The Nose. Photo: Royal Danish National Opera
Current Issue, Volume 17

Theatre in Denmark and The Faroe Islands – Spring 2022

by Steve Earnest

As both the Danish and Faroese Theatre systems recovered from the nearly two-year pause of live theatre performances, Copenhagen and Torshavn saw some movement forward in late Spring 2022. The great wealth of the Danish arts system allows for the operation of a strong system based on shared productions and resources. Additionally, a substantial area of funding exists to support the education and training programs designed to internally create future artists and other trained participants in both countries. As bookend trips to a planned research visit in Torshavn, Faroe Islands it was possible to see two works in Copenhagen – The Nose at the Royal Danish National Opera and The Odessey at the Royal Danish National Theatre. Both works were indicative of the recent state of the National theatre system of Denmark and were both presented in among the highest quality theatrical spaces available in the Western world.  While there were no live works available in Torshavn during May 2022, there were rehearsals and preparations for upcoming works both on the islands and at festivals abroad.

The Nose. Directed by Alex Olle. Photo: Royal Danish National Opera

The Nose, based on Nikolai Gogol’s 1917 short story, was composed by Dmitri Shostakovich in 1927 and revitalized in the Spring of 2022 by the artistic team of the Royal Danish National Opera. The work is a mammoth undertaking and includes incredibly difficult staffing and scenic demands. The Nose includes over 20 locations (many in fantasy locales) as well as having over 58 named singing roles in addition to a huge chorus. With staging by Alex Olle, assisted by Susana Gomez, and scenography by Alfons Flores, The Nose presented numerous challenges as far as interpretation and staging are concerned.  Gogol’s fantastic story lends itself to deeply imaginative staging with virtually unlimited possibilities as the major character, a high-ranking official Koviljov undertakes his daily shave from the barber Jakovlevitj. During the shave, Koviljov’s nose is accidentally severed and the story begins from there. The character of The Nose, played by Gert Henning-Jensen, enacts the actual “separation of the nose from the individual” and begins a stunning dual journey of freedom that represents the escape of “a part from the whole.” A largely dismissed and overlooked work in 1930’s Leningrad, The Nose escaped censorship because it was so poorly regarded by Stalin’s censors. The fantastic romp that is this opera celebrates the escape of the nose from the body of the state official and chronicles the escapades of the nose, including several encounters that involve riots, scenes of police brutality (including rape), and many volatile events suggesting the strength and supervisory nature of the working class. The power of The Nose was realized in a final scene during which he had risen to a position of power and was surrounded by numerous other big-nosed characters. Revenge was realized in the end as the molested girl returned to dismember the Nose, ending his reign of power.  While many of these scenes are not part of the Gorky original, they extend the nature of the story to the fantastic realm afforded by the world of opera.  

As is generally the case with Royal Danish Opera productions, the musical spine of the work was impeccable. Realized in Operaen, the master theatre financed by the shipping mogul family Møller-Maersk, there is an affluence of incredible musical talent, both on stage as well as in the orchestra pit. The acting is generally competent at the house – though in my experience not exceptional – but sadly the scenic design at the Royal Danish Opera remains uninspired. The scale of the house is somewhat daunting and on numerous occasions, the design team has failed to provide design work that lives up to the scale of the house.  Pedestrian elements like small beds, lamp posts, and other smaller realistic units were used in a fantasy world work like THE NOSE that demanded highly inspired choices it seemed that the audience was robbed due to the lack of a fantastic world.  In many ways, the State System of Denmark appears to be somewhat insular so apparently, outside artists are not always included in the realization of works in the major state theatres.  As the vision at the Royal Opera evolves a more expansive approach to theatrical design would be an area ripe for growth.   

The Odyssey. Directed by Anja Behren. Photo: Royal Danish National Theatre

Presented on the smaller stage of the Royal Danish National Theatre, The Odessey told Homer’s epic story in postdramatic form – five differing perspectives – each looking back with complex interpretations of Odysseus’ journey. The ten-year war had taken Odysseus to the limits of his abilities for human understanding and each of these was represented by a different actor in the company. This particular production format mirrored Behren’s 2019 staging of Plato’s Symposium at the theatre that employed a similar ensemble approach that “steps across the divides of gender and generations.”

The complex staging brought forth a multi-layered “fast track version” of the final war at Troy and dealt with extremely complicated issues such as the reasons for fighting the war, families separated due to the war, the nature of the wartime deaths, hatred among peoples and other extremely violent ideas. Directed by Anja Behren and staged in the smaller Spikhusid, the production began with the audience being admitted to an intense percussive atmosphere with onstage actors, bearing fighting armor and weapons, standing at attention, and engaging in pre-military fighting posturing. Percussive instruments were utilized by the entire company and the ensemble established a uniform manner of storytelling from the pre-show onwards.  Nathalie Mellbye’s formalistic stage design helped to frame the tight action of the 90-minute frenetic work.

