Still 2000 kilometres to the North Pole

Nordpol -
Tormod Carlsen as "Tåkefyrsten" at the island spectacle "Lulleli" during the "Landscape painting".

Allan Klo

A mighty festival on the island of Ingøy in northernmost Norway unites audiences and dancers under Arctic skies. Not far from the Russian border, the theatre is celebrating the landscape. Among us: Hans-Thies Lehmann, the late doyen of post-dramatic theatre. For him, landscape was both the adversary and the centre of theatre. A festive description and a last text by him.

Theaterwissenschaftler, 22. Sept. 1944 - 16. Juli 2022

Why do children draw the stars and the sun with yellow wax crayons? Why do we perceive light as yellow, the sky so complementary as blue? Why does yellow in our traffic lights mean both, do not stop and do not cross? Yellow is the signal that means something good. Nowhere does this colour have such an effect and give such a strong impression as at the end of the world as we know it, where a 150-year-old light house is situated on a moss-covered rock of a tiny island in the Barents Sea: The Fruholmen Light House. It is the northernmost aid for navigating at sea, and is located at the point where a cold, strong wind dominates for at least 300 days of the year.

On the neighbouring island of Ingøy, a small fishing town tucks down, the most northern in the world, protected by a barren mountain called Mafjord-fjell. There is a natural harbour, 21 inhabitants, a small concrete church and a gigantic transmission mast. This needle stretches 362 metres into the sky to transmit long-wave signals in the Arctic. We are still 2,000 kilometres from the North Pole.

“Lulleli” is the name of a celebration here, named after the Italian Master of Ballet and composer at the Court of Louis XIV. In 1795, Louis’ descendent, the later Louis Philippe, the Citizen King of France, travelled incognito under the name of Müller to Western Finnmark and to the islands off Havøysund. The French nobility was driven to the edges of Europe shortly after the French Revolution, and a number of them went to the furthermost outskirts of Europe. Philippe is still revered, at least here. The bronze bust of the bourgeois king, damaged by the German Wehrmacht in World War II, is maintained with respective in the small Havoysund Museum. Here are also memories of maritime accidents, and of the curious kind. In 1992, a containership from Hong Kong loaded with yellow rubber ducks was washed overboard, and 151 of the ducks stranded on the shores of Ingoy. A yellow memorial was erected. History is disappearing more slowly at the edge of the ice than at other places.


Jørgen Knudsen as “The Mermaid”

Idun Vik

The small beach on the island has been renamed Bahamas by the organizers of this event. In the cold sand, ‘Lulleli’ starts as a baroque party with warm-up vodka served draught from the breasts of a male mermaid. Then there is an audience granted by Lulleli himself, the King of the Island, performed by Jorgen Knudsen. Many of us remember him as a member of the dissolved performance company Baktruppen and, later, Artistic Director of the DanceFestival Barents in Hammerfest which is only two hours away, situated a little south. Today, Knudsen is impersonating the Sun King of Northern Norway. In the name of the Norwegian cultural council, where he is currently working, he distributes money for the Arts. Long live King Knudsen, the artists around him shout. And they dance.

Gro Benjaminsen

“Korsirkelen” (The Circle of the Cross)

Gro Benjaminsen

Because there is no theatre building or constructed amphitheatre at Ingøy, the landscape itself is turned into a stage. The diagonally-standing midnight sun fully enfolds the landscape in yellow. The dancers are dressed in raincoats or slickers, releasing yellow balloons and dragons into the air from the moss covered rocks where they are moving. Thus, they paint the landscape shining yellow, disguised as cloudberries, stompering across the rocks in the landscape that is used as stage, in which the cloudberries are growing. Yellow smoke rises from the sea, while a fishing boat lets off an inordinate number of alarm signals into the air. The Lighthouse is throwing shadows long as needles. The sun is very low, blinking like a disco ball in the smoke emitted from the smoke alarm signals. In front of this, the people are dancing, and the orchestra’s trumpets and trombones are playing while yellowly shimmering. It is an event of an ‘ar(c)tistic’ kind, which surely is something very rare, and which fits the landscape like a golden evocation. And because it is going to be dark again, and people are going to fish for words we don’t know in grey and muddy waters.

Fryholmen beacon in yellow mist

Norsk landskapsteater

Appropriate to the fact that there is this radio mast on the island, all the Lulleli visitors are equipped with small radio receivers. In a small, narrow cottage in the village there is a radio broadcasting station, where there is a discussion as to whether the definition of a landscape theatre corresponds to a stage as round as the island of Ingoy itself. Because with Lulleli everything is wrapped in yellow, one could be inclined to think that the nourishing white of the egg at the brim of the pan is equivalent to the way the beach is the brim or verge of the Lulleli is named. In such a situation of that time, the 17th century in France, he would be as isolated as the inhabitants of the island – also exposed to a central perspective of the monarchic-monadic pictorially seen equal to the yolk of the egg, which would be a centre. I always look into the centre of the frying pan, rather than the brim or verge where, pictorially spoken, the horizon starts. I, like the King of the Island, realize that my ability to see is lost in all the yellow, lost in the yolk, so to speak.

