NOORDROON - Nordic Reveries EP

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Bittersweet Summer Solstice

So here we were - the last edition of the Groninger Museum “Live” Festival - the Party Edition.  

Looking back in retrospect, the whole festival had been a ‘party’!

To begin with, working with Bouke had been so harmonious and stimulating, that it had prompted us to launch Nordic Reveries, while the Groninger Museum “Live” Festival, had given impetus to Noordroon - our ideas fused into joint musical compositions.

During this festival, it had also been a challenge and an honour to work with a team of 73 participants of different nationalities, cultural backgrounds, aged between 10 and 72 years of age, plucked from all corners of life and society, some professional dancers and actors, some amateurs, others never having set foot on a stage before, and even those never before having set foot in an art institution such as the Groninger Museum.

However, as usual, all good things come to end and I visited the exhibition for a last time with the intention of finding ‘festive’ inspiration for the final performance.

Being a Nordic exhibition, it was only natural that quite a number of paintings, for example Anders Zorn’s Midsummer Dance, Nikolai Astrup’s  Midsummer Eve in Norway, his  Midsummer bonfire by Lake Jølster and Christian Skredsvig’s Midsummer Night Bonfire, depicted images of midsummer festivities, Midsummer being one of the most popular celebrations in Scandinavia.

For thousands of years people have celebrated the arrival of summer by paying homage to the Sun on the Summer Solstice or Midsummer, the day of the year with the longest period of daylight.

Midsummer signified the Sun’s victory over darkness and great smoky bonfires were erected to ward off the evil spirits of darkness and drive away dragons, said to be poisoning springs and wells. And in their attempt to influence the outcome of a good harvest, couples would leap through the flames, so their crops would grow as high as the couples could jump. The church adapted this deeply rooted Summer Solstice fertility festival into St. John’s Eve, as some insist it did with the Winter Solstice into Christmas.

Norwegian painter Nikolai Astrup, fascinated by bonfires and son of a priest, once wrote that he and many children during his childhood had suffered under their parents’ religious fanaticism, being a sin for Christians to engage in any pagan Midsummer celebrations. He referred to Midsummer as “….. the last vestige of pagan religion”.

Nevertheless, till this day Scandinavians continue to celebrate the magic of Midsummer in much the same fashion as their ancestors before them - with music, dancing, processions, picnics, divining future spouses and of course, bonfires!

Having found enough Nordic ‘festive’ inspiration for a last show, I pondered on the fact that a final performance is usually, in fact, a “bitter-sweet” happening - on the one hand, a highlight, while its conclusiveness carries a certain sadness. In a flash, one of the most tragic paintings of the whole exhibition, Albert Edelfelt’s “Conveying the Child’s Coffin”, came to mind. The perfect portrayal of poignant contrasts.  A sunny summer’s day charged with silent and sombre conclusiveness. The healthy child with its distressed family rowing the coffin of another child to its final destination. The Sun’s rays, the blue sky and the calm waters are not enough to dismiss the mother’s mournful look of loss.

Yes, I thought, mankind maintains a complex relationship with Mother Nature. We think we have the power to control her, forgetting that Nature is an active force to be reckoned with, a force which reclaims what it wants -  unexpectedly and in a moment of fury. Our pagan ancestors were perhaps closer to understanding her with their animistic view of the world.

And with these last thoughts, I decided that the last performance would be a Nordic ‘bittersweet’ Summer Solstice. Together with the audience, we would say farewell to the three preceding performances’ visibly decaying collages of the digitized selected paintings. Blaring horns would acknowledge Mother Nature’s merciless whim with a Midsummer funeral procession ‘conveying a child’s coffin’, and revere her omnipotence with Nikolai Astrup’s blazing, smoky bonfires, with music and dance as of old, till Skredvig’s Midsummer Sun would set to the last sonorous tones of - Noordroon!




NL: Collage van twee schilderijen voor de “Fimbulwinter”-voorstelling: Pekka Halonen’s Vid vaken/Washing on the Ice (1900) en J.F. Willumsen’s Jotunheim (1892-93). EN: Collage made out of two painting for the “Fimbulwinter” performance: Pekka Halonen’s Vid vaken/Washing on the Ice (1900) and J.F. Willumsen’s Jotunheim (1892-93).

