka, Nanna Møllegård Madsen, Ingjerd Heggem Nergaard; written by Nanna Møllegård Madsen; performed by Nanna Møllegård Madsen and Ingjerd Heggem Nergaard). This is a quarter of an hour-long dance, projection and very disturbing soundscape in the hall of Dansehallerne. This venue also hosted Mind the Gap, Tora Balselv’s musical and physical performance lecture based on her own family trip and evolving towards global environmental considerations, with gaps in its narrative and a promising concept; and Finding Sophie in Bådteatret (Boat Theatre in the elegant Nyhavn—New Harbour of the city), written and directed by Janice Dunn. It provides a series of roles for actor Maria Lohmann, but needs some reconsidering of timing and dramatic tension to be able to truly show off the bewildered, distant and hypocritical adult world that surrounds this missing teenage girl.

Nassim Soleimanpour: Blind Hamlet, directed by Ramin Gray.
Nassim Soleimanpour: Blind Hamlet, directed by Ramin Gray.

A dance duo in chilly rain and an immersive-participatory performance were on at the new Teatergrad, in Nørrebro district, both of which I would rather consider work-in-progress pieces. In the first case, thoughts with some more weight and a deeper dive into the proposed social conditions of women would be advised. In the second performance, an IT-immersive, space-time participatory event pivots around listening to each other’s favourite music. The basic idea of sharing something personal but not too intimate is a good starting point, but it needs much more elaboration and thoughtfulness in its dramaturgy.

Blind Hamlet, by the Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour, directed by Ramin Gray, comes up with the genuinely risky idea of having no actors on the small stage of Grob in the emerging district of Vesterbro—only a couple of chairs and a single “helper” who executes the instructions of the writer speaking from a dictaphone, and who invites, then encourages, members of the audience also to join in. This is not the first time when participation, self-reflection and sense of humour—but also a certain kind of discipline—can be sensed when Danish audience are invited into a game in a participatory theatre event. Six or seven characters ended up sitting in front of us, the rest of the audience, and performed according to the requests of the voice coming from the small device, and to gestures and a few words of the woman taking the role of an assistant director. The text is not as intricate as a play, and does not have very complex connections to Shakespeare’s Hamlet: a writer learns that he will soon go blind and tries to imagine a series of events that will take place on the stage—with these events being partly left up to the participants. This latter idea is very well thought through in theatrical terms, as it gives a little playing area for those volunteering on stage; it also offers a solid framework that keeps the performance within given confines: games, questions, and monologues are put forward, organic to the show’s rhythm anddictated by a recorded soundtrack in addition to that of the live presence—that is, the movements, gestures and reactions of the “helper” or the assistant director.

NV(V)IVD, concept and script by Emil H. Christiansen and Andrea Lindeneg. Actors: Christian Gade Bjerrum and Morten VangSimonsen.
NV(V)IVD, concept and script by Emil H. Christiansen and Andrea Lindeneg. Actors: Christian Gade Bjerrum and Morten VangSimonsen.

Originally conceived as a mischievous, ironic reaction to recent homophobic Russian outbursts, NV(V)IVD, with two men on opposite sides of the Copenhagen lake; the actors: Christian Gade Bjerrum and Morten Vang Simonsen, in their underwear and communicating via loudspeakers. The audience members (and passers-by) are on the bridge, trapped in the middle of a fierce fight that ends with a mutual confession of love, and the two characters meeting in the middle of the lake on a raft. With all its awkwardness and burlesque, and with its realistic and touching moments and movements that lead these two to this final embrace, this less than half-an-hour long event transcends by far the flick, and accomplishes bringing forth the intimate-public, real-life theatrical space through a genuinely human connection (concept and script by Emil H. Christiansen and Andrea Lindeneg).

Dance of all – Movement Chorus is an open-air, collaborative dance experience. On the Frue Plads, near Vor Frue Church, the Ligna artistic group (Hamburg/Berlin) created a contemporary revival of Rudolph Laban’s and Mary Wigman’s mass dance practice that goes back to 1920. This time, the invitation to participate is a kind of public intervention, using the Radioballet concept—that is all participants receive a recording, and then while listening to instructions, move in perfect unison, appearing from the outside to be a silent mass-movement chorus. In this hour of collective artistic involvement, the slow movements of the volunteer dancers draw ephemeral curves and lines in the quiet square.

WOMANhouse & ReDoing GENDER, choreography by Andreas Constantinou. Performer: Andreas Constantinou.
WOMANhouse & ReDoing GENDER, choreography by Andreas Constantinou. Performer: Andreas Constantinou.

Beyond a doubt, the high point of the festival is the two-part evening at Warehouse 9, a venue for international, multi-art encounters, focusing especially on queer topics. The WOMANhouse & ReDoing GENDER opens up several in-depth perspectives on gender, artistic honesty and harshness—in the best sense of the word—that inevitably confront the viewer with social, cultural and even biological structures and determination of gender—questioning at the same time all these constructions.

Andreas Constantinou, the choreographer for both parts and the solo dancer in the first, who did five years of artistic research on gender, transforms himself throughout one hour of dance, movement-narrative and exploration, tackling masculinity and femininity through various shapes and situations. As spectators, we might not be surprised by the sight of a muscular male dancer’s body transforming in front of our eyes into a diva toddling on high-heels, but his tender and affectionate attitude towards a baby-dummy definitely comes to life through artistic epitomising and powerful expressivity. The dummy and a full-head mask used in certain parts of the choreography are undoubtedly the most daring parts of the performance, especially taking into account the fact that the mask seems to be ape-like in certain situations and manifestations.

This represents the thin ice that turns to be one of the most valuable elements of the performance that will gain its full meaning, and find a worthy equivalent, in the second part. Here, four woman dancers fully immerse themselves in masculinity, in a series of sociographic situations: power displays by young boys in the streets, reckless and nonsensical tussles, and even desperate, testosterone-fueled outbreaks that spring a leak with feminine gestures and body parts, up until one of the last moments, when a bearded dancer discloses her genitalia. The moment rhymes with the above mentioned ape-like mask; it is obvious that both instances have been embedded in the whole organism of the performance—two simple, daring, and strong pictures that synthesise the very gist of the experience—through the topic of gender, but also going beyond it towards basic queries into the human condition.


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*Rita Sebestyén (sebestyenrita.com), research associate at the Copenhagen International School of Performing Arts, Denmark, took her PhD in the Aesthetics of the Ancient Greek Theatre (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, HU). She has contributed to theatre magazines and academic journals in Hungary, Romania, The Czech Republic, Poland, Serbia, France, Lithuania, and Denmark. She also co-founded the theatre periodical Játéktér/Playing Area and launched the cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary Othernessproject. Her current research focuses on Ancient Greek Theatre and its contemporary reading/staging/approach, as well as on the aesthetics of the current and most widely recognized performing arts’ phenomena (environmental, relational, dialogical, collaborative, and cross-genre art forms).

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Transgressing Spaces, Genres and Gender