The Odessey consisted of a mixture of choral sections leading to 5 or so major character monologues or arias. The major characters each presented an individual story as well as contributing to other elements of the whole and adding movement and sound textures where needed. The five speaking characters at one point each brought buckets downstage and bathed themselves in “blood” as they discussed some of the more graphic details of the war. The careful choreography and nature of the bloody spectacle were incredibly successful and were a testament to the high level of training at the Danish National Theatre School, as several performers were giving their year-end degree performance.  

Unlike its parent country Denmark, the Faroe Islands is a series of eighteen islands that form an isolated nation where most artists receive their formal training abroad. The nation is rooted in artistry and familial custom generally instills individuals with a strong background in visual arts, music and native dance forms. However, advanced training in forms such as acting and opera must be undertaken elsewhere as the nation begins to address the need for a national training system. During May 2022 there were virtually no productions taking place but several works were in rehearsal and stagings were available to be seen due to future touring contracts which are common throughout Scandinavia. Considering the connection to Denmark, the Faroe Islands have a Ministry of Culture and arts organizations receive sizeable state funding comparable to other European countries based on their population. Although the population of the Faroe Islands was only 52,000 in 2021-2022 the funding provided for the arts in the country was around six million Danish Kronas, which amounted to around one million Euro. There are around twelve theatre companies in the Faroe Islands and other arts organizations that receive decent state funding.  Several organizations, such as the Nordic House, receive well over one hundred thousand krona in annual funding. The National Theatre of the Faroe Islands receives around four hundred thousand krona in funding and the larger community theatre receives about two hundred thousand krona. The remainder of national funding (as far as theatre is concerned) is split between a few remaining state theatre companies in Kharsnik and Kalsoy and the few smaller theatres largely based in Torshavn. The beauty of funding in small countries like the Faroe Islands is in the spareness and creativity of the way artistic production and design are achieved.  Unfortunately, only a small portion of the funding in the Faroe Islands goes toward training in the arts, and this is an area of exploration and planned advancement for the country.  

The National Theatre of the Faroe Islands was embroiled in a controversy during May 2022 concerning the reappointment of the Artistic Director. No more about this story will be included in this article given the lack of disclosure from the theatre and the credibility of the information provided.  However, according to several credible sources, artists of the Faroe Islands, less than 50 in number, had engaged in an official boycott of the theatre due to the director’s reappointment as of April 2022.  Sources associated with the theatre felt that the theatre had not been run correctly and that the funds were not being used in the best interest of the National Theatre.  Unfortunately, it is an ongoing issue in Torshavn and will need to be closely considered in the next fiscal year.

The National Theatre of the Faroe Islands had no official productions appearing in May 2022 but rehearsals had already begun for a touring production of a Gentukamarith, a pop-horror work presented on the main stage. Written by Icelandic playwright Margun Syderbo Kjelnaes, the production featured two actors, Hans Torgard and Bienta Clothier and dealt with a priest who was faced with a young woman who wished to have a relationship with him. The work was scheduled to begin rehearsals in late May 2022 with a planned opening in September of the same year. As the actors were both members of the actors union or Council of Faroese Artists, both had scheduled a wage of around 30 thousand krona per year for appearances in productions.  

Gunnva Zachairasen, the founder of the Theatre Company TVAZZ, has developed a record of presenting numerous works at various locations in Torshavn, locations across Scandinavia, and numerous festivals in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. TVAZZ was founded in 2006 by Zachairasen and a number of Scandinavian artists who wanted to “explore works in a different way…and to test the boundaries of theatre.” One of their first works was 4:48 Psychosis which was presented in a mental hospital in Torshavn in 2007. The 35 audience members each evening were assigned scrubs upon arrival as they sat at medical tables in a rented Torshavn warehouse. The work was presented in a direct address fashion that confronted the audience directly with Kane’s difficult text. 4:48 Psychosis solidified their mission as a cutting-edge theatre company in Scandinavia and catapulted TVAZZ into the conversation as a contender for the prestigious GRIMA award, given to major Scandinavian theatre companies. 

Un-Tales of Delivery. Photo: TVAZZ

In rehearsal as of May 2022, TVAZZ developed a work entitled Un-Tales of Delivery, by Carl Johan Jensen. Having premiered in 2005, the work was written for a company of seven actors and a small ensemble. Jensen wrote the work in the narrative format as the company members described the many scenes of horror and murder surrounding the life of Matthias, a Torshavn based fisherman (relocated from Germany) and a number of unexplained deaths. Graphic images of drowning and the processes of discovery and investigation that followed.  

While there were no scheduled performances in Torshavn during May 2022 the company allowed me production photos while they were in intense rehearsals for an August 2022 Bergen, Norway festival as part of the new Nordic Network YGGDRASIL – a performing arts network within the Nordic countries with producers, individuals, theatres in varied sizes. For that trip, the company had received a major Scandinavian grant in the amount of 750k Euro and had been supplemented by the Faroese and Danish governments given their success.  

