Perspectives on A Retrospective



“It starts in the kitchen,” explains Ragnheiður Sigurðardóttir Bjarnarson, the choreographer of A Retrospective. “Dancing is something you do naturally, like humming, and this is where I found out that Snæbjörn could dance, when he made up phrases, often to make fun of contemporary dance shows we had recently seen. These small sketches had names like the dinosaur or the swan. I thought his approach was interesting.”

At stake in this answer is the question of what originally sparked the idea for the performance A Retrospective – Series of Novels Never Written. As far as ideas born in kitchens go, this one rests on the top-shelf. It’s not every day one witnesses an attempt to finish a novel – an actual novel – via dance. But isn’t that impossible, simply unimaginable?

“The impossible and the unimaginable. Yes. What is the point of art without trying something you haven't done before? Or ideally, what nobody has done before. Sign language was used or experimented with. It is after all a soundless, bodily language. But a poem spoken in sign language is still a poem and not a dance. This is the hard part, dance seems to require more than just communication, or information. What that is, is hard to tell. You can dance with rhythm and without rhythm. Many have defined terms such as performance and dance, but we don't dare. We know what is dance when we see it, that is the beauty of dance in a way. To know it you have to see it.”

The response, though unfinished, tells a great deal. If dance goes beyond communication, it goes without saying one can scarcely speak about it. But that’s precisely what A Retrospective is all about: the beyond. And how could the beyond ever be finished? Let alone succeed?

“I wouldn't call our dance successful. The best performances are unsuccessful, or have the potential to be unsuccessful. Ours is incomplete, we use songs by famous composers that they left unfinished in the soundtrack, we use novels with unfinished storylines, and finally we don't translate it in a way that is completely satisfactory. This is perhaps why we swapped our name: an incomplete piece is one that can be renamed. It sounds unusual but it is really the essence of dance, theatre and performance. You can finish a novel or a film. A performance… is it ever over?”

Can one understand this beyond, this incompleteness? Can one call it understanding anymore?

“Life changes, evolves. Dance springs from living. We claim in the piece that all living things dance… that is the primordial art form, older than whales singing songs and ants making architecture. Maybe this is pushing the definition a little too far to be understood, but then, wouldn't dance be awful if it was something we could explain and understand?” concludes Ragnheiður.

A Retrospective – Series of Novels Never Written at Hällä Stage on Thursday 4th of August at 7 p.m. and on Friday 5th of August at 3 p.m. (performed in English) – Read more.


– Jaakko Reinikainen

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