NL: Collage van twee schilderijen voor de “Fimbulwinter”-voorstelling: Pekka Halonen’s Vid vaken/Washing on the Ice (1900) en J.F. Willumsen’s Jotunheim (1892-93).
EN: Collage made out of two painting for the “Fimbulwinter” performance: Pekka Halonen’s Vid vaken/Washing on the Ice (1900) and J.F. Willumsen’s Jotunheim (1892-93).

The Tethering Knot

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There were especially two elements in the Nordic Art exhibition which became the source of inspiration for the third dance theater performance for the Groninger Museum Live Festival, “The Tethering Knot” - relationships and knots!

After studying the literature referring to the Nordic Art exhibition, it became apparent that a great number of Nordic artists had been drawn to Paris and had inevitably become inspired by Impressionism and Naturalism. During this period, husband and wife Danish painters Michael & Anna Ancher founded the Impressionist Skagen School in Skagen, in the most northern part of Denmark. Nordic artists flocked to this picturesque village, in order to escape the noisy and chaotic city life. Here, the Skagen painters formed such a closely-knit community that husband and wife relationships began to blossom amongst them. (Anna & Michael Ancher, Christian & Oda Krohg, Agnes & Haraldslott-Moller, Peder & Marie Kroyer, to name a few.)                  

With this information in mind, I searched paintings depicting “relations”. Being human is, after all, being born with the ability and psychological need to form bonds with others, as well as the ability to feel intense emotional “passion” for certain bonds and particular personal interests.

There were 6 paintings depicting relationships which impressed me most.

In P.S.Krøyer’s enigmatic “Summer Evening at the South Beach Skagen”, the artist’s distant perspective of his wife and her best friend engaging in an intimate conversation conveys exclusion and mystery. He invites us to wonder what secrets the two women are divulging to one another!          

Next I came face to face with a “relation” I myself know only too well, the fervent relationship artists, musicians, dancers, film directors, etc. have with their “passion” in life. In R. Bergh’s “After the Sitting”, the artist seems oblivious to his company and surroundings as he retreats into his music, while his model betrays the look of incomprehension at the artist’s elusive distraction.

One may harbour such a strong passion for an activity that those close may sometimes suffer, realising that competition with this sort of love is futile. Is this, I wondered, what was being suggested here, in the husband and wife relationship in E. Nielsen’s “Andreas F. V. Hansen, the Sculptor, and his Wife”? The artist is depicted having eyes only for his passion - sculpture, his passion, while his wife, on the other hand, with a look of suffering on her face, has folded her empty hands in acceptance to her subordinate rank in the artist’s life.                  

As with all other things in life, even our passions need to be balanced. I walked up to perhaps the most dramatic painting of the Nordic Art exhibition, H.Andersen Brendekilde’s Worn Out”. Here, you look upon a man whose passionate perseverance “wore him out” and left his wife screaming out her powerlessness and desperation. Perhaps with this painting, the artist suggests more than a social and political statement. Perhaps it also comprises a warning to those who unconsciously surrender their self-control to their passion.                 

Next, as I stood gazing at A. Zorn’s “The Mora Fair”, the pathetic depiction of a young girl waiting for her drunken lover to sober up - the relationship with an illness, I thought! Once a diversion becomes an obsession, it may lead one to self destruction. Unfortunately, this painting was and remains very representative of  Nordic cultures’ battle with excess drinking. When I was reading the Poetic Edda, in preparation for the performance “Fimbulwinter”, I remembered its collection of proverbs and counsels regarding one’s conduct in life, one of them being “Shun not mead, but drink in measure” (Hovamol, stanza19). Could Nordic peoples’ excess drinking problem be traced back to ancient times? I wondered!

Continuing on my search for yet another “relationship”, I came across what one could describe as the saddest of all relationships – that of unfulfilled love. In The Dying Betrothed by Agnes Slott-Møller, we see the ship of death approaching menacingly as the forlorn betrothed takes leave of her beloved prince. As I stood there, I thought to myself, “these two don’t get to tie the knot!”. This expression caused me to reflect on the symbolism of tying knots, which goes a long way back in history and is still used in traditions regarding weddings, births and funerals. The earliest use of the word “knot” to mean wedlock, however, can been traced back to the Middle English phrase “Swa ye cnotte is icnut bituhhen unc tweien” referring to the Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine around 1225.  

And that is how it happened, that the expression of “to tie the knot”, as we know it today, and its etymological roots urged me on to the idea of featuring cord and knots in the new performance, “The Tethering Knot”.