I ask myself, is this only imagination? Or is this the theatrical about the whole thing? Well, if I, as in the theatre, could realize that this is illusion and nothing more. But here, at Lulleli, I have a feeling different to that produced by the theatre. I am not in-between the centre and the periphery as in a theatrical imagination – I am really in the landscape, sitting on rocks which I climbed up together with many others to enjoy the 150th anniversary of the Lighthouse on Fruholmen. I am in the yolk of the egg squinting in reaction to the strong light of the midnight sun standing diagonally on the horizon. I am looking at the dancers shadowly dancing on the cliffs and rocks beyond the corona of the sun. This landscape does not make me think of theatre for an instant.

No, the landscape allows me to gaze into a remote horizon, which is much stronger than any movement of the dancers and singers or musicians acting in the landscape, and whatever they do they is experienced as playful blows in the landscape. Why are their actions not serious? Of course, they could play as much as they want contrasted by the serious odds of the strong, and not always joyful, nature. On the one hand I ask myself while sitting on a stone, why have churches and theatres turned away from nature, why do they close themselves into internal spaces? Is it to protect their beliefs (and not only to protect from harsh weather, the cold, and the rain)? The truth might be: In the theatre man wishes to become meaningful, to have some significance.

That is why man is hiding in cave-like constructions, protecting himself from the gaze into the distant. Men are gathering around the bonfire at night or in an amphitheatre to be able to watch across the flames. It is a see and be seen effect in relationship to the other. The stage is built vis-à-vis the other people, so that the distance and the horizon disappear in favour of the play itself like in the theatre or cinema. Through the framing of the stage and the viewpoint technique, the landscape is replaced by the theatre. But still, in contrast, here in Lulleli the distance and the remote horizon transforms into an effect of its own, equal to or even more important than the dancers. The more nature is a co-player, the more obscure the celebrators (of the lighthouse) become.

And still, theatre is a better reason. You are simply sitting. On a rock or a cliff or stone in nature, I think of myself as a baboon, about celebrating achievements of civilization in the sense of staring in the same direction. Freely. Everybody is looking in the same direction, to where the sun is setting. To the light. Unfreely, we can imagine theatre as a baboon cliff, where the primates are sorting out social status and order, even according to fees to enter, which you are ready to pay. Everybody then sits there for the entire durance of the performance. And there is the celebration of position in society and the sedentary. The theatre is subduing itself to society and its authority. The corps or bodies entering this house are literally turned into a silent majority. They are turned into being settled and thereby ‘caught’ one could say. The doors are closing. The light goes out. Only the emergency doors have light to show where they are situated. From now on we dream about a world beyond borders, marked by the gap between the stage edge, the audience space, or the orchestra pit (the moat around the baboon’s cliff). We are all settled in this situation and protected from acquaintances and relatives, or as in a big city situated somewhere to which you feel attachment.

The landscape is excluded in theatre, in opposition to travellers or nomads who are expulsed to places which are physically difficult to reach. So, limited to a stage or an ancient Greek skene, the theatre will be turned into something very settled, or even a symbol of settlement. Because to be settled is more important than anything else: My house, my garden, and my seat in the theatre from where I can look at the world. I am the viewpoint of the illusion perspective, similar to that represented by Louis XIV. It is not only a law. It is the law of the laws and how they are settled. And the logic of this is the fact that we are sitting, which also means that we pay respect to the sitting. This is what Louis XIV would allow himself, to settle the law by defining the rules of seeing, and how to direct the gaze, and in which direction. However, as a dancer he was on the move on stage, and thus had a different approach to space than if he had been seated, and thereby risk something while trying to steer the gaze of the settled. He was the master of the point of view.


Susanne Næss Nielsen

And it is precisely this view that Hans-Thies Lehmann has always questioned. In his contribution “The Water, the Stones”, he explores the history of theatre, presented from the perspective of the landscape.

I was connected with Hans-Thies Lehmann not only by the studies I completed with him, but also by a trip to the northernmost lighthouse in Europe. Two hours by ship from Hammerfest, we experienced “Lulleli” together, a landscape theater: for Hans-Thies Lehmann a particularly important type of play within his famous main work “Postdramatic Theater”, which has been translated into over twenty languages. Translated with (free version) as a new way to tell exciting stories digitally is very happy to publish his last text here following.

Read on …

The water, the stones


In the Renaissance theatre moves into the houses. This is obviously a turning point and a deep cesura in the history of theatre. And some may claim, that the loss of the direct, visible connection to its natural environment was a major misfortune which happened to the art of theatre. However, at the Globe and some other places theatre continues to be played in the open air which gives a possibility for weather conditions to become or remain part of the theatre experience

… or as a lover read for free

Lullelic Reflections – Landscape Theatre and the North Lullelic reflections

Hans-Thies Lehmann’s contribution has also appeared in the book

„Lullelic Reflections – Landscape Theatre and the North Lullelic reflections“ by Tormod Carlsen and Knut Ove Amtzen (eds.), Orkana forlag as, Stamsund 2022, ca. 39,50 €