Sunday, 30 November 2008

Brand, Blood & Babes

I've just watched the National Theatre's new staging of Ibsen's Brand. Keywords: Blood, violence and overproduction. But not at all as bad as it may sound. Despite my scepticism regarding "nifty ideas" in theatrical productions, I guess that's ok as long as they're somehow in concord with the original text.

At any rate, the director is obviously a creative and visionary guy. On entering the theatre hall I almost thought I'd got lost, because on stage they were already in the middle of something that looked like a spectacular and decadent disco show with glitter, glam and lightly dressed women. After a while the actual play begins, and they certainly haven't pulled their punches. The scenography resembles an inflatable amusement park castle, and the changes of scenery take place in daring metamorphoses in full view of the audience. The special effects may sometimes seem a bit over the top, but you certainly have to admire the desire and aptitude to create a different Brand.

The actors also made decent contributions. Unfortunately I was a bit distracted by a little doll in the chorus with an alluring manga face. But usually it didn't take long before some sex or violence made me once again, slightly reluctantly, focus on the actual play. All in all, a creative and imaginative staging I probably won't forget for some time.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Technical Oddities

A slightly delayed update: Recently my class had an excursion to the Technical Museum. The students walked among old machines, anatomic models, physical experiments, automobiles, aeroplanes and much more. They soon realized that many of the machines that are still in common use in their native countries, now are considered odd antiquities at our latitudes. That gave them a good laugh. They're generally a jolly bunch. It seems my all-time favourite class is always the one I'm having right now.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Flamenco On Friday

Torgny, that old geezer, occasionally needs something or someone to get him out of his comfy chair. In that respect, the initiative of getting a free pass to the theatre has been quite successful. Earlier I've also had outgoing friends who could lure me out on a bender, but after most of these became parents and family guys, a night on the town seems often like an almost insuperable project...

On Friday, however, I was invited to a flamenco show. I don't have any particular experience with this kind of music, but it's always fun to check out something new. True, I do have some mixed feelings about this sort of festivities. The dancers have an awkward tendency to urge the audience to join them on stage, and there's nothing else that makes me feel more like the whitest boy alive... A traumatic end-of-term party for Norwegian course students some years ago is still very vivid in my mind: The beautiful Ana Paula from Brazil was trying to make her teacher join her in a swinging samba, and I reacted like any professional teacher would do: By running out of the room in sheer panic! At Friday night's flamenco show I consequently seated myself at a reassuring distance from the dance floor.

After a while the flamenco trio entered the stage and got going with fiery guitars, husky singing and - not least - flamenco dancing with an awful lot of gestures and gesticulations. All the same, I can't say I got really carried away. Despite lots of stomping, clapping and anguished face expressions, it still didn't seem quite authentic. Especially not when the impassioned "Latin" flamenco dancer is called Tonje and was a familiar face in the reading hall at the University of Oslo in the 90s... I guess flamenco isn't really my cup of tea in any case. If I want to listen to Spanish music that I don't like, I might just as well stay at home listening to the Gypsy Kings records that I don't have...

During the last twenty years or so most of my acquaintances have been pedagogues and philologians. My escort on the flamenco night, however, is a schooled singer, and at the café I also bumped into another friend who is a professional pianist. Surrounded by singing, playing and dancing acquaintances it almost felt as if I'd entered a bohemian artist joint or something. I wouldn't have been surprised if Rimbaud and Toulouse-Lautrec had joined us and offered a round of absinth...

In any case, this was an interesting, cultural and slightly different Friday night. Besides, my tv decoder has got recorder functions, so I can watch the Friday Night Golden Row whenever I want anyway. Ha-ha!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Musical Oxymoron

Bergen in October. The Brothers are moping in front of the radio. Suddenly comes a song along that we haven't heard before. A rather rock'n'rolley tune with deep, droning guitars, a bit like 70's hard rock with a hint of prog. Hm, what's this, then? A man and a woman take vocal turns. A duet, or rather a duel? The male vocalist reminds us a bit of Jack White, but it doesn't really sound like neither The White Stripes nor The Raconteurs. And who's the woman? She sounds like a real rock chick. I envision some half crazy Janis Joplin-style songstress, with piercings and tattoos everywhere...

Finally the song's over, and the dj outroduces the song: "Another Way To Die", performed - sure enough - by Jack White and... What? Did we hear that correctly? Did he really say Alicia Keys?! The R&B-chick with those incredibly slow ballads and that incessant piano plunking?! Was that cool and wicked rock'n'roll voice really hers?! Mother, give me the sun! The world is out of joint! My brain is short-circuiting in a logical Moebius loop! What will come next? Dimmu Borgir featuring Mariah Carey?

