An experience that demands action – Valtteri Raekallio adapts his Oneiron to Iceland

Maria Säkö, translated by Lola Rogers, 8.11.2018

Valtteri Raekallio's unique site-specific – and somewhat immersive – dance performance Oneiron will be programmed at Ice Hot Reykjavik event in December. In Finnish Dance in Focus magazine, our editor Maria Säkö writes about how the usual passive role of the audience changes into participants, which gives them a new awareness of their own agency, its possibilities and its limitations.

In Oneiron, directed by Valtteri Raekallio, the viewer’s role changes from passive recipient to that of a participant.

What most intrigued Raekallio about Oneiron, Laura Lindstedt‘s 2015 novel about seven women in a liminal space just before death, was the book’s omniscient narrator. The narrator’s voice seems sometimes sympathetic toward the women but then, particularly at the end of the story, it turns cold.

Valtteri Raekallio: Oneiron © Stefan Bremer

“It made me think about the inequality of the voices in the book. Not all the women get the same amount of space, not even for dying. I started thinking about forms of performance that could create that kind of inequality.”

The performance was put up in an old gas plant, where lighting and spatial alterations created the unreal space between life and death. Now in Reykjavik it is set in a cold white non-place, a covered inner court of an art museum.

“An important – and a very enjoyable part of our work is choosing and adapting different spaces creatively to our ideas. We have lots of experience in working site-specifically and finding uncommon solutions for lighting, staging, audience…” says Raekallio in November, after spending several days in Reykjavik working on the adaptation.

Valtteri Raekallio: Oneiron © Stefan Bremer

“I use the methods of immersive theatre very tenuously. It’s more like I perform those methods. In Oneiron, I didn’t try to create an immersive performance an sich, it was more that I maybe wanted to play a little with immersive theatre’s repertoire of methods.”

Everybody watches the performance through the prism of their own life experience, Raekallio stresses.

Oneiron ends with a shared meal

The audience is seated at a long table and served borscht, sour cream, bread and butter—the viewer encountering their corporeality through eating, which is essential to staying alive.

“I actually think of the meal at the end in a sort of religious sense.”

The female characters in the piece aren’t given equal space. In the end, the performance puts the audience in a situation where they have to think about their solidarity with others in their own real life.

“The meal is purposely designed so that we dancers exit and let the audience decide what to do. We die, and then the audience is left to handle things as they see fit.”

For Raekallio, it’s important that the people in the audience have to do something.

It was important to me that the audience isn’t given an experience of just paying a certain amount of money and that’s it.

Through participation, the piece puts a question to the audience: “What do I have to do to have the experience?”

The audience is also a part of constructing the material of the piece.

“The idea of the black box is that you can trim away everything superfluous from a performance, but when you have the audience participate, and eat, there’s much more that’s out of your control.”

In Valtteri Raekallio’s Oneiron, the experience of solidarity with each other was present as a more general ethical question. A person may feel like an omnipotent decision-maker, but also be constantly reminded of the transience of everything.

“It’s just this kind of dualism that you see in Oneiron. People try to act in all-powerful ways, to live without thinking about death, but then it hits them that we’re all going to die, and after that’s there’s nothing,” Raekallio says.

“How are we going to organize our human interactions in the world right now, while we’re still alive?”

Valtteri Raekallio’s Oneiron 13th December 2018Hafnarhus (Reykjavik Art Museum

The article is an extract of a feature story, Letting the audience into its own limitations by Maria Säkö, which was published in the Finnish Dance in Focus magazine Vol.20, August 2018.