Book of Songs
“A man tries to convince a woman that they met last year at Marienbad and that she promised him then that she would leave her husband and run away with him. However, she doesn’t seem to recall anything about either him or the promise and tells him that it must have been someone else. At first the seducer’s advances manifest themselves as a somewhat novel and interesting way of approaching a woman, as he entices her to ‘go into character’ according to his prearranged story-line and create an actual story, in which everything she does, even her refusal of him, takes on meaning in relation to what might have happened at Marienbad.
At first, this ‘game’ of going in and out of character seems to be reminiscent of the focal point of Alain Resnais’ film from 1960, Last Year at Marienbad. This ‘game’ is also the main underlying theme of Ingun Bjørnsgaard’s Book of Songs. But the film and the ballet have even more in common: a deeper investigation of Alain Resnais’ film as a whole reveals that the seduction strategy mentioned above constitutes a too simplistic explanation. As you attempt to figure out the story, you realise that the scenes do not unfold in any logical sequence, but jump freely in and out of the past, present and future, and that what happens in one scene runs counter to the direction the story was about to take in the previous scene. Alain Resnais has even made it impossible for the spectator to determine from which point of view, if anybody’s, the film is told.
Ingun Bjørnsgaard’s way of addressing her theme in Book of Songs – as well as in her previous productions – has something in common with the non-chronological dramaturgy in Resnais’ film and resembles the way that fantasy operates. Instead of letting events progress and allowing the actions to have consequences, fantasy repeatedly returns to its central axis of fascination and assumes a new variant, or plays itself out in a new context with new preconditions. Fantasy’s manner of operating is thus more analytical than causal.
The literary reference employed in the development of Book of Songs stems from an entirely different source: When We Dead Awaken, by Henrik Ibsen. In 1898, having passed the age of seventy, the Norwegian dramatist wanted to write one more work, an autobiographical text that would tie his life and work together. This book was never completed; direct confessions from the soul were never Ibsen’s forte. He was unsuccessful in achieving any comprehensible unity of the contradictory tendencies inside him. Ibsen’s true gift was transcribing human traumas into plays. In When We Dead Awaken, Ibsen allowed the different characters in the play to assume different sides of his personality and fight out the internal traumas of his life amongst themselves against a backdrop of the Norwegian mountains.
In Book of Songs, this partitioning of Ibsen’s personality into a spectrum of different roles has been turned upside down. The pastoral drama has been transformed into a kammerspiel, where the dancers, in solos and duets, move into, and try out, different characters that attract them. One particular character exerts a special force of attraction on them and bears a resemblance to Irene in Ibsen’s play as well as to certain aspects of Alain Resnais’ portrait of the woman in Last Year at Marienbad. This figure cannot be assigned a definite ‘place’ in the structure of the story or in the circumstances in which she turns up. She has her origin in Sophocles’ play Antigone.
She becomes attractive by virtue of being a well-known and easily identifiable prototype. At the same time, she fascinates us because her actions frequently do not correspond to our usual patterns of behaviour, making it hard to get a clear grip on her. She is an unpredictable character who symbolizes total freedom and evokes uncanny feelings, while at the same time breaking normal conventions and stepping out into territories that are socially unexplored.
The musicians, seated on stage on benches positioned alongside the dancers, are involved in a similar ‘game’. Sometimes they try to take over the composition while developing their own solos, only to fall back – eventually – into harmony with the others. The music provides the terms upon which these fantasies – ranging from joy to horror – can be acted out. When the music comes to a stop, it leaves the dancers stranded on stage, in a situation of exposed vulnerability."
- Staffan Boije af Gennäs
When We Dead Awaken, by Henrik Ibsen
Last Year at Marienbad, directed by Alain Resnais
Choreographer: Ingun Bjørnsgaard
Dancers: Halldis Olafsdottir, Torunn Robstad / Marianne Albers and Christopher Arouni.
Original music: Henrik Hellstenius
Cello: Emery Cardas
Violin: Frode Larsen
Stage design: Thomas Björk
Sound design: Morten Pettersen
Light design: Jean Vincent Kerebel
Produced by: Ingun Bjørnsgaard Prosjekt in co-production with tanzhaus nrw, Düsseldorf, Dansens Hus, Stockholm and BIT Teatergarasjen, Bergen.