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5 First Impressions of ‘Black Feathers’ – Reykjavik Arts Festival Review

Black Feathers
Black Feathers

Reykjavík Arts Festival started on Wednesday with the vertical dance group bandaloop and the festival is now in full swing. It so happened that a number of the What’s On staff wound up seeing Black Feathers yesterday at the Reykjavík Arts Festival. We were an interesting mix of Icelandic cultural veterans, Jóhanna, Ásdís and Elín; a cultural caveman, Reggie, and his girlfriend Kalere, who’s a New York based costume designer, but a non-native speaker of Icelandic. We asked each person to write a paragraph or two about their experiences so here are 5 impressions of Black Feathers


Jóhanna

Black Feathers (Svartar fjaðrir) is originally a poetry book written by the well known Icelandic national poet Davíð Stefánssson, by which this piece at Þjóðleikhúsið is inspired. Some of his most famous poems are interpreted in a very dramatic and effective way. Stefánsson was a very witty and fun person but he also had a darker side to him, and the poems in Black Feathers represent that side. He once said that his true colors were either black or white, so he must have been kind of a controversial personality with lots of emotions stored up, either joyful or dark. The piece in Þjóðleikhúsið did catch these contrasts very well in my opinion, with either funny scenes or very dramatic ones. Surreal costumes, music and dance moves were descriptive for the show.

JÓHANNA GUNNÞÓRA GUÐMUNDSDÓTTIR

elin_elisabet

Elín:

This fascinating mix of theater and dance was totally captivating. It was full of extreme contrasts – the color pallette was almost entirely black and white and light and darkness battled for power throughout the show. The soft, at times almost liquid movements of the performers were countered with wooden geometrical shapes hanging from the ceiling. And when the drama of it all was at its highest, it was suddenly lightened up with comedy.

The costumes, designed by Hildur Yeoman, were utterly amazing. Some of them completely robbed the dancers of their human form and kept us in the audience wondering what kind of creatures we were looking at. Feathers were prominent in the design as well, as could be expected, and in an incredible final scene, live birds were a part of the cast.

This show features some of Iceland’s best known actors and dancers, and they sure managed to make Davíð Stefánsson’s poetry and character come to life. Svartar fjaðrir completely blew me away.


Ásdís:

This piece was extremely moving. Davíð Stefánsson classical poems are dark, full of feelings and opposites. In this performance they were interpreted by contemporary dancers as well as actors. I personally loved that mix of dancers and actors. Through dancing and music we got to see into the poet’s mind, and it was shocking. So much darkness and struggles. The poems became alive on the stage like never before. In between there were more happy scenes, showing the mask that Davíð put on in front of others. The feelings were perfectly communicated to the audience, and the opposites between life and death, light and darkness, joy and sorrow are very clear.

In the final scene there were live doves. Afterwards one of them stayed outside the curtain as it closed and for few minutes it seemed like we were all clapping for the dove – it loved the attention. A perfect ending to this dramatic show.

After seeing this performance, I can‘t stop thinking about it and i would like to see it again. Definitely recommended.

asdis olafsdottir

Black Feathers

Kalere:

Take care not to arrive late—the opening of the show features some choreography and a costume that was my favorite part of the show. I enjoyed the athleticism of the dance—the dancers showed great strength, agility and grace as they moved around the playing space.

I know very little Icelandic so I didn’t understand much of the poetry that was spoken. Although it would have been nice if I had a better understanding of Davíð Stefánsson and his writing, I was still able to enjoy the show. For me the spoken poetry became a part of the soundscape and I focused more on the movement.

Quick tips:

  • Make sure to get a program. It includes Stefánsson’s poetry and it’s easy enough to have an Icelandic friend give you a general sense of the subject matter of each.
  • I would avoid sitting in the first five rows. Sitting a bit further from the stage gives a better view of the stage pictures created. Because of the rake of the seating, sitting a little further back doesn’t make it feel like you are too far from the action.

Rögnvaldur (Reggie):

I love culture and theatre but honestly the whole modern dance thing goes a bit over my head – if there’s not a clear storyline I tend to disconnect (and sometimes fall asleep, though I didn’t at this show, which is a good indicator!). The major thing that struck me was how beautiful and powerful the poetry was, dealing with life and death, ageing, oppression and even infant death, in such an earnest and pleading way, you could see the beauty of the poet’s almost childishly joyful soul wrestling with the darker themes of life – his “black feathers”

I felt the dance and theatrical interpretation definitely added to the experience both by visually depicting the themes in question and by engaging and delighting the other senses. The show is visually surreal, in a way that’s cryptic enough to be interesting, but still clear enough to be engaging, even exciting to a caveman like me. Finally the darker themes are interspersed with hilarious anecdotes of the poet’s colourful life at perfect intervals so the whole thing doesn’t become too overwhelming.

Because I think the poetry is so essential to the show, I will throw together a slapdash translation of the poems featured and publish them in the next couple of days.

Here you can find more information about the events, including next showings of Black Feathers, in Reykjavik Arts Festival.

rognvaldur