Well, at any rate, respect to Alicia! It seems like she's more versatile than you might have thought.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Quadruple Booking

As I've said before, life's like a bottle of ketchup! After a long period with hardly any social or cultural events worth mentioning, it all suddenly goes off with a bang - all within one weekend! On both Friday and Saturday the offers came one after the other, making me, as it were, quadruple-booked.

On Friday my present colleagues had decided to go out for the monthly "paycheck meal", but the very same evening I had also been invited to a mezzo-soprano recital. Such occasions cause dilemmas and difficult decisions. The turnout to the paycheck meal was pretty poor, so I eventually found myself in the company of three women in the prime of their lives. But the food was tasty and the company was nice. I felt bad about having to renounce the concert, though.

A similar dilemma occured on Saturday. I was suddenly informed that my previous colleagues were also planning to go out that weekend, but I had already got myself a ticket to the National Theatre's staging of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People. So, it looked like I would have to give up one of the events once again. But luckily, the people at Smedstua have a strong stamina. Right after the play I got a message telling me that the party was still going strong. So off I went to the place where the bunch had gathered. Although Friday night's Skullerud dinner had been nice enough, I guess I enjoyed hanging out with my ex-colleagues on Saturday even more.

So, contrary to expectation I managed to squeeze in three out of four events in my all of a sudden so tight schedule, and I'm quite pleased about that. It turned out to be a pleasurable and not least eventful weekend!

PS. The staging of An Enemy of the People was all right, I suppose, but it didn't enthuse me half as much as the Ulven play did. I do have a problem with all these unmotivated "nifty ideas". Why on earth should the whole cast be tap dancing through a whole scene?!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

An Ordinary Day In Hell

Sorry about the depressing title. Things aren't quite as bad as they might seem. The case is that I've finally started using my V.I.P. card at the National Theatre, and An Ordinary Day in Hell (En vanlig dag i helvete) is simply the play I watched tonight, after its premièring (and even having its original performance) yesterday.

Despite its title (and the fact that it deals with fun stuff like the absurdity of life and the inevitability of death), it was still an entertaining, fascinating and partly humorous production. The scenography was simple: Some trunks, some chairs, a snow-covered stage. On stage seven actors, performing texts by Norwegian poet Tor Ulven. "Performing" in the best sense of the word, because this is far from dry declamation. The actors have no defined "roles", but act out from the texts in an interplay that often is both physical and sensual (without just becoming "nifty ideas").

For me the play was also an interesting encounter with Ulven's authorship, and a reminder of why I hardly read books any more. Because this is how good literature should be before I'd bother spending time reading it. In comparison most of today's best-selling "authors" appear as the dilettants they are...

Monday, 10 November 2008

It'll End In Tears

And right THERE set the autumn depression in. My mood may be slightly affected by having been a bit under the weather lately (though not to the extent to call in sick with a clear conscience). Moreover, today the Oslo weather was particularly cold and wet and unpleasant. Normally, I tend to like rainy weather, but not the nasty November drops I experienced this morning.

When I decided to tidy my flat the other day, I came across some letters and cards that had heaped up over the years, many of which were sweet and often touching greetings from people I hardly see any more. Nice, but also a bit sad. I'm particularly thinking of some weird, confused, but also lovely ex-students. Wonder how they're doing now?

Reports about a new Rwanda on its way don't do much to liven up one's spirits, either, and this morning we were told that Miriam Makeba has sung her last song. (R.I.P. Mama Africa.) Hm, I think it's about time to blow the dust off my old This Mortal Coil records...

Blondes & Brunettes

Not that I watch the telly all weekend. Well, come to think of it - I do! But that's beside the point. On Friday night I found myself watching one of Norway's most popular talk shows. One of their guests was French-Columbian Ingrid Betancourt, who was recently liberated after six years as a captive of the FARC guerilla. An impressive woman radiating calm and dignity (even when the host wouldn't respect her plea not to discuss specific details about her captivity).

I was particularly fascinated by her eyes, showing the serenity and indulgence of a madonna. Ok, I've always had a weak spot for brown eyes, but still. Sometimes you can just sense that someone has a particularly strong and kind personality. You spot it in Ingrid Betancourt, you spot it in Aung San Suu Kyi, and probably in a handful others too. Eyes truly are the mirrors of the soul. In an ocean of mediocrities, meeting such people is always an alleviation.

Later on in the program two other women appeared - "football widows" of players on two competing soccer teams. (Apparently, the national cup final took place this weekend.) They were both Norwegian, blond and in a sense good-looking girls, but compared to the charisma of the previous guest they fell through completely. (As a matter of fact, the comparison is probably rather unfair.) In the continual fight between blondes and brunettes, the latter definitely carried the day. Even on away ground.