‘In Polar Night, Post uit Hessdalen turns boredom into something delicious’
Els Van Steenberghe in Knack Focus, 12 January 2016
Last year, five artist friends fled the rat race in which Westerners appear to be collectively imprisoned and spent several weeks in a no man’s land near Greenland. During their stay they kept a diary. From these diary entries they then distilled the intriguing production Polar Night.
The play = Polar Night
Company = Post uit Hessdalen and Muziektheater Transparant
In a single sentence = Polar Night is a gem by a bunch of ‘inventors’ who balance on the edges of performance, theatre and visual art. In this creation, which literally lights up the darkness, they provide the perfect answer to what is going wrong in our society, where everything always has to be ‘faster and more and bigger’.
Highlight = When the set starts to move and the dead landscape turns out to be anything but deathly.
Score = ***
‘There is always wind on this island, but now it is excessive and untamed. To describe nature is to portray a temperamental character. Why should a person be able to be stubborn, but not a mountain?
‘Being here is an exercise in concentrating on the present. Managing to stare straight ahead for five minutes without thinking of the next five. ‘When the wind of the soul dies down’ is how Nietzsche described boredom. Waiting, just waiting, that is rewarded by the revelation of true time, not that of the clock, but that which is experienced internally.’
‘No, memories are not carved in stone, they are repeatedly rewritten. How often have I come to realise this?’
When were you last bored? It seems like an odd question, doesn’t it? Once in a while educationalists come up with such advice as ‘being bored is good for our children’. But it is also good for grown-up children who these days – after the well-earned Christmas rest – race faster than ever through their days so as to keep appointments, make new appointments, hold meetings, get their work back on schedule, think up new strategies and so on.
‘And what about if we just got out of the rat race?’, which is what the young theatre-makers of Post uit Hessdalen thought. This company was founded in 2014 by the circus performer and film-maker Stijn Grupping and theatre-maker and scenarist Ine Van Baelen. For Polar Night, they also called in Liesbet Grupping, Frederik Meulyzer and Lucas Van Haesbroeck. Together they left for the Norwegian island of Sørøya, which never sees full daylight and where the snowfall means that you sometimes have the feeling of walking through clouds. Or through the hereafter. All five kept a diary. From these diaries they distilled a monologue that was recorded by Geert van Rampelberg in his warm and rather lonely-sounding voice. Without appearing live in the performance, Van Rampelberg plays a man who enjoys solitude but also suffers from it. And this is exactly what the five friends experienced during their stay. For a while it was unpleasant, but they soon started to fill the gap with structure, with daily tasks, with a daily walk in the footsteps they themselves had made the day before. They needed to introduce a finiteness to the almost complete endlessness of the landscape.
The marvellous thing about this production is that you live through what they experienced. After being warmly received, you are led into a completely darkened room. You sit very close to a projection screen that covers the whole stage. Then what seems to be a black and white documentary about the landscape of Sørøya begins. It takes a while before you realise that the landscape really does look black and white during the polar night. Van Rampelberg’s voice directs and stimulates your thoughts while you wander through the landscape with your eyes. The slowness and the lack of any sense of time become part of the performance. You walk around in a landscape that seems almost like a moonscape, where the light comes from the snow and not from the sun. What is fascinating is that the film is a lot more than just a film. There is a proper stage set hidden behind the projection screen. A set that only becomes visible after a time. It is only then that you notice the dimensions in the image, just as in the real landscape. It’s true that the makers approach it too cautiously. The evolution of the set does not sufficiently respond to the evolution in the superb text. The desire to give us the same experience is somewhat of a hindrance to their imagination as designers and image-makers.
Polar Night is a gem by a bunch of ‘inventors’ who balance on the edges of performance, theatre and visual art. Sometimes they tumble into the abyss of insufficient expression, but in this production they offer the perfect answer to our society’s addiction to more, bigger and faster. Here, everything goes slowly and is on a grand scale. Polar Night halts in and reflects on silence, slowness and the grandeur of nature. And the peace it brings. And it is by no means boring. On the contrary. By staring, you discover nuances, details and beauty that you did not realise were there. And this can be transposed to society: less time running after what is to come and live a little less in the future, and gaze a little more at the things and people around us. This would seem to be a fine, illuminating resolution for 2016, born during this dark Polar Night.