The Little Prince Photo Bengt Wanselius

The Little Prince
Photo Bengt Wanselius

Tonhallen, Sundsvall, Sweden
October 3, 2015

Maggie Foyer

Theatre is the place where imagination can take flight and the latest production from Norrdans, The Little Prince, seizes all possibilities. It was also an evening of celebration: the twentieth anniversary for Norrdans and twenty-five years for the accompanying Nordiska Chamber Orchestra: cheers all round!

The choreography (Tina Tarpgaard), scenography (Signe Krogh), lighting (Michael Breiner) and costume design (Inbal Lieblich) were skilfully interwoven into a creative tapestry. A commissioned score from Daniel Nelson, played under the sensitive baton of David Björkman, drew a potpourri of complex sounds and rhythms from the orchestra. In this charmed setting Tarpgaard wove her magic wrapping her dance around the set, bathed in mystic light.

A white cloth, almost covering the dimensions of the stage formed the blank page of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s imagination but a current of air could as easily shape it into shifting dunes of desert sands while pulleys and ropes sharpened the contours into mountain ranges. Hoisted high, it became a cloud ceiling before draping into soft folds and stained with crimson light, it became as sensual as a Georgia O’Keefe rose. The cloth is also the canvas where lighting and well-judged graphics draw an ever-changing landscape, the patterns on the folds rich with suggestions and hints.

Bringing meaning to this fantasy world are eight fine dancers, four men and four women, each resolutely individual and totally collaborative. The character of the Aviator and the Little Prince are indicated by a flyer’s leather helmet and an imaginative canary yellow wig: bubbly and bold. Several dancers became Aviators and at times the stage was full of Little Princes as each dancer adds a personal touch to the role. The choreography is suffused with play, tumbling and wrestling, with dancers spending a fair bit of time upside down, thus blurring the boundaries between earth and sky, the real and the fantastic in a voyage of innocence and discovery.

There were narrative hints to carry the story but the strength of the performance was in capturing the philosophical depth of the story. While very much an ensemble work, there was space for individuals to shine. Hanna Nussbaumer, a dancer who always scores with her total commitment and vibrant presence, became the coquettish Rose symbolically dressed in vivid pink gloves and socks. She is a complex character, giggling hysterically, simultaneously vulnerable and outspoken as she dances with Little Prince, César Garcia, in a duet of deep rooted understanding. The louche movements of the drunks was led with ironic humour by Thomáš Ƈervinka, while Leila Verlinden becomes the King, carried aloft on a sea of serfs.

The final moment is deep and quiet and played out in a monochrome setting. Aviator, Jonas stands alone in the gloom surrounded by shifting dunes, a scene heart rending in its simplicity. The show is a blissful blend of theatrical invention pitched to the highest level and interpreted through unassuming and effective minimalism.