Norweigan National Ballet in Cina Espejord's 'Ghosts'. Photo © Erik Berg

Norweigan National Ballet in Cina Espejord’s ‘Ghosts’.
Photo © Erik Berg

Opera House, Oslo, Norway; September 19, 2014

Maggie Foyer

You’d expect the Norwegians to get their Ibsen right, but the Norwegian National Ballet’s production of “Ghosts”, a tight-knit, intense drama, exceeded all expectations. It doesn’t try to tell the story: the convoluted plot of subterfuge and revelation; rather choreographer Cina Espejord and her team have picked up where the text leaves off, prying deep under the skin of the characters to give visceral readings.

On the multilevel set of the Alving house, backgrounded by gloomy land and seascapes, the generations of characters live through the present plagued by ghostly visitations from the past. The judicious idea of the duplicating main characters with their youthful versions gives clarity to a narrative where the timeline is crucial.

The Norwegian National Ballet have an astonishingly wide repertoire that ranges from Petipa to Balanchine to new creations from Liam Scarlett and Alexander Ekman. They are also some of the finest interpreters of Jiří Kylián’s choreography, (an opinion endorsed by Kylián himself) and are currently in Paris presenting a triple bill of the master’s works. This wealth of choreographic and physical experience that the dancers have in their bodies powers their creativity.

Working through improvisation, theatre director, Marit Moum Aune, Espejord and the performers have found a dance language of different registers and dialects that allows them to move fluidly between extreme emotions expressed in punishing physicality and the commonplace of domestic life.

Camilla Spidsøe as Mrs Alving and Ole Willy Falkhaugen as Pastor Manders in Cina Espejord's 'Ghosts'.  Photo © Erik Berg

Camilla Spidsøe as Mrs Alving and Ole Willy Falkhaugen as Pastor Manders in Cina Espejord’s ‘Ghosts’.
Photo © Erik Berg

There was not a weak link in the cast. Camilla Spidsøe as Mrs Alving gave a performance that cut to the quick. A lifetime of inhibition and living a lie cuts loose in movements stretched to breaking point and is matched in her dramatic skills. The character of Pastor Manders, morally bankrupt and outwardly respectable, gave Ole Willy Falkhaugen a feast of a role. Their duets portrayed eloquently the inner turmoil and were never less than riveting. Their younger selves, Natasha Jones and Mark Wax, were less complex emotionally but delivered equally strong dance roles: Jones suggesting a woman already scarred by disillusion.

Andreas Heise as Osvald expressed all the hunger for life that is slipping out of his hands; his anger and despair always ready to overwhelm. A powerful and intelligent performer, he took on the character like a second skin. He clung to Regina, Grete Sofie Borund Nybakken, living vicariously through her youth and force for life. Nybakken is a young dancer already making her mark and in this role she triumphs with a display of honest anger complemented by child actor, Selma Smith Kvalvaag, playing her younger self. In a complex duet/trio between her stepfather, the earthy builder, Yoshifumi Inao and a table the child Regina shows evidence of the
courage that will enable her to forge a new life.

The commissioned score that drives and supports the action is mixed at a sound desk on side stage while composer, Nils Petter Molvær, the only live musician plays a lone trumpet on stage: a thrilling sound that strikes all the right chords.

This is a five star production where the essence of the play is condensed to a searing 70 minutes. The final scene as the child Osvald, steps from the tub to dry his unblemished body while on the stage below, his older, ravished self dies in his mother’s arms, is devastating.