A slap in the face from the climate

Standing ovations at the emotionally charged world premiere in Härnösand

The message cannot be missed. Norrdans speaks, literally, in capital letters to beat in Greta Thunberg's ominous words. With "Our house is on fire", choreographer Nicole Beutler delivers a slap in the face - but also a painfully beautiful work that could hardly have been more urgent.

Despite the fact that the audience is sparsely populated, a world premiere in the shadow of corona, the atmosphere quickly becomes denser when nine dancers wearing red, full-covering protective suits step onto the stage. A siren sounds, the music falls into the same rhythm, the dancers draw their messages in the air. It is the same gestures over and over again, their movements becoming more and more intense, a repetition that eventually breathes desperation.

Meanwhile, words are projected onto the background, one by one, over and over again. Our. House. Is. On. Fire. The quote is taken from Greta Thunberg's speech at the Economic World Forum in Davos 2019. Five words that return again and again throughout the performance, five words that the dancers repeatedly shape with their bodies. Five words that are formed, fall apart, are transformed. Letters that are balanced, embraced, twisted, stretched, crouched and contracted. Letters are built and held together by the bodies' closeness, trust, touch and muscle power. By will. Letters that eventually collapse under their own weight. On a screen in the background, the same narrative is projected but in a different form. Calm movie sequences of forests shrouded in soft fog - or is it smoke? - followed by pictures of industrial complexes, wind power areas, paved road junctions with painted directions of travel.

The plot riminds me of Godfrey Reggio's iconic film "Kooyanisqatsi", a visual film poem that tells of man's ruthless exploitation of nature and life on earth - and the dead end we have ended up in. Nicole Beutler delivers the message crystal clear, explicitly and with a liberating simplicity and power that a child can understand. It is a force against all the studied lies about infinite growth on a finite planet.

A dancer speaks sadly in a megaphone about how difficult it is to do the right thing - "I recycle all my plastics but sometimes the metal goes in the wrong bin" - and thus speaks to the strong feeling of hopelessness and abandonment that the individual can feel.

Our. House. Is. On. Fire. The words are repeated over and over, staring us stubbornly in the face. The music degenerates into a roaring chaos; maybe it's the sound of doom. But suddenly it gets humorous; Jonathan Starr takes on the role of a cabin crew member on an aircraft, explaining the routines for our joint trip to apocalypse. He says that he regrets that the air conditioning does not work, that dazzling light and radiation can occur, but that fire suits and fire extinguishers can give us an extra half an hour. "We are all a part of this and we do not know how to get out of it alive," he says at the end, as if apologizing.

"Our house is on fire" is a liberating mix of genres; the dancers build artistic installations with their bodies, play theater, shout, speak sign language. The sometimes almost childish simplicity, like when the dancers throw around an inflatable earth ball, makes the performance extremely strong; it's like Greta Thunberg herself taking shape, a little girl with braids who sees the lies of power ,"How dare you!" But it is when the animals enter the stage that really burns. Lizard-skinned and leopard-spotted, green-patterned like the forest itself, they sneak out of the darkness. Pawing, sneaking, crawling, eeling. There. Is. No. Planet. B. The dazzling headlights are turned towards the audience and hold us accountable. We twist uncomfortably in their rows while the animals just stand there, facing us, with their supple bodies, their scaly skin and warm furs, with their gleaming eyes and their wordless appeal. Can. You. Help. Us.

It is an emotional slap in the face that does not go off for picks; it's not just me who wipes away the tears when the light goes out on stage and the dancers come out of the darkness to bow. And the small audience suddenly becomes large and generous; the standing ovations and shouts of joy make the salon suddenly feel packed with people. And, in fact, full of hope.

uit: Katarina Östholm, Allehanda.se
Read the review in the original Swedish at Allehanda.se