La MaMa presents Grusomhetens Teater of Norway in American premiere of
"The Mountain Bird," a romantic opera libretto by Henrik Ibsen.
Artaud-influenced theater troupe performs their acclaimed world premiere production
of unfinished 1859 work by the famed Norwegian dramatist.

March 2 to 5, 2017
La MaMa Theatre Ellen Stewart Theatre), 66 East Fourth Street
Presented by La MaMa in association with Grusomhetens Teater
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:00 PM, Sunday at 4:00 PM
$25 ($20 students and seniors). Ten $10 tickets will be available to every performance on a first-come, first-served basis (advance sale recommended).
Box office (646) 430-5374,
Performing company's website (in English):
Running time: 85 minutes. In Norwegian with English subtitles.
Critics are welcome at all performances. Because of this production's significance in the history of opera, both theater and music critics are invited.

NEW YORK, February 13 -- Grusomhetens Teater--Norwegian for "The Theater of Cruelty" (a nod to Antonin Artaud) – is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. This independent, Oslo-based theater troupe will make its North American debut at La MaMa March 2 to 5 with "The Mountain Bird" (Fjeldfuglen) by Henrik Ibsen, its celebrated staging of a romantic 1859 opera libretto by the great giant of Norwegian theater. The production contains a critically acclaimed original score by contemporary composer Filip Sande and is the company's longest-running show.

The piece, staged with a company of eight actors and two musicians, has appeared at festivals and as a guest performance at theaters in Norway (including the Norwegian Opera House and the National Theater's International Ibsen Festival), Sweden, Germany, France, England, Poland, Russia, Turkey, India, and Japan.  It will be performed in Norwegian with English supertitles.

Ibsen's 1859 libretto, "The Mountain Bird" (Fjeldfuglen), is based on a medieval legend of a young woman (Tunaal) on the farm Birkehaug in Justedalen who is the only survivor in the valley after the Black Death. When discovered several years later by an expedition from a neighboring parish, they find her to be free of the shackles of civilization. In her solitude, she has become as "shy and wild as a bird." One of her discoverers, a young bridesgroom (Steinsland), is fascinated by her, intrigued by her spirit which is unshackled from convention and societal obligation. The second half shifts to the village where the parishioners live. A wedding celebration is being prepared for the bridegroom and another woman, named Blehr. While fulfilling his duty, Steinsland's mind continues to hark back to the "mountain bird" woman that he encountered in the valley. It is there that the manuscript breaks off abruptly. Grusomhetens Teater chooses not to "end" or finish the piece, but to leave the narrative unresolved and ambiguous, with the audience lingering in the unfinished universe of "The Mountain Bird."

The production was inspired by a conversation eleven years ago between Director Lars Øyno and Erik Edvardsen, director of the Henrik Ibsen Museum in Oslo. Edvardsen told Øyno said that, in a new edition of Ibsen's Complete Works (Aschehoug, 2006), the publishers were including not only his famous completed works, but also incomplete manuscripts. This included the first half of a three-act opera libretto, "Fjeldfuglen" ("The Mountain Bird"), a Romantic piece set in the Middle Ages, but which Ibsen abandoned in 1859. It had been a curiousity for scholars and academics, but never staged.

Øyno, who founded his independent group Grusomhetens Teater ("The Theater of Cruelty") in 1992 in the physical theater tradition of Antonin Artaud and Jerzy Grotowski, was immediately intrigued. He had already directed another, more famous, unfinished work in 1996--Georg Büchner's "Woyzeck"--and was dedicated to theater which is not reliant on spoken dialogue or text to convey imagery or content, but uses the actor's body and physicality as the primary means of expression. He was intrigued to undertake an unfinished Ibsen opera with his troupe. Also, being a Norwegian actor originally trained in the classical tradition, Øyno felt it important to stage the work so that it may be known by more audiences and theater-practitioners everywhere, to provide a fresh look into Ibsen's artistic development and his work as a whole. The Norwegian theater establishment was skeptical of the project being entrusted to an independent troupe known for Artaud-influenced physical theater on a small black box stage, so its success was surprising to many.

"Fjeldfuglen" received its world-premiere in Oslo in 2009 and has become the longest-running and most frequently-performed production in Grusomhetens Teater's 25-year-history. It has played at the National Theater's International Ibsen Festival, the Norwegian Opera House and festivals in England, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Turkey, India and Japan.

The piece is set to an original score by contemporary Norwegian composer, Filip Sande, which is performed live with acoustic instruments played by Lars Tore Pedersen and Maja Gravermoen Toresen. The scenography is very simple. The first half, taking place in the valley where the "mountain bird" (played by Hege Tunaal) has been alone and away from civilization for years since the Plague, is suggested by a barren tree, an abstract stage-painting and some platforms suggesting a mountain. The second half is back in the "village farm," where a wedding celebration is being prepared. Production values are typical of Grusomhetens Teater's "poor theater" aesthetic (in the Grotowski sense of the term) while also being true to an older tradition that Ibsen might had used should he have staged this opera in 1859. The costumes are inspired by bunads--Norwegian traditional folk costumes--to help the audience go back in time visually. The instrumentation is all acoustic, using Nordic folk instruments (including the hardanger fiddle) and percussion. Grusomhetens Teater's surreal, highly expressive, dynamic use of the actor's body is mixed with conventions of the mannered dramas of the mid-19th century. Much of the piece is played by actors with wide-open eyes, reminiscent of early actors' portraits from that period, when it was a form of dramatic expression. Critic Jens-Morten Hanssen observed, "The text is sung with heartfelt sincerity. The performance is devoid of any irony, but it is not without sting."

The actors are Odille Annette Heftye Blehr, Hanne Dieserud, Jimmie Jonasson, Nina Sponnich, Miguel Emilio Dobrodenka Steinsland, Hege Tunaal, Stig Zeiner, and Johanna Øyno. The musicians are Lars Tore Pedersen and Maja Gravermoen Toresen. Producer is Brendan McCall.

Reviewer Ida Lou Larsen, writing in Klassekampen, a Norwegian daily newspaper, described "Fjeldfuglen" as suggestive of themes Ibsen elaborated on in "Peer Gynt," "Brand" and his poem, "On the Heights." She commended the work of composer Filip Sande in merging Ibsen's elegant and lively verses with the music based on national instruments Hardanger fiddle and langeleik, with sprinklings of percussion, glockenspiel and flute, to yield a beguiling folk art dimension. The overall evening was described as "musically captivating and a visual delight."

Last year, reviewing the troupe in "Proud Cloud," a jazz theater work, Larsen wrote, "I have no doubt: Grusomhetens Teater is in many ways the most original and innovative free theater group in Norway" and appealed to the Norwegian Arts Council to begin funding the troupe with a separate item in the Ministry of Culture's annual budget.

An integral part of New York City’s cultural landscape, La MaMa has a worldwide reputation for producing daring work in theatre, dance, performance art, and music that defies form and transcends boundaries of language, race, and culture. Founded in 1961 by theater pioneer and legend Ellen Stewart, La MaMa is a global organization with creative partners and dedicated audiences around the world. La MaMa presents an average of 60-70 productions annually, most of which are world premieres. To date, over 3,500 productions have been presented at La MaMa with artists from more than 70 nations. Honored with more than 30 OBIE Awards, dozens of Drama Desk and Bessie Awards, La MaMa’s programming is culturally diverse, cross-disciplinary and draws audiences from all walks of life. La MaMa offers a 10@$10 program whereby ten tickets are made available for every performance in every theatre in advance for only $10.

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CRITICS ARE INVITED to all performances.

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