Posted by: Anya Martin | October 21, 2008

Being Light of Heart in a Heavy Cultural Climate

Jo Stromgren Kompani The Department

Jo Stromgren Kompani The Department

Interview with Jo Stromgren

This weekend the whirlwind that is the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts will close with a work by the internationally revered Jo Stromgren Kompani from Norway. The company is led by multi-faceted performing arts entrepreneur, Jo Stromgren who directs, writes, and choreographs a wide range of theatre, dance, and original works around the globe. He was gracious enough to speak with me briefly before hopping on yet another international flight

Though it was first performed in 2004, The Department will make its U.S. premiere as a part of our Festival of Firsts. (For more new work trivia see A Fresh Old New Work.) With eight or nine other Jo Stromgen Kompani works on tour at the moment, I ask Stromgren why he thinks The Department was chosen to tour the U.S. this fall.

He chuckles mischievously, or perhaps nervously. “The current political backdrop of the States, might have something to do with it,” he admits. According to PIFOF promotional materials “In The Department, Strømgren creates the innermost and secret office of an imaginary government, where agents analyze and scrutinize society through peepholes, doors have long ago been sealed off for extreme secrecy, and mysterious orders arrive from above.” But Stromgren is quick to say that this work was created with no specific political agenda or hidden message in mind.

This show, like many of the company’s original works uses only “non-sensical” language or gibberish as spoken text in the performance. It’s a genius idea on Stromgren’s part, who created the company for the purposes of international touring. The language of the show is equally not understood by audience members no matter their nationality, and therefore equally open for interpretation. In this way the show has the ability to be understood by every audience member in a personal way. “All of our text is done in a naïve way. There is no kind of expectation behind it,” says Stromgren.

This theatre-making technique started as a company experiment, but they continued utilizing it because, “There is so much to discover,” Stromgren claims. For example, “What is communication? How can we trick people to see further than us?” he questions. Audiences from around the world have found brilliant slapstick to ominous political metaphors in The Department. “People read things differently depending on their cultural baggage,” says Stromgren.

And man, does it feel like we have a LOT of cultural baggage these days. From the economy, to the looming election, our bags are packed – and not in a good way it seems. Yet, the aim of The Department is not to weigh down audiences, but to lighten their load with poetic possibilities and great comic timing. “Being light of heart is a better way to enter the theatre than full of heavy expectations,” says Stromgren.

I for one am looking forward to letting our present cultural burdens enlighten instead of just discourage.

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