After all, relationships always involve the difficult question of “to knot or not to knot?!”  and, once we have tied a knot, the next question which may arise with time could possibly be “are you good at untying it?”

That evening, after my visit to the museum, I dozed off with notions of knots on my mind, and woke up the following morning with the lyrics to “Tie me, Tether Me” on my lips!


Richard Bergh’s Avslutad seans / After the pose (1884), one of the paintings of the “Nordic Art” exhibition at the Groninger Museum in Groningen (the Netherlands) serves, along with other paintings, as a source of inspiration for the dance theatre performance “The Tethering Knot”, the third of 4 multimedial performances at the Groninger Museum.

Peder Severin Krøyer’s Summer Evening at the South Beach, Skagen. Anna Ancher and Marie Krøyer (study)(1893), one of the paintings of the “Nordic Art” exhibition at the Groninger Museum in Groningen (the Netherlands) serves, along with other paintings, as a source of inspiration for the dance theatre performance “The Tethering Knot”, the third of 4 multimedial performances at the Groninger Museum.

Peder Severin Krøyer’s Summer Evening at the South Beach, Skagen. Anna Ancher and Marie Krøyer (study) (1893), one of the paintings of the “Nordic Art” exhibition at the Groninger Museum in Groningen (the Netherlands) serves, along with other paintings, as a source of inspiration for the dance theatre performance “The Tethering Knot”, the third of 4 multimedial performances at the Groninger Museum.

Pekka Halonen’s Vid vaken/Washing on the Ice (1900), one of the paintings of the “Nordic Art” exhibition at the Groninger Museum in Groningen (the Netherlands) serves, along with other paintings, as a source of inspiration for the dance theatre performance “Fimbulwinter”.

Pekka Halonen’s Vid vaken/Washing on the Ice (1900), one of the paintings of the “Nordic Art” exhibition at the Groninger Museum in Groningen (the Netherlands) serves, along with other paintings, as a source of inspiration for the dance theatre performance “Fimbulwinter”.

NL: Gemanipuleerd/verbreed schilderij (gebaseerd op (based on Einar A. Nielsen - “Den blinde pige Gjern” (1896-98)) waarop “Het Gouden Pad” buiten de oorspronkelijke lijst te zien is, hier in deze collage gecombineerd met alle geschilderde vrouwen uit de voorstelling. EN: Manipulated/broadened painting (based on Einar A. Nielsen - “Den blinde pige Gjern” (1896-98)) illustrating “The Golden Path” beyond the original frame, combined here in this collage with all painted women from the performance.
“The Nordic Art exhibition has been a great source of inspiration in a number of ways. Firstly, being a woman, I was pleasantly surprised to note the number of female painters participating in this exhibition. I learned that, whilst at the end of the 19th Century continental European women were fighting for equality, Scandinavian women were already enjoying the status of independent artist, even after marriage.Secondly it was interesting to read that many of these artists, though proud of their national heritage and identity, left their countries and met with artists from a variety of cultures including their own at important centres or crossroads of artistic activity and development.Walking through the Nordic Art exhibition at the Groninger Museum with these impressions on my mind, I came face to face with Ejnar Nielsen’s painting “The Blind Girl“, which drew my many impressions together. The painting was like an icon and the Blind Girl seemed surrounded by an aura of a goddess or a saint. She was full of enigma, laden with mysticism and symbolism waiting to be uncoded. Gazing upon her, I wondered whether, whilst abroad, Nielsen had been inspired by the Celtic Sun Goddess, Brighid (adopted by Christianity as St. Brigit), the “bride” of Spring who appears at the first signs of new growth, bringing Spring after the season of darkness! She was, after all, the Goddess of fire in the sky, fire in the hearth and the fire inside us which burns with desire for Life. I looked at the sky above the Blind Girl. Was it ablaze with the Goddess’s fire of poetic inspiration, the fire of creative work and the fire of healing? And was the Blind girl Brighid herself, considering the fact that she was both goddess of the sun and threshold, representing the gates between this world and the Otherworld? Was she bearing the bitter dandelion only as a symbol of the cycle of life or as in the Old Testament, as a reminder to women of their past slavery to men? Had the Blind Girl reached the crossroads and was she calling out to all women to have blind faith as they walk the path towards emancipation, enlightenment and even fame? Was she calling us to tend the flame within us, to let it grow and burn for all to see?With these intriguing questions and notions, Aglaya Koika, artistic director, and Bouke Mekel, visual artist, set to work on a series of 4 short multimedial performances, “Nordic Reveries” based on the “Nordic Art” exhibition at the Groninger Museum.And how co-incidental!“The Golden Path” at the Groninger Museum Live would be performed halfway between the winter solstice and the Spring equinox, on (St.) Brigit’s actual feast day, the 1st of February!