The original production of Un-Tales of Delivery was presented at Nordic House Scandinavia, a prominent theatre in Torshavn that has become an important location for national and international productions.  The space sits at one of the highest elevated areas in Torshavn and features numerous internal spaces for lectures, dance and the staging of performance events.  The lighting, sound, projection and other qualities are superior to any other space in Torshavn and many productions, including those of the company TVAZZ are hosted by the performance space. The Nordic House receives a budget from the Norwegian Council in addition to a stipend from the Ministry of Culture of the Faroe Islands. 

Interior of Havar Sjonleikarfelag. Photo: Courtesy of the author.

Havar Sjonleikarfelag is the oldest theatre company/building in Torshavn and has the longest history of theatre production.  Basically a community theatre, the house was built in 1910 and has been continually active for over 110 years. The house produces a season of theatrical and musical works in addition to hosting numerous companies and various performance events brought in from locations among the Faroe Islands and from abroad.  The theatre has a seating capacity of around 500 patrons and has an incredible history of performances during both world wars, as the USA and other Western countries had military operations in the Faroe Islands.  There are many stories of clashes between USA/UK soldiers and Faroese fishermen over the foreign soldiers’ advances on Faroese women at dances held at the theatre during World War I. The theatre has hosted many famous U.S. celebrities like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. 

In addition to the few professional theatres in the Faroe Islands, Glasir, a pre-college secondary school, has emerged with a connection to TVAZZ and other professional companies in Torshavn.  As of Spring 2022, a production of Romeo and Juliet was being translated by Faroese Actor Hans Torgard and the work was planned to be presented in April 2023 at the Nordic House.  These types of collaborations in the Faroes should emerge as more time is given to research and training in this difficult area of the world. However, with the discussion of the planned building of a new national theatre within the next decade, the artistic leaders of the country have a keen interest in the development of some level of national theatre training to further their artistic goals. The country is well aware of its isolated status and has continually engaged in multiple operations to connect with other regions of the world such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland.  


Steve Earnest received a PhD in Theatre from the University of Colorado, Boulder and an M.F.A. in Musical Theatre from the University of Miami, Florida. Dr. Earnest has published articles, reviews and interviews in Theatre Journal, Western European Stages, Backstage West, Ecumenica, The Journal of Beckett Studies, Theatre Symposium, New Theatre Quarterly, and Theatre Studies, among others. In 1999 he published a book entitled The State Acting Academy of East Berlin and is currently a Professor of Theatre at Coastal Carolina University and is working on projects dealing with the theatre system of Iceland.​


 

European Stages, vol. 17, no. 1 (Fall 2022)

Editorial Board:

Marvin Carlson, Senior Editor, Founder
Krystyna Illakowicz, Co-Editor
Dominika Laster, Co-Editor
Kalina Stefanova, Co-Editor

Editorial Staff:

Asya Gorovits, Assistant Managing Editor
Zhixuan Zhu, Assistant Managing Editor

Advisory Board:

Joshua Abrams
Christopher Balme
Maria Delgado
Allen Kuharsky
Bryce Lease
Jennifer Parker-Starbuck
Magda Romańska
Laurence Senelick
Daniele Vianello
Phyllis Zatlin

 

Table of Contents:

  1. AVIGNON 76. A Festival of New Works by Philippa Wehle
  2. Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge in Portugal by Duncan Wheeler
  3. BRACK IMPERie. About “Hedda Gabler” by Vinge/Müller at Norske Teatret Oslo by Thomas Oberender
  4. Embodied Intimacy: The Immersive Performance of The Smile Off Your Face at Edinburgh by Julia Storch
  5. Fear, Love, and Despair – Radu Afrim: Director of Core Feelings by Alina Epîngeac
  6. Grec Festival de Barcelona, July 22 by Anton Pujol
  7. I Think of Curatorial Work in Scholarly Terms: An Interview with Ivan Medenica by Ognjen Obradović
  8. New Worlds Revealed in an Immigrant Journey, and an Unexpectedly Meaningful Universe Discovered and Destroyed Inside Styrofoam, at the Edinburgh Festival by Mark Dean
  9. Participation, Documentary and Adaptation: Barcelona Theatre May 2022 by Maria Delgado
  10. Report from Berlin, April 2022 by Marvin Carlson
  11. Report from Berlin (and Hamburg….) 5/2022 by Philip Wiles
  12. The Sibiu International Theatre Festival Transforms Dreams into Reality (The Magic of 2022 FITS in Short Superlative) by Ionica Pascanu
  13. Theatre in Denmark and The Faroe Islands – Spring 2022 by Steve Earnest
  14. The Polish Nation in a Never-Landing Aircraft by Katarzyna Biela
  15. The Piatra-Neamt Theatre Festival in Romania: 146 Kilometers from Heart to Heart by Cristina Modreanu
  16. Will’s Way at the Shakespeare International Festival Craiova 2022 by Alina Epîngeac

www.EuropeanStages.org
europeanstages@gc.cuny.edu

 

Martin E. Segal Theatre Center:

Frank Hentschker, Executive Director
Marvin Carlson, Director of Publications
©2022 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center
The Graduate Center CUNY Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue
New York NY 10016

European Stages is a publication of the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center ©2022

 

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