MYSTIFIED BY TALES AND MOUNTAINS by Gesa Lochwitz-Himmel
April 12, 2014
The stage at the Klemet Environmental Theatre in Hemnes, Norway opens up to the surrounding mountains, farms and a river running down from the glacier. This natural setting is the environment of a stage setting constructed with elements from the shaman Klemet’s life.
The Environmental Theatre in Hemnes is located near the Okstindan mountain range in northern Norway. The mountain range and its glacier is a central natural form visible both from the sea and inland areas. The peak of Oksskolten is the highest in northern Norway and the short distance from the mountain to the sea is one of the most stunning features of this region. The region has two main cultures, both of which are very close to nature. One is based on fishing and farming and cultivating the land, while the second is more nomadic, and is based on hunting and reindeer, using their resources according to seasons. The shaman Klemet was caught between these two cultures. There are two traditional trading routes that meet in this region. The first one is by sea and goes north and south, trafficking fish and goods as far south as Portugal and north up to the Russian border. This follows the costal landscape, which is much the same all the way thanks to the Gulf Stream. Also worth mentioning are the boat builders situated in the valley, making boats that can sail all the way to Newfoundland. Then there are the traditional Sami land routes that stretch out to the east and west, along the rivers of Sweden and all the way into Russia. The Okstindan are considered to be holy mountains by the Samis and places of offering sometimes contain jewellery from Russia. All this is made possible by the short distance between the mountains and the sea. The coastal landscape and the mountain landscape gradually become part of the forest belt that continues into Sweden, Finland, and Russia, stretching all the way to the Pacific Ocean. This coming together of landscapes is also the point where the two cultures meet, and where the drama about Klemet and the farmers unfolds.
After the withdrawal of the glaciers in Scandinavia, the valleys and tundra were ripe for cultivation. The glacier revealed fertile land, as well as boulders carried down by the huge masses of ice. One of these boulders was used as shelter by the nomadic Sami. This people had an understanding of the landscape that we often lack in today’s modern society. This landscape served as the basis of the interplay between the two cultures. Around 1900 Klemet lived between the Okstindan Glacier in the mountains and the farmers in the valley. He was a Sami, but was torn between living the traditional Sami nomadic way of life and the pastoral life of the farmers. Despite living as an outcast under a rock heller, these farmers still remember him very clearly. Not many years ago the heller was blown to pieces in an act of cultural sabotage. The spirit of Klemet had never left the farmers in peace. The river running from the glacier played a part in shaping the valley, and it also created a natural amphitheatre that we used as a location for the play. On this site, we had the concept of making the theatre’s stage a circle in the shape of a Sami drum. The drum carries the drama into creation. Traditional southern Sami drums have moving figures from the upper world, the human world and the underworld on them, but in contrast to northern Sami drums, these figures move in circles. This is also mirrored in the feminine dramaturgy of the play, where the drama unfolds in circles that slowly reveal the story. The landscape becomes part of the theatre through the use of different layers: - The mountains and the valley that make up the backdrop. - The river that encircles the stage area and provides the background sound. - The slope that makes the natural amphitheatre. - The drum that forms the stage. - The towers that are the sticks of the shaman's drum, which cast light and sound onto the play and overlook the audience as a reminder of some greater power. The materials used are recycled from abandoned houses. - Haystacks represent the farmers’ natural habitat: cultivating the earth. These have a variety of functions in the play, acting as houses, fences and curtains, and in general backing up the choreography. Haystacks symbolise the cultivation of the landscape while the heller represents natural knowledge of the landscape. - The heller: the stone under which the shaman Klemet lived. This is the magical object where Klemet found his home, and which was subsequently blown to pieces in an act of cultural sabotage. It was built as a mixture of glacier, stone and traditional Sami building techniques. - Seating made of tree stumps from local sawmills.