NL: Gemanipuleerd/verbreed schilderij (gebaseerd op (based on Einar A. Nielsen - “Den blinde pige Gjern” (1896-98)) waarop “Het Gouden Pad” buiten de oorspronkelijke lijst te zien is, hier in deze collage gecombineerd met alle geschilderde vrouwen uit de voorstelling.
EN: Manipulated/broadened painting (based on Einar A. Nielsen - “Den blinde pige Gjern” (1896-98)) illustrating “The Golden Path” beyond the original frame, combined here in this collage with all painted women from the performance.

“The Nordic Art exhibition has been a great source of inspiration in a number of ways. Firstly, being a woman, I was pleasantly surprised to note the number of female painters participating in this exhibition. I learned that, whilst at the end of the 19th Century continental European women were fighting for equality, Scandinavian women were already enjoying the status of independent artist, even after marriage.
Secondly it was interesting to read that many of these artists, though proud of their national heritage and identity, left their countries and met with artists from a variety of cultures including their own at important centres or crossroads of artistic activity and development.
Walking through the Nordic Art exhibition at the Groninger Museum with these impressions on my mind, I came face to face with Ejnar Nielsen’s painting “The Blind Girl“, which drew my many impressions together. The painting was like an icon and the Blind Girl seemed surrounded by an aura of a goddess or a saint. She was full of enigma, laden with mysticism and symbolism waiting to be uncoded. Gazing upon her, I wondered whether, whilst abroad, Nielsen had been inspired by the Celtic Sun Goddess, Brighid (adopted by Christianity as St. Brigit), the “bride” of Spring who appears at the first signs of new growth, bringing Spring after the season of darkness! She was, after all, the Goddess of fire in the sky, fire in the hearth and the fire inside us which burns with desire for Life. I looked at the sky above the Blind Girl.
Was it ablaze with the Goddess’s fire of poetic inspiration, the fire of creative work and the fire of healing?
And was the Blind girl Brighid herself, considering the fact that she was both goddess of the sun and threshold, representing the gates between this world and the Otherworld?
Was she bearing the bitter dandelion only as a symbol of the cycle of life or as in the Old Testament, as a reminder to women of their past slavery to men?
Had the Blind Girl reached the crossroads and was she calling out to all women to have blind faith as they walk the path towards emancipation, enlightenment and even fame? Was she calling us to tend the flame within us, to let it grow and burn for all to see?

With these intriguing questions and notions, Aglaya Koika, artistic director, and Bouke Mekel, visual artist, set to work on a series of 4 short multimedial performances, “Nordic Reveries” based on the “Nordic Art” exhibition at the Groninger Museum.
And how co-incidental!
“The Golden Path” at the Groninger Museum Live would be performed halfway between the winter solstice and the Spring equinox, on (St.) Brigit’s actual feast day, the 1st of February!

Laurits Andersen Ring’s “Ved frokostbordet og morgenaviserne”/”At Breakfast” (1898), one of the paintings of the “Nordic Art” exhibition at the Groninger Museum in Groningen (the Netherlands) serves, along with other paintings, as a source of inspiration for the dance theatre performance “The Golden Path”.

Vilhelm Hammershøi’s “Interiør med ung kvinde set fra ryggen”/”Interior with Young Woman from Behind” (1904), one of the paintings of the “Nordic Art” exhibition at the Groninger Museum in Groningen (the Netherlands) serves, along with other paintings, as a source of inspiration for the dance theatre performance “The Golden Path”.

Vilhelm Hammershøi’s “Interiør med ung kvinde set fra ryggen”/”Interior with Young Woman from Behind” (1904), one of the paintings of the “Nordic Art” exhibition at the Groninger Museum in Groningen (the Netherlands) serves, along with other paintings, as a source of inspiration for the dance theatre performance “The Golden Path”.

"Den blinde pige"/"The Blind girl" (1896-98) by Ejnar Nielsen, one of the paintings of the "Nordic Art" exhibition at the Groninger Museum in Groningen (the Netherlands) serves, along with other paintings, as a source of inspiration for "The Golden Path".